Amid the many, many changes the art world underwent in the past year, some things remained the same.
Not unlike in years past, controversies dominated the headlines, while little splashes of fun have always drawn audiences. Whether in anger, astonishment, laughter, or sheer surprise, our readers have flooded to our coverage.
Here are the 15 most popular stories of the year.
15. A Long-Forgotten ‘Lewis Chessman’ Piece That Languished in a Drawer for Decades Could Fetch $1.2 Million at Auction Next Month
June 3, 2019 — “A medieval chess piece from the famed Lewis Chessman trove, the most revered collection of chess pieces in the world, first discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides in 1831, is heading to auction at Sotheby’s London next month.”
14. Venice Has Fined the Architect Santiago Calatrava $86,000 for Building a Bridge That—Oops—Can’t Handle Tourists
August 19, 2019 — “The Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who is no stranger to lawsuits arising from his ambitious designs, has been ordered to pay a €78,000 ($86,000) fine to the city of Venice for “macroscopic negligence” in constructing a bridge over its famous Grand Canal.”
13. Trump’s 2020 Budget Is the Largest in Federal History—and It Would Entirely Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts
March 18, 2019 — “It’s that time of year again: the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are in trouble, with President Donald Trump again aiming to eliminate the two agencies, this time in his budget for the 2020 fiscal year.”
12. ‘I Have Never Seen Such Chaos’: Mass Confusion Ensues After the Louvre Moves the ‘Mona Lisa’ to a Different Gallery
July 31, 2019 — “Visitors to Paris hoping to see the Mona Lisa this summer, beware. Only those holding a pre-booked ticket with an all-important timed slot were given access to the Louvre last week after its most famous painting was moved to a different gallery. The temporary rehang has thrown the world’s most popular art museum’s crowd-control measures out of whack.”
11. RM Sotheby’s Botched the $22 Million Sale of the ‘First Porsche’ Because Bidders Couldn’t Understand the Auctioneer’s Dutch Accent
August 19, 2019 — “It was meant to be the star lot in a banner automobile sale for RM Sotheby’s in Monterey Beach, California. Billed as the ‘first’ Porsche, the 1939 Type 64 automobile was one of just three ever built, and the only one to have survived. The car was estimated to sell for up to $22 million, but instead it failed to sell at all due to an embarrassing combination of technical difficulties and an apparently hard-to-parse Dutch accent.”
10. Experts in Pompeii Have Discovered a Female Sorcerer’s Mysterious Arsenal of Charms—See Them Here
August 13, 2019 — “Archaeologists have discovered an incredible array of amulets, gems, and lucky charms in Pompeii. Researchers think that the mysterious trove belonged to a female sorcerer who could have been a victim of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius more than 2,000 years ago.”
9. Art Basel Is Organizing a Three-Day Sustainability Summit in Abu Dhabi in Its Latest Effort to Evolve Beyond Art Fairs
September 9, 2019 — “Art Basel organizers have made it clear that they have no interest in bringing yet another art fair into the already-crowded fair landscape. But that doesn’t mean the company isn’t interested in expanding. And the latest area of growth for the organization is high-profile events.”
October 28, 2019 — “After over $400 million in renovations and a multiple-month closure to the public, the Museum of Modern Art is back. But do roughly 75,000 square feet in new exhibition space and a (supposedly) radical rehang of the permanent collection add up to a MoMA fit for our turbulent times?”
7. Russian Researchers Used AI to Bring the Mona Lisa to Life and It Freaked Everyone Out. See the Video Here
May 31, 2019 — “Art historians have longed puzzled over the Mona Lisa’s beguiling smile, wondering what, if anything, it reveals about the sitter. In May, a freaky viral video clip that brought her to life raised even more questions.”
6. Where In the World Is ‘Salvator Mundi’? Kenny Schachter Reveals the Location of the Lost $450 Million Leonardo
June 10, 2019 — “When I received intel from a source with deep Middle Eastern ties as to the possible whereabouts of Salvator Mundi, the world’s most expensive, missing-in-action painting, I immediately went to the authority every writer consults first (whether they admit it or not): Wikipedia.”
5. Sorry, Anish Kapoor: MIT Scientists Made the Blackest Black Ever Invented, and an Artist Just Used It to Do Something Magical
September 17, 2019 — “In a remarkable new mashup of art and science, an artist has used the blackest black ever created to make a 16.78-carat yellow diamond completely ‘disappear.’ The result of the intensive 5-year long project called The Redemption of Vanity, the super-black diamond currently sits on view in an unlikely, but—as explained to Artnet News—very fitting venue: the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street.”
4. Archaeologists Discover That Easter Island’s Statues May Have Served a Surprisingly Practical Function
January 11, 2019 — “According to archaeologists, the location of those hulking ancestral figures (moai) and the platforms they’re placed upon (ahu) is based on their proximity to fresh water sources—an exceedingly rare and precious resource.”
3. Here’s the Story Behind That Bizarre Painting of Bill Clinton in a Blue Dress Seen at Jeffrey Epstein’s Home
August 16, 2019 — “Given the hurricane-force storm of media attention swirling around the case of Jeffrey Epstein, the news that he owned a particularly strange work of art perhaps doesn’t seem like the biggest of deals. This particular work of art, however, features an image of former president Bill Clinton clad in a blue dress and high heels, gesturing to the viewer. Given that Bill Clinton’s name has been prominently connected to Epstein, word of the painting sent the internet conspiracy machine wild.”
January 14, 2019 — “They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But what about a lunch that ends up making you more than $200,000? That fantasy became reality for the family of Don Lutes Jr. of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who received an ultra-rare 1943 Lincoln penny as change from his school cafeteria in 1947.”
1. For a Project Called ‘Selfie Harm,’ the Photographer Rankin Asked Teens to Photoshop Their Own Portraits. What They Did Was Scary
February 6, 2019 — “Is photo-editing software warping our perceptions of reality? The British fashion photographer John Rankin Waddell, known professionally as Rankin, took portraits of 15 teenagers and asked them to edit the pictures to make them more social-media friendly. The hyper-retouched images—with giant, cartoon-like eyes, pouty lips, and unnaturally glowing skin—are nothing short of shocking.
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