Toulouse-Lautrec’s work is so ubiquitous it’s sometimes difficult to see. You might meet La Goulue or Jane Avril at a framing store or in a hotel bathroom but your eye grazes them without dwelling on the heavily rouged ladies tossing their bloomers up with abandon. They have become such familiar characters that they project fin-de-siècle Paris perpetually into the present.
So the Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective of posters and lithographs is an agreeable little bombshell. Assembled entirely from the bottomless carpet bag of MoMA’s permanent collection, it reveals a deliciously muted version of his garish world. The medium is paper, the lighting dim, the atmosphere as quiet as this train station of a museum will allow. It’s the kind of low-wattage production that would sit best in the back galleries of a boutique institution but this is MoMA, so it’s full of jostling crowds who, drawn to the glittering name, might be surprised to find such a doleful view of pleasure. Read more.