Crashproof: The Resilient Art World As Artlyst Saw It In 2016

round-up 2016

Oh, what a year 2016 has been! Many of us won’t be sorry to see the end of it, although not to be overly pessimistic, 2017 will certainly have its challenges with both the Brexit economy and the new US President. Yes, the one with the bad haircut!  On the Art front there was plenty to keep us entertained, amused and informed and here are the year’s highs and lows:

Changes at the top

Frances Morris replaced Chris Dercon as new Director of Tate Modern in January; Gregor Muir was appointed Director of Collection International Art at Tate and in September Sir Nicholas Serota resigned as Head of Tate to take over as Chair of Arts Council England.  Rumours are flying around as to who will succeed him.  Other changes included Martin Roth who stepped down as Director of V&A.  Yana Peel took over as CEO of Serpentine Galleries. Stefan Kalmar replaced Gregor Muir at the ICA and Jenni Lomax is to step down as Director of the Camden Arts Centre after 25 years.

The major auction houses were also undergoing changes with Melanie Clore, Chair of Sotheby’s Europe, standing down; Brett Gorvy, Chairman of Christie’s leaving to start a new partnership with Dominique Levy with Guillaume Cerutti becoming CEO of Christie’s, Francois Pinault assuming the role of Chairman of the Board and Patricia Barbizet as new Vice Chairman.


2016 was a busy year for legal battles with possible breaches of copyright infringements leading the way plus battles for ownership of works of art and disputes over fakes and forgeries. Ann Freedman settled out of court in $25m Fake Rothko case; Peter Doig went to court over a disputed painting which was chronicled on Instagram; Richard Prince and Gagosian were sued by makeup artist over Instagram copyright infringement; Dash Snow estate sued McDonald’s for copyright infringement; Nazi restitution case  was brought against NY’s Metropolitan Museum over ownership of a Picasso painting. Meanwhile, Anish Kapoor copyrighted black pigment.

Museums and landmarks honoured, new buildings opened

V&A won Art Fund Museum of the Year. The Newport Street Gallery won RIBA Stirling prize for architecture and the Tate opened its new extension and promptly announced it had received one million visitors in a month. Historic England unveiled six new LGBT venues as landmarks. ICA celebrated 70 years of cutting-edge excellence. New Design Museum opened on the site of the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington.

Public Art

Anish Kapoor was railroaded by outgoing mayor Boris Johnson into adding a slide to his Olympic sculpture.

Jeremy Deller commemorated the battle of Somme with a nationwide performance piece, while Hull stripped off for Spencer Tunick.  David Shrigley unveiled his fourth plinth commission ‘Really Good’ a giant thumbs up in Trafalgar Square.

In Memoriam

It’s been a brutal year with the loss of many high-profile names in the world of Pop, comedy, sport, literature and politics.  The art world was devastated by the loss of the British-Iraqi architect and designer Dame Zaha Hadid. A memorial exhibition is currently being held at the Serpentine Sackler gallery. David Bowie, who passed away last January had part of his vast art collection on the auction block in November. It achieved record prices for a number of the works offered. This was clearly the Bowie effect. Fortunately, others who left this mortal coil were far less significant than in other disciplines.


The leading auction houses still thrived with record prices achieved in both Modern and Contemporary art. Top 10 selling paintings of 2016 were…

1) Claude Monet’s 1891 ‘Meule or Haystack’ for $81,447,500 including buyer’s premium. The work sold at Christie’s New York.

2) Willem de Kooning Untitled XXV topped the artist’s previous auction record selling for $66,327,500 inc.  buyer’s premium at Christie’s

3) Pablo Picasso’s Femme Assise realised $61,675,630 with buyer’s premium, at Sotheby’s London

4) Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Black Devil Head) $57,285,000 at Christie’s New York.

5) Amedeo Modigliani  Jeanne Hébuterne (Au Foulard) went for $54,890,730 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s

6) Edvard Munch 1902 Pikene på broen (The Girls on the Bridge) sold at Sotheby’s for $54,487,500 with buyer’s premium.

7) Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York City) achieved $36,650,000 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s

8) Francis Bacon Two Studies For A Self-Portrait $34,970,000 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s NY

9) Gerhard Richter’s A B, Still in November $33,987,500 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s

10) Mark Rothko’s No. 17 $32,645,000 with buyer’s premium, at Christie’s New York


The major international fairs still dominated the art market place from New York to London – Hong Kong to Maastricht. If the Art market is a bubble you couldn’t tell from the sales figures or the crowds of well-healed fairgoers in 2016 although the fairs were in safe mode with dealers showing only their more commercial blue chip sellers.


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