Unless you’ve been living in a Wifi-less straw hut in Bali for all of 2018 (in which case, pls send me the Airbnb link), like everyone else on the planet with access to cable news, you’ve had a year.
The life I wish I was living.
Just take a second and let it all sink in. In the time that the moon circled the Earth the 12 times, here’s what’s gone down: one Winter Olympics, a historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, the “president” of China became a de-facto dictator (“President for Life”), the northern white rhino went extinct, a huge wave of gun violence protests broke out in the US, Trump pulled troops out of Syria, Anna Delvey scammed the New York elite (and banks) out of thousands of dollars, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot, a trade war broke out between the world’s two largest economies, Canada legalized weed, Saudi Arabia let its women drive, monstrous wildfires swept California and Greece, Brexit is still a mess, France saw its biggest wave of protests break out since 1968, Stephen Hawking and Aretha Franklin died—and so much more.
And in the art world, life has been no less hectic. In fact, studies show that 2018 has been the longest year on record (don’t fact check me on this), comparable only to what 2007 felt like to Britney Spears. To help us all process, let go of and eventually move beyond the shitstorm that has been 2018, let’s first look over some of its highlights. Voici, 2018’s most iconic art world moments—from the ones that deserve a permanent spot in the art history hall of fame to the ones that can roast in art world hell forever for all we care.
1) Kerry James Marshall and his gallerist named most influential figures of the art world
Kerry James Marshall, Past Times (1997).
When Art Review’s annual Power 100 list hits the shelves (um, web), the art world perks up and takes note. This year, nudging out Hito Steyerl and Pierre Huyghe for the first and second, David Zwirner and Kerry James Marshall (up from #67 last year) topped the list. No shade to Steyerl and Huyghe, but despite their totally unpronounceable last names, as white Europeans, both very much represent the old art world order and maybe can step aside and make room for some fresh blood.
Marshall and Zwirner beat out some very formidable competition (I mean, what does it take to outdo Ai Weiwei?) for one very concrete reason—Marshall’s record-breaking sale of Past Times for $21.1m to rapper Sean Combs, who you probably know as Diddy. This just so happens to be the highest price ever paid for a work by a living black artist. I’d like to see statistics taking into account the race of the buyer; still, the fact that we live in a society where a black man has $21.1m to shell out for a painting by another black man is a definite cause for celebration.
Both the sale and the rankings reflect the crumbling of the white, patriarchal, European bastion of power in the art world, the biggest ongoing achievement and biggest priority of the art community today. For this reason, even though it’s just an arbitrary assignment (and just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s on our computer screens), Kerry James Marshall’s ranking tops our list of best art world moments of 2018.
2) Banksy’s shredder painting at Sotheby’s
Leave it to Banksy to take a swipe at the art world elite where and when they least expect it: in the hallowed halls of the world’s most prestigious auction house, in the middle of his own auction. As bidders gathered inside of Sotheby’s, that temple of commercialized art, on October 5, they thought they were would witness a record-breaking sale of an important piece of contemporary art, Banksy’s Girl With Balloon, not a live memento mori stunt.
Philosophical implications aside, you gotta admit that it takes balls (and a kind of borderline-psychotic indifference to money) to shred your own work immediately after it sellf for a record sum. Is Banksy the Jesus of our day? Probably not—the buyer kept the work, which he agreed to “re-authenticate” with a fresh title: Love is in the Bin. While pretending to troll Sotheby’s, he probably just collaborated with it. Sotheby’s can deny that they were in on the joke until they’re blue in the face, but the argument that Banksy’s former anti-establishment street artist days are an airtight alibi against collaborating with said art world establishment is at best naïve, at worst condescending and contrived. Both made bank on the spectacle (no pun intended), but the joke only works of Sotheby’s wasn’t in on it. Come on, guys, there was no collusion!
But I digress. The genius of the stunt is that it will continue to fuel lively debates like this one in the future, not to mention undergrad term papers. And you can’t deny how expertly he milked social media culture to make a splash in one fell shred. And how good is his IG caption: “Going, going, gone…”?! There are endless layers to unpack here, and that’s why the stunt takes second place.
3) The Obama portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald
Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama (2018).
The only thing about most American official presidential portraits worth mentioning is how totally mediocre and forgettable they are. You’d think that the head honcho of the world’s only superpower (not in the mood to talk about the rise of China rn, sorry) could hire the crème-de-la-crème of contemporary artists to paint the picture that will freeze his image for posterity, but so far, this has not been the case.
But as with everything they touch, the Obamas shook up this sad tradition by tapping buzz-worthy and critically acclaimed contemporary artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, to paint their visual legacies.
