At a time when we are routinely bombarded by outsized exhibitions (brought to us at staggering cost), a show of sixty-two works, installed in two rooms, would seem so modest as to stand little chance of capturing our attention, let alone fulfilling what are widely perceived as the “needs” of today’s museum-going audience. Yet “Order and Enigma: American Art Between the Two Wars,” organized by Sarah Clark-Langager for the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York, sustained one’s interest with a depth and intensity that larger and more costly enterprises often fail to do.

Our museums insist, for public consumption anyway, that the permanent collection is the heart of the museum, but few act as if they really believe it. Temporary exhibitions are generally given more attention and more funding, and in all too few museums is much time or space given to...


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