Early last year, in Brussels, an ambitious, intriguing exhibition, “Painting After Postmodernism: Belgium–USA,” organized by Barbara Rose, issued a provocative challenge to the widespread notion that present-day art must ignore what Marcel Duchamp called “retinal” considerations in favor of the “cerebral.” Conveniently forgetting that the eye is an extrusion of the brain, Duchamp maintained that artists should concentrate on ideas that can be expressed verbally rather than strive to affect our emotions and intellect through purely visual, wordless means. It’s all too plain that Duchamp’s desires are fulfilled by most of the art, usually termed “postmodernist,” that dominates today’s art world—art often characterized by a lack of overt materiality, by cynicism, and by a self-conscious quest for novelty....


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