Amy Sherald, The First Lady Michelle Obama (2018).
The portraits now hang in the National Portrait Gallery of America in the Smithsonian Gallery in Washington, DC. Since they moved in on February 12, the volume of visitors to the museum went from a trickle to a flood, forcing the Smithsonian to move them to a larger gallery.
Critics and fans have voiced some reservations about the works: Wiley’s Technicolor florals are a bit decadent for Mr. Obama’s sober progressive vibe, and Sherald’s signature grey toned skin may or may not whitewash the former First Lady. Still, these are the only presidential portraits that the art world has even cared enough to say anything about, not to mention, they got the public talking about contemporary art and brought lots of attention to the artists. For that, this is a moment that’s going down in art history.
4) When the Guggenheim offered Trump a golden toilet
While we’re on a political note, here’s one story that’s way good to leave out. Last January, the White House phoned the Guggenheim to ask a little favor: to borrow a Van Gogh work. Unfortunately, that work is part of a collection that cannot leave the museum, so curator Nancy Spector was forced to politely decline. A true diplomat, Spector proposed an irresistible counter-offer: Maurizio Cattelan’s America, a piece she wrote about back in August 2017 in a blog post titled “Maurizio Cattelan’s Golden Toilet in the Time of Trump”. This renowned, priceless, critically lauded work couldn’t been a suitable replacement for the Van Gogh, but the White House didn’t seem to bite. What gives?
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that America is a solid gold toilet.
Unfortunately, Trump never tweeted his thoughts about America, nor did the Guggenheim ever get an official response from the White House. But their reasoning isn’t too hard to infer.
As you might imagine, Spector got a slap on the wrist and was forced to apologize for letting her own political views skew the museum’s public image, but god, what a boss bitch move. Best of all, the suggestion can be read into as much or as little as you want, so no one can prove she meant any shade by it.
5) #MeToo named art world’s third most powerful by Art Review
Billboard from Truisms series (1977-79).
You already know who came in first and second, but scroll down a little further and you’re in for yet another delightful surprise. Not a person but an entire movement snagged the #3 spot: #MeToo.
Since October 2017, #MeToo has wreaked some much-needed havoc in every industry, starting in Hollywood but bleeding out in every direction. When allegations (Knight Landesman, Riyas Komu and Subodh Gupta, to name just a few) started raining down on the art world, we couldn’t help but hear Jenny Holzer’s famous words ringing through our ears: “Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise.”
In response, a group of art world workers founded We Are Not Surprised, launching the organization with an open letter decrying deeply insidious sexist and abusive behavior in the art world, as well as those who see the abuse and turn their cheek.
If you’re wondering why you’ve been seeing so many wonderful women-focused shows and exhibits this year, look no further. Without a doubt, many of these shows (“Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985” was one of the author’s favorites) have shed light on overlooked women artists and artists of color. But as the open letter pointed out, much of the abuse hides behind such progressive public gestures and would-be enlightened lip service. Unless you’re down in the trenches, it’s hard to know exactly how much has changed.
But all change has to start somewhere, and 2018 will forever go down as the year the timer hit zero—for silence, for tolerance of abuse, for women being afraid to step into their full power. No longer.
6) Judy Chicago finally getting her due
Judy Chicago, Bigamy Hood (1965), a piece in the ICA Miami retrospective.
Not to say we told you so, but we did run a piece on Judy Chicago right before all the hubbub began. In roughly 12 months, this seminal feminist artist will have not one, not two, but five major exhibitions around the world paying homage to her long and egregiously underrated career.
The most publicized of these was Chicago’s first career retrospective at ICA Miami. Whatever publicist or PR person planned the show to coincide with Art Basel definitely deserves an end-of-the-year bonus, because the timing certainly helped nudge the show into the spotlight. So much so that Judy Chicago: A Reckoning made it onto one of ArtNet’s lists of the year’s most memorable shows, and Chicago herself landed high onto Artsy’s most influential artists of 2018 list.
Though no one in their right mind would call Judy Chicago an emerging artist, she’s definitely reemerging with a bang. We hope that her comeback signals a broader wave of rediscovery of overlooked women artists, which just so happens to be out whole M.O.
7) KAWS X Dior collection
For all you arty hypebeats who live for a killer collab, this year did not disappoint. The Brooklyn-based street artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS, is no stranger to the streetwear scene, a renowned collaboration with Vans under his belt. But this September, he dipped his toes in the couture pool as part of a larger trend of high fashion looking to the streets for its inspiration (blame in on Vetements and the luxurization of Supreme). At the same time, fashion collabs in general are also at an all-time high, including those with artists. But we’re not complaining; all these disparate forced came together to form an iconic collab: KAWS X Dior. This year, Donnelly teamed up with Dior to reinterpret the house’s signature bee logo for an entire line of SS19 prêt-à-porter.
