These were the 10 most rewarding and provocative Los Angeles art museum shows that I saw in 2014 — plus one that was almost entirely superfluous. They are listed in the order in which they opened to the public:
“Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880-1914" at UCLA Hammer Museum: Modest but absorbing, a print exhibition drawn from a promised gift to the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts offered a fascinating chronicle of one unintended effect in France of the opium wars in China.
“Andrea Bowers: '#sweetjane’” at Pomona College Museum of Art: The accomplished L.A. artist produced an insightful and emotionally wrenching group of drawings, video and installations on the subject of a notorious rape, merging piercing insight about current events with social activism.
“Jackson Pollock’s ‘Mural’” at J. Paul Getty Museum: A project led by the museum and the Getty Conservation Institute returned a big, pivotal painting in the history of Modern American art to a state close to what it was when the artist finished it in 1943 — in the process rewriting a crucial bit of the work’s fabled story.
“Mike Kelley: A Retrospective” at MOCA: Concluding an international tour, the survey admirably unfurled 30 years of work by one of the most important artists of our time.
“Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium From Greek Collections” at Getty Villa: This rare show made clear how the dual nature being claimed for Jesus of Nazareth — both man and god — was used by the Byzantine Empire starting in the 4th century to become the first to fuse the secular power of the state with the religious authority of Christianity.
“Chinese Paintings From Japanese Collections” at LACMA: An extraordinary group of masterpiece loans, some scrolls and screens leaving Japan for the first time, showed how fervently collectors in one country embraced art from another.
“Treasures From Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910" at LACMA: Traditional Korean art is not widely known in the U.S., which made this survey of a profound dynastic transformation of society an absorbing revelation.
“Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit” at J. Paul Getty Museum: A thorough and enlightening survey successfully revised the established view of a long-neglected artist, whose work was once the epitome of all that art photography aspired to be.
“Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist” at J. Paul Getty Museum: Not only could the guy paint bravura portraits of royals, fantasies of mythological gods and goddesses, his beloved wife, Helena Fourment, and more, this exhibition shows that he could also paint brilliant designs for conceptually surprising tapestries.
“Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art, Collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex” at Natural History Museum: Twelve hundred examples, almost all of them superlative (and beautifully displayed), chart the recent production of traditional clay, wood, textile and metal-work objects by artisans working on the Iberian Peninsula and in Mexico and Central and South America.
Given all that, the big show of “Andy Warhol: Shadows” at MOCA, which lines up 102 deadly dull, pseudo-abstract canvases around multiple rooms, demonstrates something we already knew: Even the best and most influential artists can have a very bad day.