In watching the huge selection of works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new show, “Max Ernst: A retrospective” (April 7-July 10, 2005), I kept imagining the sheer pleasure the artist must have taken in the process of exercising his extraordinary imagination. Ernst (1891-1076) was a founding member of the Dada and Surrealist movements, and the works you will see in this show—some 175 of them—reflect the then-daring expeditions into new ideas and the sense of freedom one feels in viewing them.

Ernst’s paintings, collages and sculptures encompass the bizarre and the whimsical, the hilarious and the serious. They are particularly refreshing anew, given the contemporary tendency of pressures toward conformity. The most daring, and still one with the potential to anger the narrow-minded, is “The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses.” The painting shows the Virgin Mary spanking the Christ child. It is both a gorgeous work and a mischievous one, which was controversial at the time he did it in 1926. The painting is on loan from the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany.

The exhibition encompasses Ernst’s work in Europe and in the United States, where he arrived after escaping the Nazis, and that done after he returned to Europe in 1953. One especially dramatic achievement is “The Fireside Angel” (1937) a colorful but terrifying vision associated with the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, much in the spirit of Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Allow extra time when viewing this show. There is much to linger over in surveying the work of one of the 20th Century’s most original artists. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Phone: 212-212-535-7710.

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