A Year in Art - Events that Shaped 2017

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December 25, 2017

The year that will soon be behind us has certainly been exciting. Over the course of this year, art events in 2017 have made us impressed, amazed and in awe, but also scandalized, shocked, and outraged.

Unfortunately, there are those that are no longer with us. We have said farewell to Jannis Kounellis, a Greek-Italian contemporary artist associated with Arte Povera, died this February at the age of 81, James Rosenquist, one of the most popular protagonists of the American Pop Art movement, died in March at the age of 84, and Enrico Castellani, an Italian painter associated with the zero movement and Azimuth, has left us this December at the age of 87.

Let’s take a look back at events have marked the year 2017, from controversies and inspiring changes to new museums opening and new art world records.

Featured images: Venice Biennial 2017, via connectingart.it; Louvre Abu Dhabi's exterior. Image © Mohamed Somji; Documenta 14, via spaces.com; Banksy's Walled Off Hotel, via telegraph.co.uk; Balthus - Therese Dreaming (detail). All images used for illustrative purposes.

The Rise of VR Art Projects

Every art piece demands a certain level of immersion and engagement. However, with a possibility of creating hundreds of simulated worlds, virtual reality has taken things to a completely new level. Becoming a mainstay of the art world, it has inspired many to imagine art beyond their own individual point of view.

The year 2017 was a good year for virtual reality in art. Recreating the experience of refugees crossing the Mexico-US border in exhibitions in Milan and Los Angeles, Alejandro Iñárritu’s virtual reality installation Carne y Arena earned the director a special Oscar. Other examples include the group exhibition Virtually Real at the Royal Academy Schools in London, Zaha Hadid’s VR worlds at London’s Serpentine Gallery and Ed Fornieles’ VR sex experience at Carlos/Ishikawa in London.

Featured image: Virtual Reality at The Royal Academy of Arts in London

The documenta Controversies

The world's most important series of contemporary art exhibitions that takes place every five years, documenta 14 was held this year in Kassel and Athens, but not without controversies.

It was reported by HNA newspapers that the event’s leadership had run up a budget deficit of €7 million (about $8.3 million), threatening the continued operation of the quinquennial.

The curatorial team has responded with an open letter, criticizing the report for “[p]resenting their opinions as objective facts” and “reiterating speculations and half-truths”.

At the same time, over 200 artists and curators have signed an open letter calling for the restructure of documenta’s supervisory structure, which, according to their claim, had reduced the German contemporary art exhibition to “a commercial enterprise”. The letter outlined five measures to protects the show’s future artistic, curatorial, and political autonomy.

This has resulted in another response from the documenta team, stating that claims do a disservice to their work by casting “a false shadow of criticism and scandal over documenta 14”.

The Venice Biennial 2017

The world’s biggest international art exhibition, Venice Biennial returned this year for the 57th time, breaking the attendance record. It attracted 615,000 visitors over its six-month run, making it the best-attended edition in history.

As Paolo Baratta, the show’s president noted, the main exhibition curated by Christine Macel benefitted from “a growing desire to personally and directly discover the vitality of art in relation to the daily bombardment of sounds and images to which the world is subjected.”

The Golden Lion was awarded to Anne Imhof of the pavilion of Germany for the performative exhibition titled Faust. One of the most talked about show since the opening of Biennial, it has been described by the president of the jury, Manuel Borja-Villel, as “a powerful and disturbing installation that poses urgent questions about our time”.

Featured image: Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017 for the German Pavilion, 57th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Nadine Fraczkowski, Courtesy German Pavilion 2017, the artist.

Banksy as Active as Ever

The year 2017 was quite busy for Banksy. As always, he seems to be omnipresent and everything he does is immediately in the spotlight.

In March this year, the artist opened The Walled Off Hotel right in the face of the Israeli security wall that wraps around Bethlehem. Built over the course of 14 months in complete secrecy, the hotel brings attention to this part of the world and the illegal wall which overlooks, at the same time giving a much-needed boost to the Palestinian economy.

During the summer, the citizens of the United Kingdom surprisingly picked his famous piece Girl with Balloon as a nation’s best-loved art. The piece has left behind John Constable’s The Hay Wain and Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

As if this was not enough, the director Danny Boyle has teamed up with Banksy to stage The Alternativity, an alternative nativity play staged at the artist’s Bethlehem hotel. The documentary about the process aired on BBC Two on December 17th.

