The best thing about the exhibition “John Baldessari: Pure Beautyis that the exit is a short jaunt from “The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty,” a major survey of paintings, sculptures, decorative ware, jewelry, and textiles from the Yuan Dynasty, founded by the Mongolian emperor Khubilai Khan (1271–1368). Spanning from the year of his birth to the Ming ascension of power, “The World of Khubilai Khan” is relentless in its array of splendors, as if everything Chinese artisans put their hands on turned to gold and, in some cases, “cloths of gold”—the name European explorers gave to textiles woven with golden silk.

It’s an illusion of course: curatorial acumen accounts for putting the Yuan Dynasty’s best foot forward. Still, the exhibition’s astonishing artistic consistency is more real than not and gives pause, if only because of...


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