As we gear up towards the end of 2015, here are our top five most memorable moments in art this year. Banksy and Damien Hirst are still making headlines, Chinese artists (and collectors) are big news, and the V&A showed that fashion can be an important form of contemporary art.
Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty (pictured)
March-August: the most visited exhibition at the V&A – ever
Nearly half a million people saw this innovative show that paid tribute to the late British designer. It was something of a gamble for the institution, costing over £3million to curate – “way more than this museum has ever spent on a show before”. But the brilliant theatrical, eerie displays, overseen by curator Claire Wilcox, were a triumph, paying due respect to the spirit of the late McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’.
For the final two weekends, the V&A opened the exhibition throughout the night for the first time in its history to accommodate unprecedented demand. On show were some 120 pieces of exquisite tailoring, alongside other works, such as a 3D hologram of ghostly Kate Moss in a swirling McQueen dress.
August-September: Banksy took the art world by surprise with this fantasy fairground/summer festival/biennale in the wilds of Weston-super-Mare
It opened without any pre-warning or marketing, or any public funds. Queues formed round the block and art-world insiders, Hollywood A-listers, and locals eagerly tramped through the mud to see this re-imagining of a disused seaside Lido – a place that Banksy fondly remembered from childhood holidays in the 70s.
There was a thematically linked exhibition of works from 50 artists, from Damien Hirst to Jim Cauty. It was not like anything else in the art calendar – a guerilla biennale with genuine energy, that was taken seriously by critics, helping boost Banksy’s status. Visit the website here.
Damien Hirst’s new gallery
October: after many years of planning, Hirst’s Vauxhall gallery finally opened.
Hirst declared it a “fantastic opportunity for me to wear a curatorial hat for a change.” Designed by architects Caruso St John, its first show was of huge abstract paintings by John Hoyland – one of Hirst’s favourite painters.
The huge, 37,000 square feet, space involved the conversion of three Victorian painting studios with extra-high ceilings. Hirst will show works from his collection that includes pieces by Francis Bacon, Banksy, Tracey Emin, Richard Hamilton, Jeff Koons, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince and Gavin Turk as well as taxidermy, natural history and anatomical models. Entry to Newport Street Gallery is free.
Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ sells for $170 million / £113 million
November: the second most expensive work of art, ever
This seductive 1917 painting of a reclining nude sold for $170.4 million (£113 million) at Christie’s New York after a bidding war between six prospective buyers. This makes it the second-highest auction price for any work of art (the highest being for Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger).
Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy
December: major UK exhibition by the Chinese dissident stays open for 56 hours
Ai Weiwei was allowed out of China, after having his passport confiscated, just in time to attend his first major show in the UK. It was so successful that the RA had to open 24 hours a day, for the last weekend.
Works from the past 20 years were on view, ranging from salvaged architectural elements, to delicate jade and porcelain pieces made by his teams of craftsmen and women. The works combine a strictly formal geometry with a poignant narrative of anger and despair at the repression of the Chinese State.
Key works included ‘Straight’, 2012, a huge – some 150 tonnes – of steel bars recovered from the site of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake straightened by hand by a team of workers, see more here.