From NFTs to delinquent accounts: 2021 in the art world


Seen art lately?

Sometimes a year becomes a milestone in social history, and 2021 will forever be known as the year when right-wing national terrorists attacked the United States Capitol, leaving corpses and a scandalized nation in their wake. Finally, the horrible reference can resonate in cultural offerings.

For now, given the still somewhat shaken world of museums and art galleries as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, simple gratitude is due for the artistic opportunities which have improved dramatically from the past. last year at this time. Many places (and probably most) have reopened for now with at least public access. The laid-back serendipity that comes with traditional gallery visits, entry and exit, as well as the more focused pleasures of museum visits, is not yet back to normal – but maybe next year.

So, it doesn’t make sense to make the usual list of ‘best of’ exhibits for 2021. I admired a number of exhibits (reviews are always posted online), but compiled at the comes up with a list of 10 things that seem particularly relevant in the art world this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Long overdue accounts

Systemic racial segregation in museum exhibits and gallery performance continued to unravel, with black artists finally beginning to assume a degree of parity in an art world where white artists have always been plentiful. The same goes for professional staffing in the field. Some galleries, notably Roberts Projects in Culver City, have been at the forefront of the rise of black artists for many years, while new black-owned art spaces, such as Band of Vices in West Adams , have opened their doors. Black artists added to other gallery lists and museum exhibition programs in unprecedented numbers. Much remains to be done – and across the entire BIPOC spectrum – but progress is undeniable.

2. Who will succeed Cuno?

Speaking of diversity in the field, a huge opportunity opened up this summer with the announcement of the retirement of Getty Trust CEO James Cuno, 70. With its two museums, unrivaled research and conservation institutes, influential charitable foundation, and massive piggy bank – roughly $ 8 billion – the Getty is a powerhouse. A research firm is looking for potential successors to Cuno, who will take on a distinguished role; yet, for four decades, leadership has been exclusively in the hands of white men. They have overseen a wide variety of institutional successes and failures, but it is high time to broaden the administrative reach to the highest level.

3. Two places for a show

Dividing an exhibit between two venues for lack of space to one is probably better than having no exhibit at all, although to see the exhibit you have to get in the car and drive 15 (or 30) miles. to get a complete picture. This was the case this year with a major study of Alison Saar’s sculptures at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena and the Benton Museum at Pomona College; and, with the captivating group show “Witch Hunt,” still on view at the UCLA Hammer Museum and downtown ICA LA, which examines recent feminist art on an international scale. Cooperation between institutions is admirable, but the split interrupts the intersection of objects at the heart of the purpose of an exhibition. The format is far from ideal.

4. Museums grappling with looted art

The UCLA Fowler Museum has made welcome progress in the provenance research around sculptures almost certainly looted by British military forces in 1897 from the Royal Palace in Benin City in contemporary Nigeria. Return of illegal items is likely. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, however, was a little less open about its large bronze plaque from Benin, saying only that “appropriate action” would be taken. Things got a little tricky in October when Lost Arts of Nepal, a research site that posts to Facebook, identified two masterpieces impressive South Asian collections from LACMA which also appear to have been stolen: a 7e door lintel of the century carved stone temple of the medieval city-state of Bhaktapur; and a magnificent 16th century wooden sculpture of Chintamani Lokeshvara, a popular Buddhist deity in Kathmandu, from I Baha Bahi Monastery in Patan.

5. Endowments are on the rise

The litany of bad institutional news fueled by the brutal COVID-19 pandemic is long, but an unexpected development bodes well. Endowments to art museums have benefited greatly from a robust investment market. Museums, used to having their hands on begging for funds, have been silent about the windfall, but 10%, 20%, even 40% growth has been recorded in what amounts to a pandemic dividend – from the Hammer Museum to the lower end at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, at higher.

6. ceded works

In a panicked decision when the pandemic erupted and a financial crisis was looming in the spring of 2020, Assn. art museum directors relaxed restrictions on the use of art revenues officially withdrawn (or alienated) from museum collections and then sold. A largely grotesque virtual symposium at Syracuse University in March attempted to justify the unjustifiable, trumpeting the new euphemism of choice – “care of the collection” – as an urgent need. Rather, it was to cover the old costs of basic museum operations, like staff salaries, security, and conservation, which are uses of revenue that have always been properly prohibited when museum art is sold. New York’s spring and fall art auctions were woefully littered with newly monetized museum art.

7. The NFT boom

In retrospect, it seems as logical as ABC. A: At the start of the new millennium, new art became an asset class, traded like stocks or real estate. B: Cryptocurrency (in the form of Bitcoin) was launched in 2009, introducing a purely digital medium of exchange. C: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have made every digital token unique and irreplaceable, pushing the idea of ​​cryptocurrency towards the art of the asset class. When previously unknown artist Mike Winkelmann – aka Beeple – sold an NFT in a bizarre March auction for $ 69 million, the boom was in motion. Tellingly, almost all of the critical comments on artists’ NFTs so far have been about their investment potential, while almost none have been about art.

8. Where have the exhibition catalogs gone?

On April Fool’s Day, LACMA opened “NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE-2020 CE),” an intriguing post-modern look at ventriloquism in relation to art and museums. In September, the Museum of Contemporary Art inaugurated “Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor”, a captivating installation as an investigation into the career of the Swiss video artist. (It’s still showing.) The two big shows had been postponed from the previous year due to the pandemic shutdown; unfortunately neither came with the usual catalog, just souvenir guides. An exhibition catalog – as a scientific analysis, curatorial framework and historical record – is a measure of institutional commitment to art. Hopefully the frustrating absences from the main exhibition offer of both museums in 2021 do not also signal a trend.

9. “Immersive artistic experiences”

The famous dime 1841 museum by Phineas T. Barnum, a family entertainment that spotlighted a flea circus, morality plays on the dangers of alcohol, sword swallowers and the bunkum like a mermaid made from parts stuffed animals, lives today in the proliferating form of “artistic experiences. Essentially high-tech and dazzling light shows with digitized graphics simply projected at an enormous scale onto the surrounding walls, floor and ceiling, some deceive famous art names like Van Gogh and Monet while others opt for more generalized gee-whiz surrealism.The cheap entertainment for the working class promised by Barnum’s 10-cent entrance fee is over for a long time, however, prices have soared to $ 30 and up.

10. The meager offerings to Resnick

LACMA opened its purpose-built Resnick Pavilion in 2010 to have 45,000 square feet of exhibition space ready and available when it demolished all of the original buildings for the construction of a new permanent collection home. Those older buildings are now gone, but Resnick’s offerings have been disappointing: of 11 exhibitions since the demolition, 10 have featured almost exclusively modern and contemporary art. (Same as two of the three announced so far for 2022.) While exceptional pre-modern world art languishes in the storage of LACMA, with a few objects on loan elsewhere, the largest art museum with the most diverse collections west of Chicago has all but abandoned world art history, shrinking to become a monotonous modern kunsthalle.


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