Art Events That Shaped 2019

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December 14, 2019

When it comes to art, the year that will soon be behind was certainly exciting. The art events of 2019 have impressed and amazed us, but also leaving us a bit scandalized, shocked, and outraged. There was a range of art fairs, exhibitions, festival events, and exciting news.

The art world mourned those that are no longer with us. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Okwui Enwezor, an influential Nigerian curator whose large-scale exhibitions confronted the European art canon; Takis, a celebrated Greek artist who was known for investigating the gap between art and science; Leon Kossoff, the artist known for realistic and sometimes grim representation of everyday sites, people and locations; Matthew Wong, a self-taught painter of vibrant landscapes who left us at the age of 35; Carolee Schneemann, a celebrated American artist known for her discourses on the body, sexuality and gender and research into visual traditions; Ed Clark, one of the early experimenters with shaped canvas in the 1950s; Francisco Toledo, a Mexican artist who became a symbol and expression of the deepest myths of his country; Robert Ryman, an American painter identified with the movements of monochrome painting, minimalism, and conceptual art; Joyce Pensato, an American artist, best known for her charcoal drawings and wall paintings of various cartoon characters; Mary Abbott, the Abstract Expressionist painter known for her colorful canvases and sweeping brushstrokes; Marisa Merz, an Italian sculptor associated with Arte Povera; John Giorno, an American poet and performance artist; Robert Frank, whose black-and-white silver gelatin prints are a legitimate landmark in the evolution of photography; but also David Koloane, Huguette Caland, Jill Freedman, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, and Gillian Jagger, among others.

On a brighter note, we saw the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in New York after the long-awaited, $450 million renovation. The newly revamped museum now offers expanded galleries and spaces for performance, conversation, and art making. The museum has also reinstalled the entire collection, allowing for around 2,400 works to be on view at any time, around 1,000 more than the building previously supported.

There are also many additions to public art all around the world, including Kehinde Wiley's Rumors Of War in Richmond, VA and New York City, NY, a sculpture depicting an African American man on horseback boldly sporting locs, Nike boots and a hoodie as a direct response to the Confederate statues that line Monument Avenue just a few blocks away; Jenny Holzer's Vigil in New York City, a new series of light projections featuring testimonies, responses, and poems by people confronting the everyday reality of gun violence; and Klaus Littmann's FOR FOREST—The Unending Attraction of Nature in Klagenfurt, Austria, that saw the curator planting 300 trees in a football stadium as a memorial to the environment in the Anthropocene era.

As we rush towards 2020, let's take a look at other events that marked the year that we will soon leave behind us.

Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - Comedian, 2019. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

The Mercedes v Street Artists Lawsuit

At the beginning of the year, murals by Daniel Bombardier aka DenialJeff SotoJames “Dabls” Lewis and Maxx Gramajo were used as backdrops of a new ad for the Mercedes G 500 vehicle, without permission. The four artists filed a lawsuit, only to get sued themselves by Mercedes-Benz for copyright infringement. The company explained that the focus of their images was the vehicle itself, not the art behind it. The rest of the art community reacted against Mercedes’ bullying, including MadC, who explained that their "actions could scare artists into not wanting to make any artwork outdoors for fear that big companies will use and exploit their work without permission."

Read the whole article here.

We also spoke to attorney Jeff Gluck about the case - more about that here.

Christoph Büchel's Barca Nostra in Venice

This year's Venice Biennale took place under the theme May You Live in Interesting Times, an allusion to periods of crisis, uncertainty and turmoil. During the event, the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel presented his ongoing project called BARCA NOSTRA, a recovered fishing boat from the Mediterranean’s deadliest shipwreck in living memory which occurred in 2015 in the Sicilian Channel. The boat carried an average of five migrants per square meter and became a coffin for over 700 people after it collided with a Portuguese freighter attempting to come to its rescue. The work serves as a relic of a human tragedy but also a monument to contemporary migration.

Because of a lack of information about the artwork on site, many visitors of BARCA NOSTRA went away from it completely unaware of the point it was trying to make.

Read the story here.

The Sackler v Art Institutions Saga

This entire year was marked by the Sackler crisis, where activists (among which photographer Nan Goldin) have been calling out the museums to cut connections with the Sacklers, a family that has been behind many art world projects of the past few decades. This was due to their pharmaceutical business and its role in the opioid crisis in the U.S. Their company Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin in 1966, misbranded and heavily promoted drug regarded as the main factor in the opioid epidemic. The case inspired a conversation about the issue of ethical philanthropy and how museums should be more discerning about donors.

Throughout the year, museums and institutions like The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, The Guggenheim, Tate, and The National Gallery (London) all cut ties with The Sacklers.

Read the entire story here.

Jeff Koons' Rabbit Record at the May New York Auction Week

This year's May New York auction week has been described as market-assuring and record-breaking. The work that stole the show this spring was Jeff Koons's Rabbit, bought by Robert Mnuchin, the famous American art dealer and owner of Mnuchin Gallery in New York. The sale broke the record for the most expensive living artist, a position that was previously held by David Hockney. One of the most radical works of art of the 20th century, Rabbit was sold for a stunning $91,1 million!

Read the entire story here.

Sotheby's Went Private

This summer, Sotheby's was bought by BidFair USA owned by a billionaire, and art collector, Patrick Drahi. After the acquisition worth $3.7 billion, Sotheby's, which was a public company for 31 years, was moved to the private sector. Patrick Drahi emphasized that his purchase of Sotheby’s was made through his personal holding and that he has no plans in changing the company’s strategy and that his focus will remain on the telecom and media industries.

In the meantime, around 30 senior executives at Sotheby's were laid off. As part of that same reorganization, Amy Cappellazzo, the chairman of Sotheby’s current Fine Art division will also oversee Old Master and 19th-century paintings and drawings, as well as prints and photographs.

Read the entire story here.

The Stonewall Uprisings 50th Anniversary

The year 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a momentous event that changed the course of LGBTQ+ struggle for equality and acceptance. The anniversary was celebrated with a range of exhibitions across art institutions, but also a number of talks with the witnesses and leading activists, book promotions and related activities taking place within Pride month throughout the United States.

Among them was an exhibition of portraits of both elderly and young queer artists and activists made by Collier Schorr, which was on view at the Alice Austen House; an exhibition at The New York Public Library titled Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50 that featured archival material showing the difficult status of LGBTQ community before Stonewall and the transformation that ensued after; the exhibition Otherwise at the Fralin Museum of Art, featuring more than forty works from their permanent collection that explore LGBTQ+ culture influenced the art currents from the early 20th century until the present day; and Be Seen: Portrait Photography Since Stonewall at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, focusing on LGBTQ+ related photographic production made by twenty-seven influential artists; among others.

KAWS' Companions Visited Hong Kong and Mount Fuji

KAWS has been experiencing the meteoric rise in the past few years, with his art attracting thousands of people wherever it pops. This year, the artist presented two major projects - KAWS: HOLIDAY in Hong Kong and KAWS: HOLIDAY in Mount Fuji.

The third iteration of KAWS: HOLIDAY, presented in Hong Kong in spring 2019, featured his iconic COMPANION character in a relaxed and reclined position, floating on his back, face turned up to the sky at the waterfront off Tamar Park. The installation sought to encourage residents and tourists to relax, slow down and enjoy

The fourth iteration of KAWS: HOLIDAY saw a massive installation of the COMPANION on the beautiful plateau of Fumotoppara Camping Ground in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, depicted in a relaxed position. The installation sought to create a unique camping experience that connects people in pristine nature.

Turner Prize For All

The 2019 Turner Prize, the most prestigious British art award, was given to all four nominees for the first time in history. Nominated artists Lawrence Abu HamdanHelen CammockOscar Murillo and Tai Shani made a plea for the judges to recognize the causes of “commonality, multiplicity and solidarity.” The artists, who are all engaged in forms of social or participatory practice, have written a letter saying that their vision is mutual and is not to be divided. As they explained, they "recognized the underlying shared ethos that runs across our otherwise very different practices." Consequently, the judges decided to split the £40,000 prize evenly into four shares for each artist.

Read the entire story here.

Maurizio Cattelan’s Year of (Stolen) Golden Toilets and (Very) Expensive Bananas

The year 2019 was certainly an eventful one for the controversial Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.

His iconic artwork America, the 18-karat solid gold toilet that acts as a witty comment on the social, political and economic disparities in the United States, was stolen from his solo exhibition at The Blenheim Palace this September. The work has not been retrieved yet, and Cattelan praised the burglary, calling the thieves “great performers.”

As if that was not enough, the artist had his work eaten during Art Basel in Miami. Galerie Perrotin exhibited Cattelan's work Comedian, a duct-taped banana that was priced at $120,000, which offers insight into how we perceive and assign worth and poses the question of what kind of objects we value. Two editions of the work were sold, while the third one was eaten by the performance artist David Datuna as part of his performance Hungry Artist. The gallery did not press any charges, stating it was all "in good spirits."

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