Five stories that had the art world talking
A $90 MILLION SPLASH
David Hockney has reset art’s new gold standard. At a November auction in New York, Hockney’s 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) was sold to an unidentified buyer for $90.3 million, smashing the previous auction record for a work by a living artist. The Hockney canvas, a sun-drenched image of a man standing poolside while another swims near his feet, displaces Jeff Koons’ 10-foot-tall Balloon Dog (Orange), sold for $58.4 million five years ago. But this is no underdog story. Hockney, 81, was already among the select group of artists who dominate today’s winner-take-all art market: Just 25 artists accounted for nearly half of all auction sales of contemporary art in 2017’s first six months, for example, as the world’s growing number of super-wealthy buyers have been bidding up the brand names. If the prices keep rising, those buyers can even profit by donating their treasures to a museum—and using a high price estimate when reporting the gift to tax authorities.
The artist Banksy devised a clever way to boost his own market value. In October, a painting by the British provocateur sold at auction for $1.4 million—a new personal record—only to begin sinking into a shredder hidden in the frame that cut the canvas to ribbons. Girl With Balloon had been one of Banksy’s better-known images: The anonymous street artist had used a stencil and spray paint to plaster London with the picture beginning in 2002. With October’s stunt, he seemed to be torching his value to collectors. But experts say the prank has done the opposite. In fact, the damaged painting never passed completely through the shredder—good news for the still-unidentified buyer. “At first I was shocked,” she said in a statement released by Sotheby’s. “But gradually I began to realize that I would end up with my own piece of art history.”
THE SACKLER BACKLASH
Photographer Nan Goldin is no longer content merely to be a giant in her field. With a January Artforum editorial in which she confessed to being a recovering opioid addict, the veteran chronicler of New York City’s demimonde launched a revolt against some of the art world’s greatest benefactors. Her target, the Sackler family, has become richer than the Rockefellers since its privately held company, Purdue Pharma, introduced the painkiller OxyContin, helping to trigger the opioid crisis that now claims 150 U.S. lives a day. Goldin, who argues that the family deceived the public by presenting the drug as nonaddictive, founded a group called PAIN to pressure art institutions to stop accepting Sackler money and to push the family to fund addiction treatment. In March, she and other protesters scattered hundreds of prescription pill bottles around an Egyptian temple in the Sackler wing of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. PAIN protests have subsequently struck at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Sackler Museum at Harvard, leaving dozens of such sites to go. So far, no museum has agreed to stop letting the Sacklers use art to burnish the family name.
A NEW NATIONAL LANDMARK
A monumental new work in Alabama could be 2018’s most lasting contribution to American visual culture. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which sits on a hilltop overlooking Montgomery, has been compared in its somber power to Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. The pavilion-like structure, which commemorates more than 4,400 African-Americans who were lynched in the South between 1877 and 1950, features more than 800 coffin-size steel monoliths that hang from the structure’s ceiling, each one representing a county where a lynching occurred. The memorial was designed by the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative in collaboration with MASS Design Group, a Boston architectural firm, and it makes visceral a long reign of terror too easily forgotten. “To my mind,” wrote Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster, “it is the single greatest work of American architecture of the 21st century.”
A SPACE ODDITY
Next stop, outer space. In early December, an inflatable sculpture created by American artist Trevor Paglen was delivered into orbit by a SpaceX rocket. If all goes well, a sighting of Paglen’s Orbital Reflector will soon be reported and the shiny diamond-shaped projectile will remain visible to the naked eye as a sparkle in the night sky for at least two months. Meant to be the first work of art in space, Paglen’s 100-foot balloon was beaten to the punch by a small disco ball–like orb launched in January. Paglen’s creation, unlike so much man-made debris in orbit, is designed to return quickly to Earth’s atmosphere and incinerate when it does.