Rene Magritte at MoMA is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

The Daily Pic: At MoMA, René Magritte captures the feel of photos, but not their look..

(Tate collection, London © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002)

This is René Magritte's strange (of course) "Man with a Newspaper", painted in 1928 and now on loan from Tate to the retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What struck me most about the show is how brilliantly bad Magritte was as a painter. In reproduction, it can sometimes look like he's channeling the techniques of the Old Masters – almost always a problematic, pandering move. In fact, though, Magritte is channeling the techniques of a mediocre hobbyist or sign painter, and translating them into fine art. In this image, the multiplication of almost identical views evokes photography, even as the ham-fisted manner fights against that reading. In photography, we assume that each image freezes a moment in time: That the static is always also a blink and a glimpse, meant to capture, say, a room with and then without its occupant. But what does it mean for a painting to adopt the same pose, when there's clearly no frozen blink involved?

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