Featured image: Banksy's Walled Off Hotel, via cnbc.com

The Art World Shook by the Sexual Harassment

Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, when The New York Times published a story detailing a number of sexual harassment allegations leveled against him, at least 20 high-profile men have faced similar accusations, including two powerful figures in the art world.

The former Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman has been accused of sexual misconduct by nine younger women, causing him to resign. These accusations were seen by many as a vital tipping point within an industry that’s rife with misogyny and discrimination.

Similarly, the former Armory Show director Benjamin Genocchio was also accused of sexual harassment, ranging from the inappropriate remarks to multiple instances of unwelcome touching.

While the art world reacted with a mix of surprise and resignation, more than 2000 workers of the art world have signed an open letter condemning sexual harassment and abuses of power in the art world.

Featured image: Knight Landesman, via thecut.com

Linda Nochlin Dies

A prominent art historian and a dedicated advocate of gender equality in art, Linda Nochlin passed away this October.

During her six-decades-long career, she has contributed to the theory of art with valuable research and the resulting projects that spearheaded the mid-20th-century feminist thought within the art world, raising consciousness regarding the treatment of female artists.

Nochlin is most famous for posing a controversial question “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists" in her 1971 landmark essay, demolishing the misconception that women lacked the artist gene and showing that is was the opportunity, not ability, that has held women back historically.

With gender inequality still being a pressing issue within the art world, her writing remains as relevant as ever.


Featured image: Kathleen Gilje - Linda Nochlin in Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 2005 (detail)

The Louvre Abu Dhabi Opens

After ten years of being in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors this November, becoming the first universal museum in the Arab world.

The only museum outside of France that bears the name of the original Louvre museum in Paris, it is located on the Saadiyat Island at the Arabian Gulf’s coastline and is situated in a stunning building designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

A true work of art covered by a silvery Arabian-style dome that measures 180 meters in diameter, the building itself is “an homage to the Arab city, to its poetry in geometry and light”.

Housing a collection of 23 permanent galleries across 6,400 square meters and featuring a total of 600 works of art, the museum aims to showcase the shared human stories across civilizations and cultures, spanning millennia.

Featured image: Louvre Abu Dhabi, via skyscrapercity.com

Salvator Mundi as the Most Expensive Work Sold at Auction

Last month, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi created around 1500 made international headlines when it sold at Christie’s for $450.3 million, becoming the most expensive work ever sold at auction.

The piece had the dramatic public unveiling in 2011 in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at The National Gallery in London, being the first discovery of a painting by da Vinci since 1909.

Ever since the piece was sold at the auction, the art world was speculating about the mystery bidder who took home the work after a protracted contest lasting nearly 20 minutes at the auction house.

Soon, it was revealed that the piece was acquired by Abu Dhabi’s department of culture and tourism and it will be available for public view at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Featured image: Salvator Mundi presented at the auction at Christie's in London, via time.com

Lubaina Himid Wins Turner Prize

Lubaina Himid made history as the first woman of color and the oldest artist ever to win Turner Prize, Britain’s most prestigious art award.

An artist who makes challenging and thought-provoking works that address colonial history, racism and institutional invisibility, Himid entered this year’s shortlist, alongside Andrea Büttner, Rosalind Nashashibi and Hurvin Anderson, after the Turner Prize 2017 had changed the criteria to include artists over 50.

Himid was awarded £25,000, the money which she will spend mostly on commissioning other artists. Finally getting the recognition she deserves, the artist was praised by the judges for her “uncompromising tackling of issues including colonial history and how racism persists today” as well as her “expansive and exuberant approach to painting, which combines satire and a sense of theatre”.

Featured image: Lubaina Himid, via independent.co.uk

The Balthus Controversy

The painting Thérèse Dreaming by Balthus on view at The Met became the center of the controversy after an online petition, that gathered almost 9000 backers in five days, called the artwork too sexually suggestive and demanded for it to be taken down.

Launched by Mia Merill, a New York City resident, the petition accused museum of proudly displaying an image that “romanticized the sexualization of a child”. The painting depicts Balthus’ favored model and neighbor Thérèse Blanchard with closed eyes and lost in thought, reclining in a chair in a suggestive pose that leaves her underwear visible.

However, the museum declined any possibility of removing the piece, stating that the image is “an opportunity for a conversation” about the “continuing evolution of existing culture”.

Featured image: Therese Dreaming at The Met, via washingtonpost.com

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