The schlock of the new

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 June, 1993, 12:00am

THE theme of this exhibition is declared to be that ''art moves in cycles'', with subjects repeated in each age. That may be so. What the show certainly demonstrates is that Belgian painters of the 19th century made well-painted, well-thought-out works while most contemporary artists don't.

Among the former - de Brakeleer (1840-88), the sculptor Meunier (1831-1905), and the painter Mellery (1845-1921) - there are solid exhibits, not vastly exciting, but quite satisfying and not clogged with 19th-century sentimentality. Among the contemporaries the minimalist de Keyser is an also-ran among minimalist European and American painters, Jan Fabre is a draughtsman of beetles and ants, and not much more than that. No ripples, no frisson of any great magnitude ruffle the mind and emotions of the viewer.

The best things lie between the two phases of Belgian art, separated as they are by about 100 years. While I would have liked to see etchings of Felicien Rops (1833-98) to strengthen the old guard, I definitely missed a Delvaux along with Magrittes and the Ensor.

The single piece of contemporary sculpture - by D'Haese - looked interesting but since it was placed in a corner, one could not see round it. And incidentally, why are there no dates for the artists and few for any of their works? It is with a sense of relief that a Kokoschka appears, and an Appel, and the 30-ish works of Brusselmans, a fine Roualt, The Holy Face, even a comic Hockney.

The two Magrittes - his witty take-off of Manet's The Balcony, and the creepy The Violation - are fairly typical of the artist's work, but the Ensors are hardly that. The cluttered and rather random Still Life of 1907 offers little insight into the qualities that made him an important artist.