He organized two exhibitions that have become part of art history. The first was “Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors,” a show of new abstract sculpture at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan in 1966, during a hiatus from the Modern.
It was one of the first museum exhibitions devoted to the movement that was becoming known as Minimalism, which the show’s success accelerated. It cast a wide net, encompassing 44 artists using stripped-down forms and industrial materials in diverse ways, but at its core were the handful of leaders of the trend.
“Primary Structures” achieved such historic status that in 2014, as its 50th anniversary approached, the Jewish Museum revisited it with an exhibition centered on a beautiful scale model of the museum’s galleries as they existed in 1966, complete with miniature sculptures.
By 1968 Mr. McShine was back at the Modern, this time in the department of painting and sculpture as an associate curator. In 1970 he made a second, bigger splash with “Information,” an international survey of about 130 artists, filmmakers and collectives that explored the tangled strains of mixed-media, participatory and ephemeral works gathered under the umbrella of Conceptual art.
“Information” was predicated on the idea that people were living in a new age, in which communication technologies connected them as never before and deluged them with images.
Showing works that were overtly critical of the government and the war in Vietnam as well as of museums themselves, the exhibition set out to disturb the artistic and political status quo. That it was held in a museum as prominent and as Balkanized (in terms of art mediums) as the Modern made it all the more effective.
“Information” was rife with unfamiliar artists: the South Americans Hélio Oiticica and Marta Minujin, for example, and Group OHO, a five-person collective from Yugoslavia.
But there were also plenty of…