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The Most Important Art Events of 2016

December 15, 2016
Studied Photography at IED in Milan, Italy. Passionate about art, frequent visitor of exhibitions, Widewalls photography specialist and Editorial Manager.

As we’re counting down the last days of 2016 and we take a look at what it brought us, we can’t help but call these some rather uncertain times. When it comes to art events in particular, we saw a few blows caused by turbulent political events such as Brexit and the election of Trump, but also the rise of a few tendencies that might even come as slightly surprising, such as Outsider art or the ceramics as a medium gaining popularity. It’s been a great year for artists Ragnar Kjartansson and Helen Marten, as well as cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, who got richer of a few significant new art spaces; on the other hand, we can’t say the same for the staffers of New York museums such as the MoMA, the Met and the Brooklyn Museum, who were laid off by their employers, or the gallerists on the Lower East Side, leaving what was once a promising, flourishing neighborhood. In 2017, we hope for less deaths and a more stable artistic atmosphere at the very least.

In the meantime, we take a look back at the art events of 2016 that left a mark.

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The Activism of Ai Weiwei

It was a big year for Ai Weiwei, who finally got his passport back in 2015 after it was confiscated by the Chinese government. The controversial artist took his art and activism to Greece, where he set up a studio to help the refugees based on the island of Lesbos. But it didn’t stop there: in February, he recreated the devastating image of a drowned boy, drawing much criticism for insensitivity and being condemned for not choosing the right tool to highlight the burning issues of the ongoing refugee crisis. He then made a life jacket installation in Berlin. We’re sure the artist will do nothing but continue his good work in the year to come as well.

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Banksy Visits Calais

It was painted in December 2015, but the saga of Banksy’s Steve Jobs mural on the walls of the refugee camp in Calais went on the year after as well. Even though at one point the piece was even protected with glass as if it was a very valuable work of art, it was vandalized and covered in messages like “London Calling”, which in its own right stopped a few refugees living in Calais from charging people $20 to see the mural. After the Dismaland frenzy two summers ago, Banksy was rather silent this year, but expect that to change in 2017 – after all, it’s Banksy!

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No More Blu Murals in Bologna

In March, Italian street artist Blu decided to remove his own murals all over the Northern Italian town of Bologna overnight, in protest of an exhibition which had one of his works removed from the street. The Street Art: Banksy & Co gathered the works of renowned international artists in the field, allegedly including Blu’s pieces without his consent. While the artist couldn’t be reached for a comment, the exhibition curator Christian Omodeo gave us an exclusive interview in which he shared his own side of the story. Matter of the fact is that Italy, and the world, lost two decades of street artwork thanks to their own creator.

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The Death of Zaha Hadid

In what came as another shock worldwide, Zaha Hadid lost her life to a heart attack at the age of 65. The Iraqi-British architect was known for her remarkable conceptual buildings that have earned her the nickname “Queen of the Curve”. At times controversial, there is no doubt that Zaha Hadid blazed her own trail in the world of white, male, Western architects, becoming the first woman to be awarded Riba’s royal gold medal. Her legacy will live on, alongside the company which employs more than 400 people and works on projects globally with a turnover of £44 million a year.

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The Panama Papers Scandal Hits Art Too

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11,5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Published by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the documents revealed the way the rich exploited the offshore tax laws, and among the rich there were a few figures from the world of art too – the grandson of a Jewish art dealer, the very top of the Chinese elite, the former owners of the famous Ganz art collection and even Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter.

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Brexit and the Uncertainty of the Art Market

On June 23rd, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, leaving the rest of Europe, and much of its own citizens, in shock and disbelief. Even though many prominent art figures such as Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Wolfgang Tillmans all advocated against Brexit, the British went the other way, creating an impact that was ready to leave consequences on the art market itself as well. The effect was imminent, as the pound tumbled in value, but the first real test came during October’s Frieze Week sales which resisted the pressure and gave strong results. Still, 2017 will came as highly uncertain, with us having no choice but to hope for the best.

Van Gogh Paintings Found

In 2002, the burglars entered the Van Gogh Museum through the roof and stole two artworks by the Dutch master. Fourteen years later, the paintings have been found – in good condition – during an extensive police operation which targeted the Naples mafia. Out of their frames, the canvases were found in Castellammare di Stabia, near Pompeii. They were worth $100 million and according to the police, they were only slightly damaged. These are the 1882 View of the Sea at Scheveningen and the 1884-1885 Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene.

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David Bowie Art Collection Sold Out

Ten months after David Bowie died at the age of 69, his remarkable art collection fetched more than $41 million in two days at Sotheby’s auction sales in London. Among the numerous items of British art, contemporary art, surrealism, German Expressionism, outsider art and design objects on offer, there was Basquiat’s Air Power canvas, selling for £7 million and Hirst’s collaborative work with Bowie, which went for £785,000. Most works fetched well above their estimates, including a portrait from Frank Auerbach entitled Head of Gerda Boehm which sold for £3.7 million and Family Group, a Henry Moore sculpture which sold for £580,000. The proceeds of the “white glove sales” (in which every item managed to sell) went to Bowie’s estate, which still holds some 35% of the collection.

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David Hamilton Found Dead

British photographer David Hamilton was found dead in his apartment in Paris in what appears to be suicide. He was best known for his images of nude teenage girls, which were often the topic of discussion on whether they should be considered child pornography. The photographer died at the age of 84 just a few weeks after he was accused of rape by four of his former models, including French radio host Flavie Flament. In one of his last statements, Hamilton vowed to dismiss the allegations and prove his innocence.

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Marina Abramovic Turns 70

On November 30th, Marina Abramović turned 70, celebrating the occasion with the publication of memoirs on her life and work so far. In an interview for VICE, the Serbian performance artist claimed the book will mark a new beginning and leave behind everything she’s done and experienced so far. This year, she also released a new documentary on her travels through Brazil and lost the case against her former collaborator and lover Ulay over the rights of their joint artworks, but 2017 certainly looks more promising for the unstoppable grandmother of performance art.

All images used for illustrative purposes only.