Let’s go ahead and state the obvious: 2020 has been one wild ride. There’s no need to go on about it but in the spirit of wrapping things up, let’s take a look back on some of the highlights and low points that the art world witnessed during 2020.

Peak: The internet’s humorous take on art and 2020

Things might have been tough this past year, but the internet sharpened its humour tools and shared some hilarious art-inspired memes to lighten the mood. From a one-eared Vincent Van Gough struggling to put on his mask to an accurate comparison of our lives in 2020 with lonely Edward Hopper paintings, not to mention the four stages of quarantine depicted – La Mona Lisa version.

Meme of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper has received particular attention from the meme-creators of 2020. Our favourite parody, in particular, is the covid-friendly Last Supper over Zoom and the police breaking up the illegal gathering.

Trough: Museums closed

If we’re going to talk about 2020, we’re going to have to mention the big, gigantic trough – the ‘C’ word and its repercussions from the pandemic. Due to lockdown, every gallery and art museum had to shut their doors. We were living in a cultural wasteland. While we would usually be whiling away a Sunday afternoon roaming the halls of a museum, or enjoying an opening of a new exhibition on a Thursday evening after work, we were locked up in our homes, counting down the hours until bedtime. 

What’s more, large museums and galleries that once cashed in on huge blockbuster exhibitions and sell-out shows, which would entice a huge audience and snaking queues, were put on hold. But is this a thing of the past? Museum directors and curators may be rethinking their entire model for the future, which could lead to less world-famous, touring exhibitions and more small, local shows.

In the same breath, art fairs swiftly became a hotbed for COVID-19. While art fairs were announcing the cancellation of forthcoming 2020 events back in March, the Armory Show in New York was business as usual, welcoming guests and gallerists alike, despite the rise in COVID infections in New York city. Then, Tefaf Maastricht in the Netherlands became a virus super-spreader when it decided not to cancel the 2020 fair, despite being advised to postpone the event, and soon all art fairs were pressured to cancel or postpone. Art fairs being a significant aspect of the art trade, the cancellation and postponement of the events have caused a major halt in the art market leading us all to question: will art fairs return to their former glories post-pandemic or is there even a future for art fairs?

Peak: Virtual museums became a thing

In light of the museums and art galleries closing their doors, they opened up their collection through virtual means. Some may consider the virtual museums a catastrophe – struggling to navigate the video game-style museum halls or view the artwork. Whatever your opinion on the matter, we were able to enjoy art from the comfort of our own home. From The British Museum in London to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, everyone, no matter where they were in the world, had unlimited and free access to their collections and exhibitions. Check out our article on the 10 museums and art galleries that offer virtual tours.

Trough: The Royal Academy took a hit

Things were looking good for the Royal Academy at the beginning of the year when Rebecca Salter, the first female president and Axel Rüger, the new chief executive took the reigns. But when the Corona virus struck Europe, the future of the Royal Academy took a dramatic turn for the worse. With no public funding, the Royal Academy became rapidly vulnerable, cancelling two big shows, including an exhibition on the founding Royal Academician, Angelica Kauffman. It was then heavily pressured to sell off its greatest masterpiece, Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo, to pay the bills and save jobs. Furthermore, it had to deal with protests after sacking their staff and was unsuccessful in receiving money from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund.

Peak: Activism took centre stage

The Black Lives Matter movement, which took centre stage during the summer of 2020, sparked worldwide protests. In turn, it gave birth to some iconic artwork. Even some of the most famous street artists, from Banksy to street artist JR, created artwork to show their solidarity and support.

Banksy Dedication to George Floyd

But it didn’t stop there, communities and local artists came together to produce artwork surrounding inequality. H Street Art Tunnel in Washington D.C. was faced with demolition when a local grass-roots organisation rallied up the local community, hosting an event for neighbours, families and activists to come together and create some art to save the tunnel. The tunnel was decorated with protest art and messages connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.

It wasn’t just the Black Lives Matter movement that elevated the art world. In October, Poland introduced new changes to their abortion laws, the strictest in Europe, which triggered worldwide protests. This led to a new wave of protest art and UP &COMING ART was fortunate enough to speak with a couple of artists that expressed their opinion on the matter through art. Check out the exclusive interviews with Martynka Frackowiak and Julita Malinowska.

UP & COMING ART wishes everyone the happiest new year and all the best in 2021.

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