Get an idea in 2021 | Michel Prodger

From cryptocurrency to pandemic-plagued exhibits, it’s been an eventful year in art

The year in art started late. The Covid restrictions meant it was mid-May before the already delayed exhibition schedule began to roll out, and then it took a while to ramp up. If the closures increased the desire to visit museums and resume old habits, then it was not visible. In the month following the reopening, attendance at London’s major galleries was only a fraction of the same period in 2019: the Tates at 32%, the V&A at 22%, the British Museum at 20%, while that the National Gallery was limping at a paltry 14 percent.

To compound the gloom, precarious finances meant that many UK museums had already had to lay off staff. Although he was pressed to allow the museums to open earlier, the government has shown its intellectual strengths by ranking them alongside saunas in terms of priory. Meanwhile, shopping malls, under the ‘non-essential retail’ sector, were allowed to open five weeks ago – another slap in the face.

As an example of how not to showcase paintings, it was hard to beat

Normal service, when it finally arrived, meant different things to different galleries. The National Gallery focused on scholarly excellence: its exhibition Artemisia Gentileschi was revealing, “Chick and the Dance” revealed a joy hidden in the sight of a majestic painter, and “Dürer’s Travels” filled the walls of observation miracles. Kenyan-born Michael Armitage’s Royal Academy show revealed a fascinating talent as “Late Constable” laid bare how the ruralist evolved into a full-fledged painter of Sturm und Drang. For the first time in 250 years of history, the Summer Exhibition became a fall exhibition until the early days of 2022.

With Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s textiles, Tate Modern was a hit with its haphazard program of promoting little-known female artists, while the great Paula Rego retrospective at Tate Britain confirmed her as one of the painters. the most important and enigmatic of the past 50 years. On the flip side, Tate Britain has succeeded in turning the finest gathering of Hogarths seen in a generation into an object lesson in intrusive conservation, making banal and exaggerated connections between the mid-18th century and current concerns in race and gender. As an example of how not to showcase paintings, it was hard to beat.

Meanwhile, the Courtauld Gallery has reopened to universal praise at Somerset House in London after a £ 60million overhaul over three years. For the first time in 90 years of history, it can be appreciated as one of the great collections of the country. In Oslo, the new Munch Museum at a cost of 260 million dollars finally opened its doors, having been mentioned for the first time in 2008. With 13 floors and nearly 27,000 objects, it is one of the most great museums with a unique artist in the world. In Paris, the Bourse de Commerce of luxury billionaire François Pinault the town’s former circular grain exchange became the home of his private collection finally open. Two great museum architects have also seen plans come to fruition: Renzo Piano with his $ 482 million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles and Frank Gehry’s glittering $ 179 million fractured tower on LUMA Arles’ creative campus. .

The biggest event of all was the physical opening of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. Located in the former royal palace complex in Berlin, it cost more than $ 700 million – Europe’s most expensive cultural project – to make it a showcase for non-European art collections from Germany. He appeared at a feverish time with German Culture Minister Monika Grütters announcing that the country’s museums would begin returning to Nigeria a “substantial” number of their Beninese bronzes looted by British soldiers in 1897.

For the first time, Christie’s has accepted payment in cryptocurrency

They were beaten there by Jesus College, Cambridge, which became the first institution in the world to return a bronze from Benin when it presented in October the sculpture of a rooster that it has held since 1906. On its heels, the University of Aberdeen who made his head of Oba, or King. Barely a year goes by without Greece calling for the return of the Elgin Marbles; this year’s chorus was loud and muddled by a letter written in 2012 by Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, to a Greek politician in which he said that ideally the sculptures would never have been removed from the Parthenon. Fortunately, any decision remains beyond the reach of politicians.

The commercial art world didn’t seem to care about these anecdotes like a global pandemic. Money is on top of such things, as evidenced by Sotheby’s record turnover of over $ 7.3 billion, about 26% more than in 2019. The best example of a move of money mysteriously was the $ 69.3 million for Daily: the first 5,000 days, an NFT (Non-Fungible Token, essentially unique digital objects) by Beeple (a pseudonym for Mike Winkelmann). For the first time, Christie’s has accepted payment in cryptocurrency. Naturally, the job went to a crypto entrepreneur known as MetaKovan (a pseudonym for Vignesh Sundaresan). Two other Beeple works subsequently sold for $ 6.6 million and $ 28.9 million, sparking a mass stampede to get on the NFT wagon, including the British Museum which peddles 10,000 NFT from its version of Hokusai. The great wave. The NFT market has grown from $ 100 million in 2020 to $ 22 billion in 2021.

Beeple may have been the biggest winner, but the buyer who in 2018 paid £ 1million for Banksy’s Girl with a balloon did pretty well too. They sold the image, which was half-shredded in a fun twist as the hammer fell, like a re-titled work, Love is in the trash, and made £ 18.6million ($ 25.4million) – a shrewd shedding.

The beginnings of art changed in 2021

For less speculative plutocrats, traditional art has proven to be more appealing. The health of the market showed itself again with the top 10 art sales of the year totaling $ 781 million. Reflecting current trends, only two of them were not 20th century works. Topping the list was the $ 103.4 million paid for Pablo Picasso’s work. Woman seated near a window (Marie-Thérèse, 1932), and the $ 93.1 million given to the current darling of high-end auctions, Jean-Michel Basquiat In this case (1983). At the other end of the list was Jackson Pollock’s $ 61.2 million Number 17, 1951 (1951) and Cy Twombly’s $ 58.9 million Untitled (2007).

Much more exciting perhaps – and certainly adding more punch to your dollar than a Twombly – was the $ 92.2 million made by the melting beauty of Sandro Botticelli. Portrait of a young man holding a cockade. Botticellis in private hands has rare hen’s teeth, and his previous auction record was $ 10.4 million, set in 2013, so it was heartening to see that a top-notch old master could, when he was available, to compete with the guys of the 20th century.

If shenanigans like this show where we are now, this year also brought us back to a change in the early days of art: in January, a life-size red ocher depiction of a warty pig was discovered in a cave in Sulawesi in Indonesia. Dated 45,500 years ago, it is the oldest animal image ever found. Not only is it an incomparably larger work of art than a Beeple, it hasn’t been flogged like NFT yet.

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