In the ultra-competitive art world, the line between success and failure is thin. As the tumultuous year winds to a close, our editors reflected on the art world personalities who persevered in the face of challenge such as concerns over artistic freedom, political instability, and a jittery art market. On the other side of the coin are those who got in trouble with the law, those who made remarks deemed unsavory, and those who lost well-intentioned legal battles. Here are the winners and losers of 2016.
Dominique Lévy/Brett Gorvy
After 23 years Christie’s outgoing head of postwar and contemporary art Brett Gorvy will partner with gallerist Dominique Lévy to form a new venture Lévy Gorvy. It’s a pretty sweet deal for Gorvy who enters the private sector with an internationally recognized and prominent gallery without the associated setup costs. Meanwhile Lévy stands to benefit from her new partner’s deep knowledge and connections cultivated over the course of his auction career. It’s a win-win.
The artist won an important court case with potentially far reaching consequences which set a legal precedent ensuring that artists can maintain control over their oeuvre. When Doig refused to authenticate an artwork a Chicago dealer sued him for $7.9 million in damages, arguing that Doig’s refusal to acknowledge the painting cost him millions in potential sales revenue.
MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach has had a great year curating a fantastic early career retrospective on the artist Vito Acconci at MoMA PS1, celebrating the institution’s 40th anniversary, as well as organizing the incredibly popular “Rockaway!” exhibition at Fort Tilden featuring Katharina Grosse. Biesenbach also presided over the Berlin Biennale as an advisory board member, and was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit from his native Germany for his achievements “in the fields of political, socio-economic and intellectual activity.”
The performance artist and longtime lover and collaborator of Marina Abramović won a legal battle against his former partner granting him €250,000 in unpaid royalties from joint works created between 1976 and 1988. The case was hailed as a major victory after the artist finally got the just financial reward for his work, and more importantly the credit and recognition he deserved for his creativity and intellectual property.
Schimmel became a partner at international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth and opened the enormous new 100,000 square foot gallery known as Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles in March. Schimmel inaugurated the huge space with a group show dedicated to female artists, earning plaudits and critical praise for the blockbuster exhibition.
The Chinese artist and activist has been unstoppable in 2016. Between a grueling schedule of museum and gallery exhibitions which culminated in simultaneous openings across four New York galleries in November; the artist turned his attention to the ongoing European refugee crisis, volunteering on the frontline of the crisis at camps in Greece, France, and Turkey whilst meticulously documenting his experiences in his art and across his social media platforms.
After a tough couple of years that included in ill-fated directorship post at MOCA Los Angeles, Deitch is back to winning ways after reopening his Soho gallery in July. Exhibitions featuring Eddie Peake, Walter Robinson, and Ai Weiwei were warmly received and praised by critics and art lovers alike.
The 101-year-old Cuban American painter had a fantastic year with critically acclaimed exhibitions at New York’s Lisson Gallery, a Whitney Museum retrospective, and setting a new auction record at Phillips in November. After decades of obscurity the artist is finally getting the critical and institutional recognition that she deserves for her groundbreaking and distinctively colorful, abstract hard-edge compositions.
Molly and Finnegan Kelly
In October New York gallerist Sean Kelly’s Jack Russel Terriers Molly and Finnegan survived a frightening ordeal when millionaire hotelier Vikram Chatwal attacked them with a cigarette lighter and aerosol can in an attempt to light them on fire. The pooches were largely unharmed walking away with only minor burns and singed fur. The dogs got the last laugh, pictured happily posing on the gallery’s holiday cards.
Peter Brant Jr. and Harry Brant
In March Peter Brant Jr. was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport before he could board his flight for acting “drunk and belligerent,” getting into an argument with an airline staffer, and a physical altercation with a Port Authority officer. Meanwhile the younger Harry Brant was arrested in Greenwich, Connecticut after trying to skip a $28 cab fare. Police say they found drugs on the socialite when they searched him after he resisted arrest.
The Malaysian financier and art collector got caught redirecting funds from Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which he manages, to his personal accounts to fund his $137 million blue-chip art collection.
It’s been a difficult, gaffe-filled year for the legendary Serbian performance artist who was derided for making racist remarks about Aboriginal Australians in her recently published memoir, was criticized for remarks insinuating that women artists with children can’t be successful, lost a $250,000 authorship dispute against her former lover and collaborator Ulay in court, and she may have inadvertently cost Hillary Clinton the election after her email invitation to Clinton campaign chairman and collector John Podesta to a “spirit cooking” event was reinterpreted by conservative news media as a satanic ritual.
The storied Wildenstein art dealing family surrounding patriarch Guy Wildenstein was accused of money laundering and evading as much as €500 million in taxes by using an elaborate construct of shell companies and offshore accounts in a scheme that was described by prosecutors as the “longest and most sophisticated fraud of the fifth French Republic.” Whilst the verdict isn’t expected until January 12, the accusations alone have been extremely damaging to the family’s eroding reputation.
To say that Chris Dercon’s transition from director of the Tate Modern to the Berlin-based Volksbühne didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. Shortly after the former head of the London museum unveiled his plans for the avant-garde state-funded theater, 172 actors, designers, dramaturges, and theater employees penned an open letter to Berlin’s culture ministry expressing their “deep concern” at Dercon’s directorship. Making matters worse, the press derided the hefty €4.25 million ($4.7 million) budget associated with his appointment, and he also had a major funding proposal turned down by the Berlin city senate.
The French artist’s $31.7 million copyright infringement and forgery lawsuit against pop star Lady Gaga relating to the 2011 music video Born This Way (in which Gaga allegedly stole the artist’s look including copying her prosthetic-enhanced forehead) backfired when a Paris court dismissed the case and ordered the artist to pay the singer and her record label €20,000 ($22,000) in legal fees. Orlan’s commitment to her work (her prosthetic features are the real deal whereas Lady Gaga’s efforts were the result of make-up art), however, is something to be revered.
Sometimes the ups and the downs come hand in hand. On the one, Mary Boone had a great year in terms of the exhibitions and shows put on in her eponymous gallery, including the female solo shows organized by the young curator Piper Marshall as well as the high-profile Ai Weiwei exhibition. At the same time she allowed herself to get dragged into a very public and unnecessary fraud lawsuit after allegedly delivering the wrong painting to actor Alec Baldwin. A dealer of her calibre and experience should know better.
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