Well, thatís it, another year has come to a close, and boy, what a year it was. As the art world becomes ever more global -- thanks in large part to the internet and websites like Artnet -- art prices are climbing to ever more astonishing heights. We are truly in the age of the art dealer. Even the Metropolitan Museum, that redoubt of traditional museum scholarship, thinks so, organizing "Abroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde," a show of pioneering modernist artworks that had passed through the hands of the pioneering modernist art dealer.
The wealth of the global art world is having a salutary effect on our nonprofit sector, unsurprisingly, with museums growing, investing in adventurous new architecture, and mounting exhibitions of ever more far-reaching scope. Government support of the arts is in eclipse, a result of the now-forgotten Republican culture wars. But who needs it? Art itself remains vigorous, rich with whimsical avant-garde gestures and a considerable breadth of figurative, painterly, lyrical expressions. With a few notable exceptions, contemporary art seems to have turned away from both purist abstraction and the political sphere.
But rather than keep this retrospective view from a single perspective, we decided to spread it around a little, and seek reviews of 2006 from some of Artnet Magazineís hard-working contributors. Thanks for reading, and see you in 2007.
Charlie Finch: The most important development of 2006 was the complete takeover of the contemporary art market by hedge fund billionaires. These are people who give themselves a billion-dollar bonus at Christmas simply by writing themselves a check. This hedgy dominance is now so overwhelming that longtime collectors Don Rubell and Dean Valentine actually complained on the record to Business Week about the fickle ways of these plutocratic Johnny-come-latelys.
Contemporary galleries are already playing a dangerous game using the rising valuations of their inventories to finance expansions and pay day-to-day bills. Should hedgers lose interest in contemporary art, or more funds collapse due to a bad bet or two in the market, many Chelsea galleries will close, and the transformation of Chelsea into a fashion / retail / residential mecca, predicted for a decade, will be complete. Then a true new scene will rise again, in Berlin or in the Bronx.
Ana Finel Honigman: One of 2006ís most exciting art events was the launch of Charles Saatchiís "Your Gallery," a MySpace-like website where emerging or simply unrepresented artists, often living far away from major art centers, can workshop, debate art issues, sell their art and flirt. The site, and its collaboration with the Guardian on a reader-judged exhibition, has created a new Bizarro art world where everything is upside-down. Saatchiís generous gesture has re-established him as a true Medici of contemporary art.
The Serpentine Galleryís current exhibition, the orthographically irregular "In the darkest hour there may be light: Works from Damien Hirstís murderme collection," Nov. 25, 2006-Jan. 28, 2006, is one of this yearís most shockingly satisfying exhibitions. With pieces by Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol hanging alongside works by the YBAs, the show is an ironic feast of morbidity, sexuality and perversity. And whatís more, itís self-referential for the artist-curator, making future art historiansí job a little easier by intelligently and elegantly mapping out how Hirstís own work fits into the context of the art of his era. Iíll wager that Hirstís collection and the reaction it provoked from the British press will be the subject of dissertations for years to come.
Conrad Shawcrossís show at Victoria Miro is also memorable. At 28, Shawcross is an artist whose intelligence, intellectual curiosity and poetic disregard for the divisions between intellectual disciplines is both inspired and inspirational. If Hirst is already helpfully placing himself in history, Shawcross is hopefully just beginning to convince us that he is British artís future.
Michele C. Cone: How about the museum of "primary arts" -- that is, indigenous culture from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas -- on Quai Branly in Paris? Jean Nouvel was paid millions to design the Musée du quai Branly, a controversial structure notable for its facade of live green plants and huge suspended cubes, each painted a different skin color. The "let them eat cake" mentality in Paris extends to a luxurious shop for Baccarat crystal designed by Philippe Starck in a surreal mood that accords with the taste of the former owner, the Comtesse de Noailles, and to the reopened Musée des Arts Decoratifs in the Louvre, featuring period rooms from the late 19th century onwards.
Lewis Kachur: Looking back to the beginning of 2006, the show of Robert Rauschenbergís "Combines" at the Metropolitan Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art detailed an exhilarating watershed which is still with us, the beginning of the large-scale incorporation of mass media into art. Fortuitously, Rauschenberg was presented at the Met at the same moment as the superb David Smith retrospective nearby at the Guggenheim Museum. Within walking distance was a stark juxtaposition of all that was at stake for an artist of the mid- to late Ď50s -- a rare moment of museum harmonic convergence.
Currently I mourn the passing of another Robert R., who wrote on those "combines" at the moment they were first exhibited. The irreplaceable Professor Rosenblum dazzled us with many examples of what art history could look like beyond its traditional concerns.† He also exemplified an ongoing commitment to contemporary art, both for itself, as the art of our own time, and for how it constantly clears our lens on the art of the past.
