John Baldessari & Khubilai Khan at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mongol Dancer, 13th century, Jin (1115-1234) or Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), pottery, 15-3/4″ high; courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Journalistic duty–that is to say, a paycheck–compelled me to spend more time at John Baldessari:  Pure Beauty than I would have done on my own initiative. Life is too short to waste on the doctrinaire whimsies of the California-based neo-Dadaist or (take your pick) proto-conceptualist.

Admittedly, I gained a mild appreciation for Baldessari’s spacey charisma after ambling through Pure Beauty, but not for anything he put his hand to or, rather, anything he hired others to put their hands to. That’s the point, of course. The Artist above all. The art? Well, it’s there.

I didn’t amble out of The World of Khubilai Khan, located directly down the corridor from Pure Beauty. I ran out.  Not initially, mind you:  This sweeping overview of paintings, sculptures, decorative ware, jewelry and textiles from the Yuan Dynasty, founded by the Mongolian emperor Khubilai Khan (1271-1368), compels and sustains prolonged engagement. It’s full of, you know, art. But a body can withstand only so much pleasure.

Relentless in consistency and quality, the exhibition is enough to make you think there wasn’t a bum craftsman in the whole of 13th- or 14th-century China.  Kudos to the curators for their connoisseurship, but couldn’t they have thrown in a handful of merely exquisite items as respite?

An abundance of beauty:  we should all have such problems. My review of the Baldessari show can be found here. In the meantime, there are 27 days and counting to visit, and re-visit, The World of Khubilai Khan.

© 2010 Mario Naves

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