As we wave goodbye to 2015 and welcome the New Year, we’ve rounded up fifteen art stories that made the headlines: Fifteen in ’15. Which stories stand out for you? Did we miss something? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Art influenced life with terrifying results at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in France in February. Gunmen hit the French Satirical Weekly Charlie Hebdo in response to a cartoon of the prophet Mohamed on their cover, killing 12 people in the attack. One week later, with most of the staff perished in the previous attack Charlie Hebdo hit back by producing an issue one week later with a cover illustration that demonstrating their resilience. Their response was hailed by many as the ultimate testament to freedom of speech and artistic freedom.
2. Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Girls Sells Privately and Breaks Records
Also in February, Gauguin’s 1892 painting of two Tahitian girls titled ‘Nafea Faa Ipoipo’ (When Will You Marry?) broke the record for the world’s most expensive single work of art, when a Qatari Royal reportedly bought the canvas from a Swiss collector, Mr Staechelin, for almost $300 million (£196.7m). It was painted during Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti and for decades it had been on loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel; but Mr Staechelin reportedly decided to sell the painting after a small disagreement with the museum.
3. Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers’ Becomes Highest Selling At Auction
Shortly after Gaugin’s girls broke records, in May, Picasso’s ‘Women of Algiers (Version O)’ became highest selling artwork at auction. The work is part of a 15-work series Picasso created in 1954-1955 designated with the letters A to O. The same evening of the sale of ‘Women of Algiers (Version O)’; Alberto Giacometti’s life-size sculpture Pointing Man reached $141.3m, making it the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction.
4. Grayson Perry’s ‘A House For Essex’ (pictured)
Again in May 2015, Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry opened the doors of his ‘House For Essex’. Designed with architects FAT, Perry had completed a “long held ambition” to build a secular chapel. He described the design as “bonkers yet dignified” and is open for the public to book a stay in the house. Residents of the chocolate box village of Warbness where the chapel has been erected were initially a little resistant to the house fear of the village being overrun. But they were persuaded on side as Perry insisted that, like the tradition of wayside and pilgrimage chapels, it s dedicated to a saint. Perry’s saint of choice was a “secular Essex everywoman,” a fictional character of his own creation called Julie Cope. “I wanted her biography to reflect Essex and women since the war,” he said.
5. Ai Weiwei’s Passport Is Returned
In July Chinese artist Ai Weiwei announced via instagram that his passport had been returned, having been banned from travelling for four years since being detained in 2011 in Beijing. “Today, I received a passport,” he wrote on Twitter and Instagram, along with a photograph that showed him holding his very own Chinese travel document.
The artist, who exhibited his sculptural installation ‘Sunflower Seeds’ at the Tate Modern in London, was held and interrogated in Beijing for 81 days and later prosecuted on a charge of tax evasion. A court ruled against him and said his studio owed $2.4 million in penalties and back taxes. Weiwei has said the case against him was retaliation to his political activism.
As well as being unable to travel outside China, he was prevented from holding any shows in the country and works of his were also removed from group exhibitions in Shanghai last year. When asked why the authorities had decided to return his passport he said “I only can say why not? They have promised for the past four years to give it back. Now finally they gave it to me.”
6. Destruction in Palmyra
In August Isil militants destroyed the ancient temple of Baal-shamin in a planned explosion. Built in AD17 in homage to the pagan god Baal, the temple had later been converted to a Christian church in the fifth or sixth century and had been a sight of pilgrimage for historians, architects and many others ever since. Syrian’s antique ministry reported that the temple’s cellar and colonnade had suffered the lion’s share of the explosion.
This news came less than a week after the appalling news that the group beheaded 81-year-old Khaled Al-Asaad, the guardian of Palmyra’s antiquities, for reportedly refusing to reveal the location of valuable artifacts from the World Heritage Site. Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco, said “They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra,” she said. “His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists. They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”
7. Banksy’s Dimslaland
In August, Banksy raised expectations again by opening his first alternative theme park, Dismaland. Banksy’s art show theme park was situated on a 2.5 acre site and featured a statue of a glitching Ariel the mermaid, a Cinderella crash scene and some very unenthusiastic employees. Banksy described the theme park as “family theme park unsuitable for small children” and that it’s “a showcase for the best artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down.” The theme park featured works by 58 artists handpicked by Banksy including Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer. Banksy himself created 10 new works for the show, including the Cinderella crash. It closed at the end of the month after a sold-out run with a masked ball, so the artist could attend himself.
8. Anish Kapoor’s Vandals
Vandals broke into the gardens of Versailles in September and smeared Anish Kapoor’s giant outdoor sculpture with anti-Semitic graffiti.