Emma Gray: For the Los Angeles contemporary art community, 2006 was like a global coming-out party, both in terms of how others perceive the city and how L.A. sees itself. The distinguished LA Art fair in New York, which was launched in March to correspond with the Armory Show, turned out to be the strongest bonding of L.A. dealers in recent memory -- and this is a group that still canít rally behind an art fair of its own in its home town.
More recently, the New Yorker sponsored a glamorous evening called "pARTy" at Gemini G.E.L., designed as a membership drive for the young patrons of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Organized by L.A. pr and marketing guru Bettina Korek -- who also works for Emi Fontana, LAXART and just about anybody else who comes to town and wants to throw a party and do it right -- the affair brought together Hollywood and the avant-garde. Nowhere else in the world can you find so much cash and creativity with so little synergy -- perhaps if David Geffen is able to buy the Los Angeles Times all this will change.
Under the guidance of director Annie Philbin, the Hammer Museum continues to shore up itís curatorial base, stealing yet another New Yorker -- Ali Subotnik -- to join its crew. And at LACMA, Michael Govanís appointment is beginning to show results, at least according to superpatron Eli Broad, who told the Los Angeles Times that "LACMA has more energy than ever. . . . more has been done in seven months than in the last decade."
As for the gallery scene, Culver City is now so jammed with art dealers, as well as a louche new bar modeled loosely on Gavin Brownís Passerby, that there seems to be no room left at the inn. The only place to go now is downtown, which is undergoing its own nightlife renaissance. Galleries like Bank, one of the downtown art pioneers, show that Los Angeles is ready to rediscover its urban grit.
Finally, speaking of parties, 2006 marked the passing of a great L.A.-based artist who did much to bring the party to L.A. with his "Black Pussy" soirees, while at the same time remaining an art world phenomena all around the globe. Some people say Jason Rhoades was ahead of his time.
Joe La Placa: 2006 was the year that confirmed London as an art market superpower. Money is flowing into this town like water -- shades of 1980s New York City. Christieís reported a record 48 percent increase in sales in Europe in June, with a large percentage of the new turnover happening in London. Iím sure the second half of the year was just as good, if not better. Auctioneer Simon de Pury moved into new premises and is already challenging the big houses. The Frieze Art Fair is hotter than ever and the new auction sales launched during fair week are tell-tale signs of monopolies to come. If 2006 is any indicator, Iíd expect major shows of primary artists at the big houses next year.
Londonís big contemporary galleries -- White Cube, Haunch of Venision, Victoria Miro, Gérard Faggionato and Sprueth Magers, to name a few -- are either moving to new, more extravagant spaces or are significantly expanding their operations at a much faster rate that the rest of the international art universe, another sure sign of Anglo prosperity. And letís not forget the appearance of LTBís art world heroine Louise MacVain, more narcissistic than the artists she shows!
Even the East End galleries continue to report meteoric sales, with the Queen of the East End, Maureen Paley, at the summit (representing this yearís Turner nominee Rebecca Warren -- she was robbed!), followed by cool up-and-coming galleries like T1+2, Museum 52, David Risley, Modern Art, Vilma Gold, the Approach, Store and Keith Talent.
Also, 2006 saw the rise of what I call "Consiliant Art" -- the working title of a book that I happen to be co-authoring -- art that seeks to unify all knowledge. This spirit is best embodied by recent shows at Diane Harrisí Kinetica Museum in Spitalfields in London, particularly the last show, Paul Fryerís Star in a Jar and Petroc Sestiís Event Horizon. Fryer, one of the hottest new artists in town, will be opening a blockbuster show in Feb. 2007, backed by the likes of Damien Hirst and our very own Mollie Dent Brocklehurst. Iíve seen some of the works. . . tremendous. Expect a feature!
And then thereís the rise of Chinese contemporary. But do you really want to go there? After my own two trips to China last summer, Iím already bored. For those of you who are not, however, you need to speak with Nicolette Kwok of the Red Mansion Foundation, Amelie von Wedel at the new Wedel gallery and art consultancy or our dear friend Fine Arts.
Carlo McCormick: Typically, the most important art event of 2006 in New York City was the Candle Building -- something that had absolutely nothing to do with the machinations of the art world. Members of the art crowd might have noticed that the New York Times briefly carried a strange story on a bunch of young hoodlums who make their art on the street, for free, anonymously, and against the law, or maybe on their way shoe-shopping through the former art district of SoHo they may have speculated on what that line extending down Spring Street for so many blocks could possibly be for (can you imagine waiting inline to see any show in Chelsea this past season?), but truth be told the supposed purveyors of contemporary culture remain utterly clueless about the real site of visual art in popular culture.
If you missed it, and shame on you if you did, what all that fuss was about was a congregation of some of the most vital street artists from around the globe working for weeks with legitimate sanctuary in a building on the corner of Elizabeth and Spring Streets, a relic of former times that had long served as a Mecca for post-graffiti expressions. All along the exterior and throughout five floors of this patently eccentric building (so named because itís tinkerer owner had put electric candles in every window, at least as far back as my memory serves) were works by some of the most celebrated underground artists working today. To say goodbye, since the site is doomed to become condos.
