King Tuts golden year, Koonss worst: the highs and lows of the art world in 2019

Good year for…

View of the Grand Palais in Paris Photo: Pierre Blaché, Pexels


The French capital enjoyed a boost from Britains continuing Brexit self-laceration. David Zwirner opened a gallery and White Cube an office and viewing rooms, and other mega-galleries will follow. Fiac gained a new momentum, with some galleries choosing the Paris fair over Frieze. And the city also hosted the show of the year, Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre. (see below for why Paris also had a bad year)

Anti-BP protests at the British Museum


As debates raged about the ethics of museum funding, protests around the climate change, opioid and Mexican border crises achieved tangible effects. The resignation of Warren Kanders from the board of New Yorks Whitney, the withdrawal of a £1m gift from The Sackler Trust to Londons National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallerys decision to no longer show the BP Portrait Award all followed extensive activism.

King Tut broke records, again © Laboratoriorosso


A ten-venue travelling exhibition of King Tuts treasures immediately broke attendance records at the Villette in Paris, with 1.4 million visitors. Its likely to do the same in London, having smashed previous figures for pre-booked tickets, with some 250,000 sold for the Saatchi Gallery-hosted exhibition. The Paris exhibition raised $10m for the Grand Egyptian Museum, where the treasures will be hosted for good once they return to Egypt.

Populist art

The street artists KAWS and Banksy may have both achieved multi-million auction records this year but, while not exactly favourites with curators, they are keeping their legions of fans happy with (slightly cheaper) “merch”. During Frieze Week, the British artist launched a pop-up store in London then an online merchandise store called Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile, KAWs Medicom toys are selling for into the thousands of dollars on Ebay.

Sun & Sea (Marina), Lithuania's award-winning operatic performance at the Venice Biennale © Andrej Vasilenko


Its been a year for arty arias: the Venice Biennales Golden Lion was won by the Lithuania pavilions climate-crisis-themed operatic performance; in August, Ai Weiwei confirmed that he will direct Puccinis Turandot in Rome next March; in November, Zahi Hawass, Egypts outspoken former minister of antiquities, announced that he has written a new Tutankhamun opera, and the Meadows Museum and Dallas Opera launched a formal partnership.

Artemisia Gentileschis Self-portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-17) being hung at the National Gallery in London © Martin Bailey

Historic women

In an inspired move, the National Gallery in Londons sent its newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi to, among other places, a doctors surgery in Yorkshire and a Surrey prison. The National also announced its survey show of Gentileschis work, opening in 2020. Meanwhile, the Prado in Madrid placed Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola at the heart of its bicentenary programme.

Bad year for…

Notre Dame was devastated by fire this year © Guillaume LEVRIER


A burning Notre Dame in April was the years most horrifying moment, even briefly stopping aghast onlookers from arguing on Twitter. Within five minutes, order was restored as the devastated millions were chastised for caring more about old buildings than people in war zones. There was a more enduring social media consensus for another notable moment in the city, however: the unveiling of Jeff Koonss memorial to victims of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. The philosopher Yves Michaud caught the mood best when he described the mock-inflatable steel tulips as “11 coloured anuses mounted on stems”. Recent strikes also put a damper on museum attendance at the end of the year, with many institutions closing their doors.

The 2019 Icom conference in Kyoto

Defining the museum

If anyone should be able to define what a museum is, youd think it would be the members of the International Council of Museums. Alas not. A row erupted as it attempted to pass a new definition, as the existing text—“a non-profit institution” that “acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”—was deemed outdated. But a new version met with disdain, beingRead More – Source