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10 things we didn’t expect in 2016

29 December 2016

Here are some things that surprised the art world this year…

Ragnar Kjartansson’s runaway success

It has been universally agreed that Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s Barbican retrospective was excellent – inventive, surprising and suitably wacky. It earned him a nomination for Apollo Artist of the Year

God, (2007), Ragnar Kjartansson

God (2007), Ragnar Kjartansson Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík. Photo: Rafael Pinho

The Bowie sale

Following his death in January, David Bowie’s art collection went on show at Sotheby’s ahead of a mega three-part sale in November, which featured over 350 works from the musician’s private collection. The overall sale totalled a mind-boggling £32.9 million and set 59 new records for artists.

Helen Marten wins two art prizes in less than a month

It’s been a remarkably successful year for Marten. Following a solo show at the Serpentine, she scooped the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture in November – sharing the £30,000 winnings with her fellow nominated artists – and then went on to win the Turner Prize at the age of just 31. Once again, she announced plans to split the £25,000 winnings. (Perhaps more surprising than all this is Michael Gove’s tirade against the Turner Prize.)

“Eucalyptus, Let Us In"

“Eucalyptus, Let Us In” (2015) Helen Marten’s Turner Prize winning installation at Tate Britain. Courtesy Joe Humphrys © Tate Photography

Iran backs out of Tehran art exhibition in Berlin

In a blow for cultural diplomacy, the planned collaboration (which was only struck in May) between the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art – home to one of the best collections of modern art outside Europe and the US – and Berlin’s Gemaldegalerie was postponed indefinitely in November. About 60 works from the TMoCA were expected to arrive in Germany for an exhibition opening in December.

Major Old Masters on the market – and selling fast

A number of impressive Old Masters came up for sale this year, with many selling for record-breaking amounts. Rubens’s Lot and His Daughters reached £44,882,500 – the highest price ever achieved for an Old Master painting at Christie’s – while the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA struck real gold when it acquired Gentileschi’s Danaë and the Shower of Gold for a whopping $35 million.

Danae, by Orazio Gentileschi

Danaë , by Orazio Gentileschi. The painting was sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum for $30.5 million last October, at Sotheby’s New York. Courtesy Sotheby’s

Nicholas Serota waves goodbye to Tate

After 28 years and a series of huge achievements – not least the recent completion of the Switch House – director Nicholas Serota is leaving Tate to head up Arts Council England. Who will fill his shoes in 2017?

Elton John’s impressive photography collection

Who knew that over the last 25 years pop king Elton John had amassed a superb collection of modernist photography spanning the 1920s–50s and including such names as Man Ray, Brassai and Dorothea Lange? Tate Modern‘s exhibition ‘The Radical Eye’ (until 7 May 2017) offers a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ chance to see this rare private collection.

Martin Roth speaks out over Brexit

Director of the V&A Martin Roth announced his decision to leave the institution after five years in September, citing his disillusionment over the Brexit vote.  This comes after the V&A won the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award in July. Roth made his feelings about Brexit and Europe clear when he spoke to Apollo: ‘Let’s say it loudly: the “Leave” campaigners worked with a lot of lies, and cheating, and doing the wrong things, and trying to convince us with the wrong numbers and so on. It was not a fair public debate. We should have done more in cultural institutions.’

Martin Roth, director of the Victorian and Albert Museum, accepts the Art Fund's Museum of the Year Award 2016 from the Duchess of Cambridge, during a ceremony at the Natural History Museum, London.

Martin Roth, director of the V&A, the Duchess of Cambridge and Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the Art Fund, at the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award ceremony. Photo © Richard Young Photographic Ltd

A-level art history almost axed

It was an announcement that had the art world up in arms. Following the statement that exam board AQA would scrap A-level art history, seen by many to be part of Michael Gove’s curriculum shake-up and his culling of ‘soft subjects’, it seemed unlikely that art history would survive beyond 2018. That is until Pearson agreed to develop a new history of art A-level for teaching from next September.

Reading Prison opens its doors

The Grade-II listed building opened its doors to the public for the first time in September with an exhibition, ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’, celebrating Oscar Wilde, who was incarcerated in the Prison from 1895–97 for gross indecency. It proved so successful that the Artangel-produced show was extended due to popular demand.

Interior of Reading Prison, Artangel

Interior of Reading Prison Image courtesy of Morley von Sternberg

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