The Candle Building briefly served as a primer for anyone who wanted to wake up and realize that all that weird spray paint and those wheat-pasted posters are not just random urban noise but a vital international language. So some of the following names: Swoon, Shepard Fairey, Faile, The Barnstormers, WK, Above, The London Police, Jace, Prune, D*Face, Prune, Lister, Bo & Microbo, Rekal, Gore-B, Gaetane Michaux. For those with an old school sensibility, here were also some blessings by the likes of Lady Pink, Smith, John Fekner, Dan Witz and Daze.
Now for heavenís sake stop reading this similarly out-of-touch website and check out www.woostercollective.com, a website launched by two true fans and lovely souls, Mark and Sarah.
Pedro Velez: First, this year showed that artists are embracing and re-shaping the art fair model by flocking to organize and show their work at parallel events, setting up independent tents "a la Courbet" and engaging an environment that was once thought as "only for buyers," "elitist," "an expensive and exhausting party" or "too shallow for my stuff."
At Art Basel Miami Beach we saw another dozen ancillary fairs, many artist-run, as well as many other independent guerrilla outfits, art parades, hotel shows and poster projects, which successfully cohabited and shared the media hoopla and the non-arty crowds.
Or take the Milwaukee International, a show organized by a group of curators and artists this October in an old fashioned beer hall, where the exhibitors paid an admission fee of a ridiculous $12. Free to the general public and with a website endorsing local hangouts, the MI sounded more like a group show advocating Midwest tourism than a capitalist enterprise.
And the not-so-economically successful first installment of the Circa 06 art fair here in ever-popular Puerto Rico served as an engine for a bunch of independent satellite events in a food chain where the "leeches" benefited more than the official exhibitors.
For the new year, the success of the traditional art fair will not be determined only economically but also by its contribution to the culture of the region, the exposure of its resources and the influx to the local economy from the crowds that visit the fairs.
And secondly, 2006 marked the downfall of the blog as a legit publication for art criticism. If you actually read art blogs, you quickly come to realize that they have become essentially what we always thought they were, vehicles for shameless self-promotion.
Jerry Saltz: Criminal Behavior on the Part of Two Important New York Art Institutions: Dia and the Drawing Center. Plus, a Question about the Market.
Instead of renovating its tremendous 22nd Street Chelsea headquarters, or establishing another building, or even opening a temporary New York space, the Dia Art Foundation abandoned New York by shutting down all of its rotating Manhattan exhibition spaces. To ANYONE having ANYTHING to do with this reprehensible behavior, from the ex-director who in a very Bush-like move abandoned the institution after he shut it down, to all of the trustees, it is mind-boggling and heartbreaking that NOT ONE OF YOU openly protested or resigned over this negligent, irresponsible action.
The venerable Drawing Center, meanwhile, is this close to lost, having wasted years considering a misguided move to Ground Zero and supposedly continuing to mull a relocation to the South Street Seaport, where it would be little more than a tourist attraction. We all need to conduct a group intervention and tell the Drawing Center, "Snap out of it! Join the fray! Either move to Chelsea or near the New Museum on the Lower East Side, or even go to Brooklyn. Whatever you do, get your act together and start being important to New York again. As it is, youíre almost irrelevant!"
Itís doubtful that itís bold enough for this, but maybe the Drawing Center should take over Diaís old building. If not the Drawing Center, maybe a few nonprofits could share the building. White Columns and Artistís Space on 22nd Street would change the gravity of Chelsea overnight. Whatever, itís time for all of us (me included) to stop rolling over when our institutions behave in such reprehensible, irresponsible ways. We all love the Drawing Center and Dia. But we need to let them know that we wonít stick with them if they continue not sticking with us. The clock is ticking for both of these institutions to get their act together.
Postscript: This postscript is a question about the art market -- it has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Artforum, its advertising, editorial policies or content. But consider this statistic, a telling one about the U.S. art world, taken from the pages of that magazine. Ten years ago today Artforum had a total of 112 pages. This month there are almost twice that many pages of ads, alone. Thereís nothing wrong with advertising. I like ads. Ads are the porn of art magazines. They are the reason art magazines can afford to exist. This is NOT a call for fewer ads.
But you tell me what this much advertising means and how it may be affecting everything we do. Are we liking certain things because we know that other people are liking them? How is the market affecting the ways we see art? How does it affect the way curators and editors see art? Does the market create a competitive atmosphere that drives artists to produce better work or does it foster empty product? Do art fairs make artists make better, worse, or only more art? No one knows. We donít have a way to talk about the market. There is no effective "Theory of the Market" that isnít just a rehash of Marxist ideology. Thereís no new philosophy to help us address the problem of the way the market is affecting the production and presentation of art, although people are trying. The good, maybe great news is that the market is unpredictable. Therefore it is a force of chaos, and chaos is always good for art. Itís just not clear yet how or even if this chaos is being used.