And if that weren’t #hype enough, the collection also included a giant KAWS BFF plush—dressed in a Dior suit, naturally. After pics of celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and A$AP Rocky posing with the BFF hit the ‘Gram, the plush became this year’s hottest fashion commodity. He can be yours for $60,000, as currently listed on StockX. The highest bid? Just over $7,000—probably the most a hybebeast has ever been ready to shell out for a stuffed animal, ever.
8) Richard Prince X Supreme “18 & Stormy” Tee
Richard Prince, 18 and Stormy (2018).
In other news that you probably read about on High Snobiety, this year, the streetwear behemoth we all love to hate, Supreme, once again used the work of a famous artist on their t-shirts—but this time, they asked.
Unlike when they ripped off Barbara Kruger, this ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers nailed it this time. The t-shirt features an image that Richard Prince had tweeted out: a composite of the 18 women that have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, plus Stormy Daniels. The work is called 18 & Stormy, and if you’re not much of a Supreme girl (who can blame you?), you can cop a poster or a print version. All proceeds go to Downtown for Democracy, a progressive PAC founded in 2003 and run by artists and creatives.
And if you are a Supreme girl? The tee can be yours for only $79.
1) Brazil’s National Museum fire
The remains of the day.
As far as art world tragedies go, it’s hard to top a fire that destroys 90% of a huge country’s national museum’s collection. Especially when said museum was… uninsured. Cue cringing so hard you pull a muscle.
On September 2, a huge fire in Brazil burned down the country’s oldest and largest natural history museum, destroying priceless, irreplaceable artifacts like Greco-Roman art and ancient Brazilian fossils.
Although this catastrophe didn’t hit the art world, per se, we can all stand in solidarity with Brazil on this one. If you’re reading this, please return anything you might have loaned from the museum—and for god’s sake, insure your museums, people.
2) Laura Aguilar’s death
Laura Aguilar, Motion #56 (1999).
The art world, just like any other human community, loses many outstanding members each year, people worth mourning, commemorating and celebrating. This year was no different. But the death of photographer Laura Aguilar on April 25 stings all the more for coming as a total shock: she was only 58 and just beginning to attract critical attention, and her loss isn’t just a human tragedy but a huge blow for the art world.
Aguilar’s work was challenging, provocative and uncomfortable, not to mention it dealt with issues of marginalized groups, all of which explains, but does not justify, why it was brushed aside for so long. Though Aguilar has been making her deeply personal work since the 80s, she only recently began gathering serious traction in the art world, appearing in several exhibitions in the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA program.
Left: Laura Aguilar, Clothed/Unclothed 1 (1990) Right: Laura Aguilar, Will Work for #4 (1993).
Aguilar’s death came as a huge loss for her loved ones and her community, but also for the art world at large. In these divisive, hate-filled times, we need compassionate viewpoints, like Aguilar’s lens, to remind us that the forgotten, downtrodden and ostracized members of our community deserve to be seen, understood and loved—just like the rest of us.
3) When Anna Delvey showed us that empty promises, pure swag and killer eyewear runs the art world
IG post from May 31, 2016.
On May 28, the news broke: a person who had been calling herself Anna Delvey for years finally landed in jail for throwing around money she did not have. To be honest, this story is so impressively improbably—and was so addictively entertaining to follow—that it was hard to decide if it should go under “Best” or “Worst” art world moments. As a pure stunt, Delvey Banksied the art world way harder than Banksy himself. But what this tale reveals about the art world elite certainly gives you pause.
By the time her scheme unraveled, Delvey, whose real name was Sorokin, had very nearly succeeded in opening a Soho-house-style private club in Manhatten, a “dynamic visual arts center,” as she described it. While most things about Delvey turned out to be fake, the plan was very real: she wanted locations in New York, L.A., London, Hong Kong and Dubai and work by Urs Fischer, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Tracey Enim. Daniel Arham was supposed to curate the pop-up shops and Christo was going to wrap the building for the opening.
Unfortunately, just as she was thiiis close to scheming her way into a $25mill loan that would make the project a reality, Delvey’s house of maxed-out credit cards tumbled down around her Alexander Wang-clad feet. After an impressively long streak of getting away with it, her trail of bad checks, unpaid hotel bills, loans from friends never paid back and wire transfers that never arrived finally landed her in a serious legal pickle. This summer, Delvey went from Manhatten’s hottest hotels to a brief homeless stint to Rikers Island Prison Complex, New York City’s main prison center.
