It was an eventful year for the art world, what with the art market soaring, particularly in the contemporary area, and auction houses selling some $800 million worth of contemporary art. Fair after fair reported high attendance figures as well as mind-boggling sales, led by Art Basel (in June) and its sister fair Art Basel Miami Beach (in December).
Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian arttraditional as well as contemporary—skyrocketed, fueled by new collectors in those countries.
Among the most visited and talked-about art projects this year was The Gates. For a little over two weeks in February, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's saffron-colored extravaganza took over miles of New York's Central Park. In March, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, the Christos’ biggest fan, presented the couple with the Doris C. Freedman award for public art—after all, The Gates worked out pretty well for the city, if you do the math: 7,500 gates + 16 days + 4 million visitors=$254 million in revenue. But not all critics were thrilled. The New York Observer's Hilton Kramer fumed, "My own view is that the gates are nothing less than an unforgivable defacement of a public treasure, and everyone responsible for promoting it—including our publicity-seeking Mayor—should be held accountable, not only for supporting bad taste but for violating the public trust."
Below are just a few of the other major events and trends of 2005.
GETTY GETS IN TROUBLE It was a year of seemingly nonstop woes for the world’s richest art institution. Despite its widely envied endowment of $9 billion, the Getty, which recently hired Michael Brand of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to replace Deborah Gribbon as director, came under fire for financial mismanagement by its president, Barry Munitz, who, according to the Los Angeles Times, was spending lavish amounts on travel and other expenses. Meanwhile, Getty curator Marion True was indicted in Italy on charges of attempting to move stolen antiquities. True resigned in September, but the issue seemed to precipitate a chain of antiquities-related troubles, not least for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where objects are currently being disputed, though the Italian government has begun proposing some creative solutions. For its part, the Getty—according to the L.A. Timesrecently put on retainer lawyer Ronald Olson, known for his work with Michael Ovitz and Warren Buffett, among others, to help sort out its problems with accounting and antiquities. Getty finances are still under scrutiny by both the California state attorney general’s office and the L.A. Times, which is holding onto the story like a dog with a juicy bone.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD AT THE GUGGENHEIM After 17 years at the helm of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and its New York Guggenheim Museum, Thomas Krens, who will remain as head of the Guggenheim Foundation, stepped aside. On Oct. 1, former deputy director and chief curator Lisa Dennison assumed the reins as museum director. The transition had been rumored in the art world ever since the head of the Guggenheim’s board of trustees, Peter Lewis, who had funded the museum to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, quit over a dispute about how Krens was spending money and time. Krens had also come under fire for organizing exhibitions such as The Art of the Motorcycle and Giorgio Armani, which, according to some critics, brought art far too close to commerce. Some also criticized what was seen as a neglecting of the Frank Lloyd Wright building in New York, which is only now undergoing badly needed renovations. Krens will now pursue his international agenda with Dennison taking care of the home front.
PINAULT’S ISLAND HOPPING A LOSS TO FRANCE Luxury-goods magnate Francois Pinault, an avid collector of modern and contemporary art, had announced ambitious plans in 2000 to build a Tadao Ando-designed museum on the site of a former Renault car factory on Île de Seguin in the Seine, just three miles from Paris at a cost to him of some $195 million. The 350,000-square-foot structure was to be completed this year, but construction never began, sabotaged by local red tape. Fed up, Pinault, 69, who is worth some $2 billion and owns Christie’s auction house, Gucci and the FNAC chain of stores, moved the whole project to the 18th-century Palazzo Grassi, on Venice's Grand Canal, which he had purchased for $55 million in April from FIAT. It opens in Venice this spring. The move is considered a huge loss for France. Catherine Millet, editor of the French art magazine Artpress, spoke for many when she told the Agence France-Presse, “Despite all the rhetoric about promoting modern art, I don't think this country has changed its attitude. People still despise it. And they think a rich businessman like Pinault should put his money into good social causes rather than in what they see as a load of rubbish.”
CHINA MAKES A SPLASH AT THE VENICE BIENNALE A fixture of the art-world calendar since 1895, the Venice Biennale (which ran from June 12 to Nov. 12), had at least one major milestone: China had a pavilion for the first time. Though this Biennale, curated by Rosa Martinez and Maria de Corral, was generally well-received, it did provoke some debate: While Christopher Knight of the L.A. Times called it “the most thoughtful and, in several instances, bracing Biennale in ages,” Carol Vogel, writing in The New York Times, lamented that it was “a confirmation rather than an exploration of who's hot in contemporary art.”
CLEANING OUT THE CLOSETS The New York Public Library's sale in spring of its Asher B. Durand painting Kindred Spirits set off a media storm over deaccessioning. Many people thought the painting should have gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or perhaps to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., but it sold for $35 million, in a closed auction brokered by Sotheby's, to Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who has recently become a quiet but major force in the American paintings market. Other acts of deaccessioning that raised critics’ hackles were MoMAs parting with a $5.4 million landscape by Henri-Edmond Cross, and LACMA's selling 42 works, including a Modigliani portrait at Sotheby’s. Look for this controversy to continue in 2006.
HIGHEST PRICE PAID—EVER In November, David Smiths sculpture Cubi XXVIII sold for $23.8 million at Sotheby’s, setting a new world record for a postwar or contemporary work at auction. ArtInfo.com revealed that Larry Gagosian, the winning bidder, was acting on behalf of collector Eli Broad, who told our reporter Judd Tully that he “realized this was the only opportunity we’re ever going to have to get a great Cubi, and I went for it."
SHEIK DOWN The Art Newspaper broke the news in the spring that an official inquiry had been launched into the financial doings of Sheikh Saud Al Thani of Qatar, 39, cousin of the Emir of Qatar. The sheikh is one of the world's biggest art collectors and a major force at auctions, especially in Islamic art and photography. An added wrinkle: The investigation ended up enveloping London-based Islamic art expert Oliver Hoare, a former preoccupation of Princess Diana. The Sheikh was accused of submitting inflated invoices; for the past 10, years he has been buying art for his private collection and for Qatar national museums.
MUSEUM BUILDING BOOM A number of important museum buildings opened in the U.S. this year. To name just a few, there's the de Young Museums gleaming new building designed by Herzog + de Meuron in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, with its copper exterior that will oxidize to match the surrounding foliage. The team also designed the shiny, silver box of a building for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and were recently selected as architects for the new Parrish Museum in Southhampton, N.Y. Renzo Piano also had a big year—a new campus for LACMA; the Morgan Library and other projects in New York in the works; and the new High Museum building in Atlanta, which opened in the fall. And, of course, there was Rafael Viñoly's new Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
TATE IN A TANGLE OVER OFILI Tate came under fire when it acquired, for some £700,000, Chris Ofilis series of 13 paintings, called The Upper Room. The trouble was, Ofili happened to be one of the Tate's 12 trustees. Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota apologized for using charitable funds of £75,000 to pay for the piece. It was recently reported that Ofili, who has completed his tenure as a trustee, is being replaced by artist Anish Kapoor.