The dispersal of notable downtown San Francisco galleries by tech-driven rent spikes made 2014 a pretty bleak year on the contemporary art scene. The tenacity or successful relocation of a few could not offset the disheartening effect of seeing others, especially the irreplaceable Stephen Wirtz Gallery, expire.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art remains closed for another year, a temporary but very dark spot on a dimming artistic landscape, looking ever less hospitable to creative adventure. Other local institutional programs, meanwhile, provided a spectrum of diversions to the wider public.
Low: Bay Area Now 7, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ triennial survey show ended in a ditch YBCA dug by delegating regional nonprofits to make its selections, which sometimes consisted of yet other, smaller collectives.
Yoga: The Art of Transformation: The Asian Art Museum hosted this unprecedented synopsis through artifacts from ancient stone sculpture to video of the philosophy and practice of yoga.
Intimate Impressionism From the National Gallery of Art: The Legion of Honor made a perfect setting for a show full of little revelations — who knew any remained? — of the art of figures we thought we knew too well.
Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums: The Stanford University Libraries presented to the public for the first time at the Cantor Arts Center the full riches of albums they received decades ago in which the luckless but relentless Carleton Watkins recorded the prising open of the American West by alien forces both commercial and cultural.
Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art From the Weisel Family Collection: The de Young Museumarrayed the high points of a magnificent gift from a Bay Area collector, finding precursors of modernist rigor in marvels of tribal arts’ design.
Gorgeous: The Asian Art Museum’s collaboration with the shuttered San Francisco Museum of Modern Art produced a show long on provocation and eye candy, but full of memorable challenges to visitors.
Marc Katano: A happy coincidence had this California artist’s best ever paintings on paper make the Wirtz Gallery’s final outing look like a culmination of its long exhibition history.
Robert Frank in America: Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center (through Jan. 5) exposed the editorial background of Frank’s classic “The Americans” as no exhibition or publication has done before.
At Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz: Under house arrest in Beijing, the world’s most famous antiauthoritarian artist could not quite pull off engineering a successful ongoing show in America’s most famous prison, but the effort of all involved earned the event an indelible place in Bay Area art history. (Through April 26.)
Shoebox Orchestra: A humbly entertaining group show, easily overlooked within a dreary but clamorous local art economy, this commemorative event reopened a souful, nonprofit mainstay of the Dogpatch neighborhood shuttered two years earlier by the death of its founder, Bruno Mauro.
The Plot Thickens: Fraenkel Gallery’s 35th anniversary show (through Jan. 31) honors the gallery’s outstanding success, but crucially it also celebrates looking, not commerce, as the point of it all.<z_solid_box class=”macro” displayname=”z_solid_box” name=”z_solid_box”>