(Christopher Knight, Culture Monster, Los Angeles Times) Modernity — the sharp awareness of being Modern-with-a-capital-M — used to be a very big deal. At the start of the 20th century it didn’t mean just shaking off the dusty past and all its hidebound baggage. It meant being alert to how far civilization had come from that past. It meant faith in cultural progress.
Skepticism about that progress is one reason modernity is no longer the big deal it used to be. After Auschwitz — and more — who can believe it? Change — inevitable, inescapable, even relentless — has replaced progress. Cultures become different over time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they become better.
A quirky show at the Getty Villa looks back to the tensions between modernity and the ancient past in the work of four leading European artists of the early 20th century. Handsome and engaging, “Modern Antiquity: Picasso, De Chirico, Léger and Picabia” considers myriad ways in which ancient Greek and Roman art — the epitome of Western tradition — interested painters more commonly regarded as radical. Major paintings by all four are included, along with one remarkable sculpture: Pablo Picasso’s 1931 bronze head of his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter.