Art Events That Shaped 2020

December 14, 2020

It is proving challenging to describe the phenomenon that is 2020 - perhaps the phrase "a year like no other" finally makes sense, as surviving a pandemic surely is quite a universal experience. As expected, the spreading of the coronavirus is the prevailing subject in the world of art as well, affecting everything from exhibitions to art fairs, auctions, biennales and other events.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has also claimed lives within the realm, perhaps most notably that of the esteemed Italian critic Germano Celant. Of course, there were deaths unrelated to the virus, such as those of John Baldessari, Ulay, Christo, Milton Glaser, Emma Amos, and Luchita Hurtado. Their art remains their ever-lasting legacy.

It is still difficult to comment on the final outcome of the crisis, as the cultural sector as a whole struggles to survive. Reports on art galleries by ADAA and UBS and Art Basel, as well as Hiscox's art market report, suggest a grim state of affairs and an uncertain future.

Most of 2020's art fairs, exhibitions, and ennials, were cancelled or postponed, yet a handful of lucky events happened in-person, among them our partners at Art Pais, photo basel (in Berlin), the Brussels Gallery Weekend, viennacontemporary and Art Vilnius.

The exhibition schedule was a bit of a mess as well, yet 2020 saw some exquisite displays. For example, London saw two great Barbican shows: Toyin Ojih Odutola and Masculinities, the Artemisia blockbuster opened after some delay at the National Gallery, Lynette Yiadom Boakye shined bright at Tate Britain, while the Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch dialog, which just opened at the Royal Academy of Art, promises many great things. In the US, there is the great Salman Toor exhibition at The Whitney, the lost Jacob Lawrence painting at The Met, and Jordan Casteel's New Museum survey. Other highlights include Marina Abramović's opera, which had a digital premiere, as well as the worldwide execution of Felix Gonzales Torres's artwork Fortune Cookies.

And so, here's to a hopefully (much) better 2021, in which we enjoy even more art (and not just by white male artists), respect our nature more, and stay healthy!

Featured image: A walkabout of the National Gallery of Art, March 13, 2020. Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr.

Cecilia Alemani Appointed Venice Biennale 2022 Curator

At the beginning of the year, it was announced that the Italian curator Cecilia Alemani has been named Artistic Director of the 2022 edition of Venice Biennale. Alemani is the first female curator from the country itself and only the fifth female curator in general in the several-decades-long history of Venice Biennale. As she explained, she intended "to give voice to artists to create unique projects that reflect their visions and our society."

One of the most prolific figures on the scene, Alemani was in charge of the Italian Pavilion at Venice Biennale in 2017, which featured artists Roberto Cuoghi, Giorgio Andreotta Calò, and Adelita Husni-Bey.

Featured image: Cecilia Alemani, image courtesy Art Basel.

Coronavirus Takes Over The World

Surely the biggest event of 2020 (and possibly of 2021), the ongoing coronavirus pandemic changed the way we behave, look at the world and function in general. Everything, including the art world, moved online while staying home, as articles dedicated to books to read, movies to see, virtual museum tours to take, museum YouTube channels to browse, and art podcasts to listen to flocked in. Some interesting initiatives also appeared online during "the first lockdown," such as the Covid Classics Instagram account, or world's very first Covid Art Museum. In the world of urban art, there was the first Home Mural Fest, for instance.

Needless to say that a lot more happened in the meantime - be sure to regularly check out our regularly updated round-up of the ways Covid-19 is affecting the world of the arts here.

Online Viewing Rooms Take The Stage

As the coronavirus pandemic changed the world as we know it, it forced art institutions around the world to go online, giving rise to the online viewing rooms. The first event that made use of the concept was Art Basel Hong Kong, offering a new digital-only platform for the galleries and collectors after the physical event got canceled. Soon other events followed this model, including Frieze New York, offering works by more than 200 top-tier galleries.

Galleries around the world also offered their developed online platforms to showcase good exhibitions, including Perrotin Paris, which united 26 Paris-based galleries in four shows, David Zwirner New York, which presented twelve New York-based galleries, and also joined forces with Victoria Miro to host a new exhibition project called Side by Side.

Featured image: Frieze Online Viewing Room 2020.

Black Lives Matter Protests Erupt, and Artists Follow

Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, yet another victim of police brutality in the United States, the country went on fire. As thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in demand for justice and police accountability, the art world joined with a number of initiatives. A giant mural with words “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER” was painted along Hollywood Boulevard, artist Marc Quinn presented a sculpture of a BLM activist in Bristol, and more than 40 photographers participated in raising the funds for the US-based charities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and much more.

