Well, we've just about polished off 2002. What kind of year was it? In a word, robust -- despite a sluggish economy and the continuing shadow of 9/11. Indeed, the tragedy at the World Trade Center would add a certain gravitas to New York esthetics, at least during the beginning of the year. But predictions of the end of irony remained unfulfilled.
So many museum shows, so little time. Just consider the major retrospectives that were launched in 2002: Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning at L.A. MOCA, Eva Hesse and Ellsworth Kelly at the San Francisco MOMA, Barnett Newman and Giorgio di Chirico at the Philadelphia Museum, Joan Mitchell at the Whitney, Adolph Gottlieb at the Jewish Museum, Pierre Bonnard at the Phillips, Larry Rivers at the Corcoran, Thomas Struth at the Dallas Museum, Alfred Stieglitz and Christo and Jeanne-Claude at the National Gallery of Art, Garry Winogrand at the ICP, Gustav Le Gray at the Getty, Dagobert Peche at the Neue Galerie, Murillo and Mondrian at the Kimbell, Modigliani and Edwin Dickinson at the Albright-Knox, Degas at the Detroit Institute, George Catlin at the Renwick, Greuze at the Frick, Nathan Oliveira at the San Jose Museum, and Gunther Brus, Fred Tomaselli and Sue Williams at the Palm Beach ICA and Nancy Burson at the Grey Art Gallery.
And, lest we forget, the Museum of Modern Art had its "Gerhard is God" moment with its Gerhard Richter retrospective, before it temporarily transplanted itself to a sleek new warehouse facility in the beautiful borough of Queens.
The critics were wowed by videotapes of the mice in Bruce Nauman's studio at the Dia Center for the Arts, while the New Museum premiered Belgian artist Wim Delvoye's big eating machine, Cloaca.
The Brooklyn Museum went the populist route with "Star Wars" and "The Victorian Nude," while the Metropolitan Museum continued to triumph by letting art historians do their thing. In 2002, the Met mounted shows of works by Victorian photographer Benjamin Brecknell Turner, Irving Penn, Surrealism, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, Renaissance tapestry, Chinese art from Sichuan, Qing Dynasty painting, Paul Gauguin, Thomas Eakins, Oldenburg and van Bruggen, Paul Klee, Richard Avedon, nomadic art of the Asian steppes, Théodore Chassériau, and more.
The 2002 Whitney Biennial came, was castigated by the critics, and went, leaving a few new art stars in its wake, including Roxy Paine, remembered for his 50-foot-tall stainless steel tree in Central Park, and San Francisco artist Chris Johansen, whose droll slacker cartoons seem to be everywhere.
"Festivalism" continued to rule the international scene, with Brooklyn-based, Nigeria-born curator Okwui Enwezor putting together a challenging Documenta 11 that proved that art and politics still make good bedfellows.
The anti-art crowd, having finished off the National Endowment for the Arts several years ago, came out in force against the liberties taken by Tom Sachs and the other artists in "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" at the Jewish Museum. Still more censure was aimed at a second show that was insufficiently simple-minded about the Nazi era, "Staging the Third Reich: Art, Politics and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna 1906-1913" at the Williams College Museum of Art.
There were a few bumps in the road. Several museums were caught in the "Enron Web," as their search for deep-pocketed trustees led them to roll out the red carpet for patrons who proved to be of less than sterling character. At New York's illustrious Guggenheim Museum, globetrotting director Thomas Krens expanded to Las Vegas but also seems to have run out of money, even dipping into the sacrosanct endowment to the tune of $20-million-plus. And former Sotheby's chairman A. Albert Taubman was sentenced to a year in jail for price-fixing, and his company's stock plunged to a new low of less than $7 a share.
Speaking of art auctions, record prices continue to make headlines. New auction highs (with premium) were set in 2002 for works by René Magritte ($12,659,500), Roy Lichtenstein ($7,159,500), Jean-Michel Basquiat ($5,509,500), Donald Judd ($4,629,500), Franz Kline ($4,519,500), Barnett Newman ($3,859,500), Ed Ruscha ($3,529,500), Wayne Thiebaud ($3,089,500), David Hockney ($2,869,500), Asger Jorn ($2,099,500), Philip Guston ($1,879,500), Morris Louis ($1,659,500), Louise Bourgeois ($1,439,500), Richard Tuttle ($1,054,500), Mark Tansey ($999,500), Tom Wesselmann ($944,500), David Park ($779,500), Claes Oldenburg ($691,500), Blinky Palermo ($669,500), Robert Indiana ($614,500), Andreas Gursky ($610,229), Adolph Gottlieb ($537,500), Jenny Saville ($537,500), Peter Doig ($479,649), John Currin ($427,500), Dan Flavin ($405,500), Rineke Dijkstra ($405,500), Julian Schnabel ($361,500), Nathan Oliveira ($317,500), Thomas Struth ($317,500), Nan Goldin ($284,500), Luciano Fabro ($258,398), Helmut Newton ($185,500), Thomas Demand ($141,500), Douglas Gordon ($96,000), Irving Penn($74,090) and Toba Khedoori ($65,725).
Had enough of 2002? Those in the avant-garde may begin 2003 now, a few weeks early.