Our Favorite Museum Shows of 2014

Top ListsMatt Randal

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The 2014 just ran out, leaving numerous gallery and museum exhibitions behind us. Thinking back, there have been many amazing museum exhibitions, some of which excelled in their importance for contemporary art research, some in curatorial achievements, and some were just captivating installations of creative fun. Whichever the case, museums across the world have finally shown more freedom in including urban and street art into their programming. Shows City as Canvas – The Martin Wong Collection or Swoon’s Submerged Motherlands seem to have further legitimized the position of urban art in the highbrow circles, while international adventures of JR have taken the whole understanding of a contemporary installation even farther. His show in Baden Baden was selected as one of the rarer Unframed projects in 2014, while his Inside Out has taken over the planet. If New York City Ballet were a museum, we would have chosen that one.

The inevitable Jeff Koons definitely marked 2014, ever since his Balloon Dog explosion. The whole Koons-craze culminated in A Retrospective show at Whitney Museum, where the superstar artist’s career was highlighted at proper places. And even underlined at some, quite literally.

As far as pop art goes, pop-heads can’t ever get enough of Andy Warhol, so we picked out one of his beautifuly curated retrospectives held at Palazzo Cipolla in Rome in spring of 2014.

Not many artists on a house arrest attract so much international attention as Ai Weiwei, so his Blenheim Palace exhibition, prepared and curated remotely, has proven itself a triumph of a kind against government imposed restrictions.

Keith Haring’s activism is what his art was all about, but curating a show with a distinctive political focus – that is a different thing. Political Line at de Young in San Francisco (still on view) shows Haring’s playful imagery as everything but fun.

In the era of Instagram and repetition, MoMA dared to install a retrospective for Elaine Sturtevant, the queen of appropriation. Bravo!

Knowing about Chuck Close’s condition makes his brilliant career as a portraitist even more intriguing, especially when followed in a comprehensive show such as the current Australian one.

To conclude 2014 hasn’t been all about contemplation and serious art, but fun as well, we selected a real teaser – Bompas & Parr’s FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground, where visitors are invited to touch, feel, imagine and enjoy. Not your everyday museum show is still on view.

 

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Jeff Koons: A Retrospective

The summer was hot at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as it hosted one of the year’s greatest art events titled Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, the most comprehensive exhibition of Koons’ work we have ever seen. The show displayed artist’s astonishingly diverse output, comprising of almost 150 pieces dating back to 1978, including all of Koons’ most iconic works reconstituted in a chronological narrative. As usual, the show re-sparked old controversies surrounding Koons’ work ,and in August major incident occurred when obscure Canadian performance artist Istvan Kantor vandalized one of the museum walls with his impromptu mural made of his own blood. No artwork was damaged and the police were called to remove Kantor from the museum premises. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective exhibition moved to the Centre Pompidou in Paris in November, where it will run through April, before it travels to the Guggenheim Bilbao in June 2015.

 

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City as Canvas

City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection was one of the most exciting group graffiti art shows we had a chance to see in a long time. The exhibition held at the Museum of the City of New York from February through August of 2014, was the first exhibition showing the extraordinary graffiti collection amassed by graffiti artist and pioneering street art collector Martin Wong, who donated his entire comprehensive collection to the museum in 1994, just years before his premature death. The exhibition showcased seminal works, including paintings, black book sketches and photographs created by some of the most legendary artists of the New York City graffiti scene from the 1970s and 1980s, most notably Daze, Dondi White, Futura, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Zephyr, Rammellzee, Keith Haring, Martha Cooper and Jon Naar.
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JR

As he continued to trot the globe in 2014, famous French street artist JR stopped by Baden Baden last March to drop his retrospective-like show at the renowned Frieder Burda museum, which turned out to be one of the year’s finest urban art exhibitions. The exhibition, titled simply JR, focused on several different projects artist has worked on since 2007, most notably, Face 2 Face, Women are Heroes, Wrinkles of the City and UNFRAMED, covering the most crucial period in JR’s highly prolific career during which he rose to international fame. It featured a huge range of audio-visual material and offered its visitors a wonderful opportunity to gain a comprehensive insight into JR’s career and his extraordinary creative process. They also had a chance to partake in  JR’s ongoing Inside Out project. and have their portraits taken in a photo booth installed at the museum.

 

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Swoon: Submerged Motherlands

Swoon, Brooklyn-based street artist of international renown, best known for her gigantic and intricately-cut prints she wheat pastes to walls around New York City, creates some of the most unifying and engaging art of our time. During the summer of 2014 the Brooklyn Museum in New York hosted one of the year’s most exciting exhibitions titled Swoon: Submerged Motherlands, showing the most awesome works created by this extraordinary artist. Using discarded and found objects, wooden planks, plastic baskets and sheets of corrugated metal, Swoon created a mesmerizing site-specific installation, successfully transforming the gallery space into a magical landscape centered around a monumental tree. And at the base of that tree there were anchored Swoon’s famous boats and rafts made of salvaged materials, together with drawings and cut paper foliage, that told a profound story about troubling environmental issues we are facing.

