The first thing that must be said about “The First Show”[1] is simply that it happened. For the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles accomplished two significant feats, beside which most any critical complaints grow pale: First, it brought together more postwar art worth looking at than has been seen in Los Angeles since the launching of the Marshall Plan; and second, it brought to a resounding end the museum’s interminable gestation period, a protracted incubation that lasted nearly four years. To consider “The First Show” as one might any large exhibition presents certain difficulties, however, since this particular gathering of paintings, sculptures, and installations is not a rigorous examination of a particular body of work. Rather, it is the temporary mounting of a hypothetical permanent...


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