Kapoor had an unexpected reaction to the vandals, and wanted to leave the anti-Semitic slogans in an effort to remind people of a prejudice he believed was still present in France. However a court ruled against him and the graffiti was covered with gold foil.
9. Damien Hirst Opens New Gallery
In October, Damien Hirst opened his very own gallery on Newport Street in Vauxhall, London. The gallery building was designed by Caruso St John, architects behind the recent Tate Britain revamp, and many other notable venues.
Hirst was very adamant his work would not be on show at the gallery, and instead it opened with an exhibition of John Hoyalnd’s abstract canvases, and will display Hirst’s vast 3,000 strong private collection – from Jeff Koons to Richard Prince, along with some pieces that “reflect his morbid fascination with anatomy and death”. Hirst explained his decision to open the gallery: “I’ve felt guilt owning work that’s stored away in boxes where no one can see it. Having a space where I can put on shows from the collection is a dream come true.”
10. God Hates Renoir?
Also in October, was the surprising ‘God Hates Renoir’ protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which was organised by Max Geller, the leader of a 10,000 strong (not all of whom were in attendance) group called ‘Renoir Sucks at Painting’. Geller and his group, who are clearly not fans of Renoir’s work, said they wanted the Museum of Fine Arts to remove all of the artists’ works from their walls.
Fortunately, though holding no punches for Renoir, their protest was light-hearted; in the way Renoir was about himself, as he once said: “Painting was intended, was it not, to decorate walls.”
11. Lucian Freud Archive For The Nation
In November the nation acquired an archive of sketchbooks, drawings and letters belonging to the artist Lucian Freud through the acceptance in lieu scheme. The works, from the 1940s to his death in 2011, settle a bill of £2,940,000 of inheritance tax from the Lucian Freud Estate and have been allocated to the National Portrait Gallery.
The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said “This rare collection of Lucian Freud drawings and letters provides a fascinating glimpse into the work of one of our most pioneering artists.” The archive includes studies for many of the Freud’s major works as well as a collection of childhood drawings showing family life in Germany, where Freud was growing up until his family fled to England in 1933 when Hitler came to power. The works were saved and dated by his mother. Also included in the archive are Freud’s early designs of book covers including one for his daughter, Esther Freud’s 1992 novel Hideous Kinky. Some of the items that have never been seen before will go on display at the gallery as early as next summer.
12. Banksy In Calais
In December Banksy was in the news again, as he revealed a new work at the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, not too far from where the left-over construction of Dismaland is helping to build community centers and playgrounds in the site. The timing and locations of the works were intended to remind the public that the situation for the refugees is on going, even over Christmas. Since then there have been reports the refugees are charging visitors £3.60 (€5) to see the piece depicting the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, who was also the son of a Syrian refugee.
13. The Mona Lisa Behind Mona Lisa
Also in December, the French scientist Pascal Cotte announced that with new technology, he had revealed three hidden paintings beneath the surface of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and one of these paintings is likely to be the real portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the Florentine merchant’s wife Mona Lisa and the woman many think to be the subject of the painting.
Cotte explaines “My scientific imagery technique takes us into the heart of the paint-layers of the world’s most famous picture and reveals secrets that have remained hidden for 500 years.”
One of the hidden paintings is claimed to be an early study of a head, another is of a Madonna-style portrait with an elaborate headdress. But the most alluring finding is the third ‘hidden portrait”, which Andrew Graham-Dixon believes to be the original portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, painted in 1503.
14. Jeff Koons Is Sued
December was a busy month for art; also this month it was reported Jeff Koons was being sued by New York based photographer Mitchell Gray for the appropriation of his photograph for a Gordon’s gin advert. Mitchell claims the artist has used his image without permission “almost unchanged and it’s entirety” in Koon’s piece ‘I Could go For Something Gordon’s’. The work was from the artists series ‘Luxury and Degradation’ in 1986; but as the photographer only just became of aware of the infringement on his work he has 3 years to act on it.
15. Ellsworth Kelly Dies
The famous American abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly died on the 27th of this month of natural causes. He was famed for his bright geometric shapes, and his pieces included paintings, sculpture and tattoos.
In 2000, alongside architect Richard Rogers and composer Stephen Sondheim, he was presented with a Praemium Imperiale award, one of the world’s most notorious art prizes and in 2013 Kelly was presented with the the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.
In an interview with W magazine in 2012 Kelly was quoted as saying “I sometimes don’t try to invent something. I wait for some kind of a direction – and it happens. I get an angle, for instance, and it just appears, and I say, ‘Oh my God – that’s it!'” And “that” is exactly what he will always be remembered for.