Featured image: A mural in Minneapolis by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, Niko Alexander and Pablo Hernandez

Tate Awards Turner Prize to 10 Bursaries

The challenges of 2020 also affected the Turner Prize, which announced it would cancel this year's edition. The recipients are Arika, Liz Johnson Artur, Oreet Ashery, Shawanda Corbett, Jamie Crewe, Sean Edwards, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Ima-Abasi Okon, Imran Perretta, and Alberta Whittle.

Featured image: Tate Britain exterior. Credit: Tate Photography.

The Hamptons and Palm Beach Become New Art Hotspots

This year, the Hamptons and Palm Beach became became new art destinations. As New York decentralized itself as an art hub for the time being due to the pandemic, this forced many galleries across the East River and over to the Hamptons. This is now a new home to Hauser & Wirth, Lisson Gallery, Michael Werner, Van de Weghe, Skarstedt, Pace Gallery and South Etna Montauk.

Similarly, following the uber-wealthy to their hideaways, Pace, Acquavella Galleries, Lehmann Maupin, Wynn Fine Art, and Sotheby's moved into the Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach. As David Schrader, head of Sotheby’s private sales, explained, “we need to travel great objects to where people are.”

Featured image: Exterior view of South Etna Montauk, featuring hand-painted sign by Julian Schnabel. Courtesy the artist and South Etna Montauk.

Banksy Sends a Refugee Boat to the Mediterranean

This summer, Banksy painted and sponsored a rescue ship that has been set off to the Mediterranean Sea in secrecy to save people in distress, mainly migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Named Louise Michel after the important French anarchist and feminist from the 19th century, it is painted pink and white and feature the artist's famed Girl with Balloon, only holding a heart-shaped safety buoy. The artist first got involved in September 2019, when he sent an email to Pia Klemp, former captain of several other NGO boats that have rescued thousands of people in recent years.

Featured image: Louise Michel boat painted by Banksy. Photos by Ruben Neugebauer/Sea-Watch.

The Phillip Guston Exhibition Postponement Saga

The long-planned traveling retrospective of the famed American artist Philip Guston was postponed, initially to the year 2024 and then finally to 2022. The reason behind it is that four participating museums organizing it - the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Tate Modern in London, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston - expressed concerns over its reception at the time of racial tensions in the UK and the United States. This concern relates to Guston's artworks that depicts hooded Ku Klux Klan figures made in the 1930s and mid-1960s.

Featured image: Philip Guston - Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973. Oil on canvas, overall: 196.85 x 262.89 cm (77 1/2 x 103 1/2 in.). Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. © The Estate of Philip Guston.

Debate Museum Restitutions of African Artifacts Intensifies

In the last couple of years, the restitution of African art and cultural heritage has been in the spotlight, since the majority of African artifacts found in the collections of numerous Western museums are actual prey of the former colonies and their conquests. Convinced that this cultural wealth rightfully belongs to them, these institutions perpetuate the racism at its best. Among the moves that pushed the debate was the Sarr-Savoy Report commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron, which underlined that the African artifacts never belonged to France and therefore are not to be treated as national heritage.

Featured image: Statues of the royal palace of Abomey (quai Branly museum - Jacques Chirac, Paris). Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.

Nancy Spector Leaves Guggenheim

Nancy Spector, the highest-ranking curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation in New York, departed after more than 30 years at the institution. Although it was stated that she left "to pursue other curatorial endeavors and to finish her doctoral dissertation," her resignation comes in the wake of mounting pressure from a group of current and former workers known as A Better Guggenheim and accusations of racism made by curator Chaédria LaBouvier. In June 2020, the group released an open letter to the board urging them "to dismantle the systemic racism" at the museum.

Featured image: Nancy Spector. Photo by Inez and Vinoodh. Courtesy Guggenheim.

Museums Deaccessions Cause Controversy

This year, many American museums found themselves in a difficult financial situation due to the pandemic. This is why several of them decided to engage in deaccessioning works of art from their permanent collections after the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) announced a series of resolutions to loosen up the penalties imposed on museums regarding their need to redirect incomes from endowment funds or donations for general operating expenses. This sparked much controversy, especially after the Baltimore Museum of Art announced they would sell three major works of art worth $65 million via Sotheby’s.

Featured image: Baltimore Museum of Art. Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2018, image via Baltimore Heritage (Wikimedia Commons).