 

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Andy Warhol at Palazzo Cipolla

Andy Warhol exhibition, held from April through September at the Palazzo Cipolla, gallery space of the renowned Fondazione Roma Museo, was one of the finest museum exhibitions in 2014. The exhibition showcased 150 Warhol’s works from the extraordinary collection belonging to the Brant Foundation, founded and presided by Peter Brant, a close friend of the artists and famous art collector, who curated the show together with Francesco Bonami. It provided a rare opportunity for the audience to see some of the most important artworks from Warhol’s entire artistic career, as it showcased Warhol’s masterpieces created during each period, including some of his most iconic works, such as the Electric Chairs, the large portrait of Mao, Shot Blue Marilyn. and the spectacular Last Suppers. Every Warhol show is always a winner, but Andy Warhol by Brant Foundation had a certain added value, as it was curated by one of Warhol’s closest friends, with whom he shared his most vibrant New York years during the 1960s and 1970s.

 

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Double Trouble

Last May the artworld lost one of the pop art greats as Elaine Frances Sturtevant, or simply Sturtevant, died at the age of 90. The renowned artist, famous for her appropriation art that pushed the style to its boundaries, achieved worldwide recognition for her carefully inexact repetitions of the most iconic artworks created by other artists, like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Keith Haring, to name the few. Sadly, her first major show on American soil in forty years had to be organized posthumously. This winter New York City’s MoMA hosts the extraordinary Double Trouble exhibition, retrospective-like show which gives a perfect historical overview of Sturtevant’s extensive work, including  more recent video pieces. Double Trouble will run through February 22, and not only that we recommend it, but we strongly believe it was one of the greatest shows of 2014.

 

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Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

Bleinheim Palace, monumental Oxfordshire country house and home of the Dukes of Marlborough, is the extraordinary setting of the next favorite show on our list.  Last October, as Ai Weiwei, great Chinese artist provocateur, was on a house arrest in Beijing, forbidden of leaving the country, on the other side of the planet Bleinheim Art Foundation dropped his retrospective show, titled simply Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace, which stands as Weiwei’s largest UK exhibition to date. The exhibition showcases respectable collection of more than 50 pieces Weiwei created over past three decades, including series of his New York photographs, signature hand-painted porcelain plates and decomposed Chinese vases, as well as the astonishing plush carpet piece titled Soft Ground, Weiwei specially made for the show. There is still a chance to see the immensely popular Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace exhibition, as it has been extended and will run through April.

 

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FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground

There was hardly a more fun show in 2014 than FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground. by the extraordinary conceptual art duo Bompas & Parr. Hosted by the famous Museum of Sex (or MoSex) from New York, the show features the funniest art installation, the museum’s commission from the London-based duo, which transformed the gallery space into an highly immersive environment, one-of-a-kind X-rated amusement park. Enclosed in 2,000 square feet, the show features five extraordinary attractions, including inflated castle filled with giant breasts and a climbing wall with attached sex organs. Actually, there is no private body part that is not exhibited, climbed on or bounced against at the FUNLAND. There is still a chance to see this rather unique and extremely playful show, as FUNLAND: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground will run through spring of 2015.

 

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Chuck Close at MCA Sydney

Chuck Close is a worldwide famous photorealist painter and printmaker from New York, and a contemporary art hero, who survived a catastrophic spinal artery in 1988,  but continued to paint highly desired artworks, even though the illness left him severely paralyzed. The recipient of many honorary degrees and medals, including the National Medal of Arts, Close is praised around the globe for his amazingly realistic portraits of massive scale and highly creative and intricate patterns. Last December the renowned Museum of Contemporary Art Australia from Sydney opened an exhibition titled Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration. This extremely exciting exhibition presents a comprehensive survey of Close’s extensive involvement with different forms and processes of printmaking, and features variety of works, ranging from his early mezzotints to monumental later works, as well as Chuck Close’s new series of extraordinary Jacquard tapestries. The Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration exhibition, easily one of the best we have seen in 2014, will be on view at MCA, Sydney until March 15.

 

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The Political Line

Every Haring show is always a major contemporary art event but the ongoing, critically acclaimed exhibition titled The Political Line has a certain extra value, which makes it to stand out from the rest and shows Keith Haring artistically responding to troubling issues such as nuclear disarmament, racial inequality and environmental degradation. The show features more than 130 pieces, majority of which are on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation, with supplemental loans from public and private collections, including Haring’s large scale paintings, sculptures and a number of his subway drawings. Exhibition highlights include several amazing pieces that have not been on public view since Haring’s premature death in 1990. The Political Line, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and held at de Young museum, opened last November, and will remain on view through February 16.

 

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