The temporary Queens location of the Museum of Modern Art has become the site of a grand exhibition coup. MoMA's "Matisse Picasso" show, a season blockbuster, is magnificent in concept and execution. It is a staggering compilation of great work under one roof and it is designed to make one think freshly abut the connections between the two artists. There is almost too much to take in during one visit, but the popularity of the exhibition may make repeat visits difficult. The fact that "Matisse Picasso" is across the river from Manhattan is an unlikely obstacle.

MoMA QNS has extensive space, and the art shows well. The thinking behind the exhibit takes into account that although Matisse and Picasso were rivals, they had respect for each other's work and relationships can be traced and observed. Accordingly, the exhibit bears out the thesis by juxtaposing works of the two artists so that we can gain insight into their respective accomplishments with similarities and differences. This approach is as fascinating for viewing as it is thought provoking. There are 78 paintings on display, in addition to 23 sculptures, 29 works on paper and two woodcuts.

Even without the juxtapositions, the array of great paintings by both artists would afford infinite pleasure. It makes one aware again of how much inferior contemporary work clutters today's museums and galleries. But there is greater challenge in seeing the works together, such as Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avingon" (1907) and Matisse's "Bathers with a Turtle" (1908). There are ample explanations, and of course, there is a recording that will help the viewer to absorb the works in the context of their relationships.

Enthusiasts will have seen some of the art previously in different locales, including at MoMA, but the exhibit has been culled from various sources and some works will afford initial views to many. (The show itself was previously at the Tate Modern in London and at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris.) Various special programs related to the exhibition are scheduled, and there is a comprehensive catalogue as well as a "Looking and Matisse and Picasso" publication.

"Matisse Picasso" remains through May 19 at MoMA QNS, 33 Street at Queens Blvd, Long Island City, Queens. For information phone 212-708-9400. Tickets by phone at Ticketmaster, 212-307-5577 or 866-879-MOMA.

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