Best History in a Nonhistorical Joint

Museum of Contemporary Art

Critics' Picks

I still haven't quite gotten over "This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s," a blockbuster of an exhibition curated by Helen Molesworth that was on display last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It was beautiful and moving, sure, but it was also the thing you hated most about museums as a kid: it was educational, highlighting the radical, tragic beauty of AIDS-era queer activism that gay rights groups today are largely content to forget. It's one of a few recent shows in which the MCA has made plain art's, and our, debts to the past. Another, "Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void," was a tour of the spiritual desolation that (largely non-American) abstract artists expressed in the wake of World War II; yet another, slightly less apocalyptic show focused on skyscrapers, their history and their mechanics, their availablity as dick-joke fodder, and their recent status as particularly acute symbols of postmodern vulnerability. The show of abstractionists was especially a coup, because there was really nothing abstract about it—what it was was a lesson about the importance of context in art. Everything comes from something. Commendably, the MCA isn't forgetting where it came from.