The Hirshhorn has mounted a modest display of works by the immodest Joseph Stella that will probably leave most visitors moderately irritated.
Which is exactly appropriate. Stella (1877-1946) has always irritated collectors, curators and critics, too, because he can't be very usefully categorized by style, school, subject, method or medium.
Stella, born in an Italian mountain village, emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and studied medicine until he changed his mind and decided to opt for art. He stayed with art for the rest of his life, but still kept changing his mind: He all but mastered and then abandoned a dozen styles and media.
He was in the New York Armory Show in 1913 and the Salon Dada in Paris in 1922; he repatriated to Europe and re-expatriated to America (finally becoming a citizen in 1923). He was a friend of or was despised by nearly everyone who counted in the world of modern art; he can't be ignored, because his name keeps popping up.
The Hirshhorn has laid out all 34 of its Stellas, which include samples from most of his periods -- or anyway, all of his decades -- as part of its program of periodically airing its collections. The arrangement is as chronological as the display can make it; with many Stellas, no firm dating is possible.
The range is from nearly masterpieces to nearly junk, but in nearly every case a Stella leaves the viewer wondering: What if this effervescent Italian had just stayed with a style long enough to break through , rather than just break off? JOSEPH STELLA -- At the Hirshhorn through July 17. Open 10 to 5:30 (to 7:30, starting May 28).