Wait… did she just give herself away? Caption: “Ed Ruscha the OG”.
The story hit the zeitgeist over the summer with a viral article in The Cut, but the saga continues. Earlier this month, Sorokin rejected a plea deal that would let her out of jail as long as she agreed to return to Germany—not a bad deal, considering she’s facing 15 years. On the bright side, Netflix is making a show about her story, and she now has 53K Insta followers even though she hasn’t posted since 2017, so who’s the real winner?
If you think Anna Sorokin comes out of this story looking pretty bad (and lots of people would disagree), the art world looks even worse. As her concierge friend Neff Davis so elegantly put it, “How stupid are these guys? You’re fooled by a girl who [says she’s German but] is from Russia and can’t even speak German. And she had an AOL account from a ‘family accountant.’ But you know, that’s America.”
But it wasn’t just the American banking elite that were fooled by Delvey’s somewhat baffling charms (I mean, she’s cute, but she’s no Angie Jolie). Tons of art world hot shots were just as convinced—and very down to help her with her project. You’d think that a community of people who wrote their graduate thesis on a specific shade of blue in Vermeer’s paintings would be able to sniff out a fake—before she liquidated all their cash.
At Dia:Beacon, August 24, 2015.
Whether Delvey was a real art lover—and going off of an intuitive feeling and her IG feed, she was—or just wanted to live the arty lifestyle, she’s not all that different from any of us. Since the days of Warhol (and probably before), the art world, like America, had fed off wishful thinking reified into plastic, self-transformation and get-rich-quick stunts. You could argue that Delvey just took it a step too far.
Caption: #beautifulmorning. Location: The Standard, East Village NY. July 16, 2016.
4) A selfie gone wrong that damaged work by Francisco Goya and Salvador Dali
Blame it on Kim K, but selfies are taking over the world. They’re basic, they’re narcissistic, they’re infuriating when you’re just tryna gaze at the Mona Lisa in peace without being gouged in the eye with 12 selfie sticks—but did you know that selfies are also one of the most damaging plagues to ever descend upon the art world? Ok, I might be exaggerating, but since camera phones have infiltrated the population en masse, clumsy selfie antics have wreaked almost as much havoc on priceless works of art as all the world’s fire and brimstone combined (Brazil National Museum fire excluded, of course).
But since we’re limited to 2018, you’ll have to read about all the other selfie mishaps on your own time. On the selfie accident scale, this one is far from the worst: this November, a girl gang of four sent a wall crashing down in an exhibit in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The victims were two works by Francisco Goya and Salvador Dalí, but luckily, only the frames and glass were damaged. Although no permanent harm was done, let this be a lesson that your museum selfie shenanigans should under no circumstances cause you to lose your balance.
5) Jeff Koons was found guilty of plagiarism (again)
Jeff Koons, Fait D’Hiver (1988) vs. Franck Davidovici’s Fait D’Hiver for Naf Naf.
We’ve all heard that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but if plagiarism lawsuits are the lightning and Jeff Koons is a mile-high lightning rod in the middle of the Sahara desert, this little truism needs a bit of reevaluation. What I’m trying to say is this: Koons recently got slapped with another guilty verdict and a drop-in-the-bucket fine, $153,000 to be exact, by a French court for ripping off the work of advertising executive Franck Davidovici. The court did not, however, comply with the plaintiff’s request to seize the sculpture, Fait d’Hiver, the same title as Davidovici’s original spread. Tant pis.
This is by no means Koons’ first lawsuit, nor will it be his last. To be fair, the entire show that the piece came out of, “Banality,” centered around Koons’ re-creations of copyrighted material, like advertisements. We could launch into a whole discussion about creative license and whether copying something with the intention that it is Art lets you off the plagiarism hook. Just about now, any freshman art student that paid halfway attention in lecture would slide in with this glib trump card: Nothing is original! And yet, you gotta admit that some things are less original than others, like Fait d’Hiver. But if you really stop and think about it—no really, stop and think—what makes Koons any different than Warhol?
As far as art world news goes, this one is kind of passé—a fait divers, French for a short news item, and a homonym of “fait d’hiver”. So why is it on this list? In short, because we can’t resist a saucy Koons debate. Why does the art world, including some members of the press (ahem), live to self-righteously crusade against him? Is it possible that this reflexive distaste has less to say about him—and more about ourselves? How’s that for a brain massage?
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via @travelbath, KiSS 92.5, Sotheby’s, @banksy, The New Yorker, Guggenheim, National Association for the Visual Arts, Miami New Times, Dior, @mrkimjones, StockX, @gladstone.gallery, Cnet, ELAC Campus News, @theannadelvey, @kimkardashian, Culturebox.