On a working trip to Milan this spring, I kept seeing banners that proclaimed an exhibition of twentieth-century drawing: “Il Disegno del Nostro Secolo.” The elegant graphics of the title were imposed on an impressive list of names: Balla, Beckmann, Boccioni, Chagall, de Chirico, Feininger, Giacometti, Gorky, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Klee, Léger, Matisse, Miró, Modigliani, Morandi, Picasso, Schiele, and more. The name of the institution—the Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta—meant nothing to me, but I was curious enough to make a mental note to see the show if I had time. Besides, it was Morandi that had brought me to Milan in the first place.

What made the visit inevitable was discovering that the Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta was open late, long after the places where I was doing research had closed. As the Michelin Guides say, it was worth the detour—not that it was much of a...


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