Leading figures’ highlights and lowlights of 2016


Gabriele Finaldi 

Director, National Gallery, London

Among the highs were the amazing achievement of the opening of the new extension to Tate Modern, Team GB’s success at the Olympics, the Bowes Museum acquiring Bouts’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, huge numbers of visitors at the Bosch centenary exhibitions in Holland and Spain. And there is much to look forward to in 2017: Hull as UK City of Culture and Michelangelo and Sebastiano at the National Gallery, among other things. However, 2016 has definitely not been the best year in recent history—with the horrors of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the resulting migrant crises, the human casualties and the destruction of communities as a result of the earthquakes in central Italy, plus the uncertain state we find ourselves in after the Brexit referendum. It was concerning to hear that the History of Art A-level was going to disappear in Britain in 2018, although there may be light at the end of that particular tunnel.

Yannick Lintz

Director, department of Islamic art, the Louvre

There has been a dramatic increase in cultural destruction in the Middle East. The launch of the Papsi [Projet de sauvegarde des archives scientifiques sur le Patrimoine Syrien et Irakien] programme at the Louvre in September, creating a French archive collection for Syrian and Iraqi Islamic heritage, was an important step in preserving these sites. There is also such a programme for the Ancient Middle East Department, very rich in archaeological archives of the Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman sites. The lifting of sanctions on Iran has opened up a new part of the cultural world. In January, the Louvre signed a collaboration agreement with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and there are now lots of plans to collaborate in the future.

Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi 

Director, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

This year, we have lost many great talents, including David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, artists Marwan and Marisol Escobar, ceramicist Mo Abdullah, architect Zaha Hadid, and film-maker Abbas Kiarostami. Of course, the loss of UAE artist Hassan Sharif has been particularly significant on a personal level. We had been working closely with him on a major retrospective with new commissions, so we are particularly saddened that he will not be with us at the opening of the exhibition next year.

Jeremy Deller 


The low point, apart from the obvious, is the end of art history on the syllabus in UK schools. Art history should be treated like English Literature; it’s not just the study of art but ideas, civilisations, identity, power and so on. The high point: our major museums in London are in very safe hands with, among others, Frances Morris [Tate Modern], Alex Farquharson [Tate Britain] and Gabriele Finaldi [National Gallery] in charge. 

Franklin Sirmans

Director, Pérez Art Museum, Miami

Pamela Joyner and Fred Giuffrida convening on 26 September in New York City: it was simply magical to watch a friend, collector, patron, enthusiast bring “an art world” together with critics, curators, artists, gallerists, directors and friends from around the world to celebrate artists who have not been celebrated until very recently—though they should have been, over the course of the last 50 years. Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art shines a spotlight on the accomplishments of post-war and contemporary artists of colour through the lens of their collection. With generous affiliations and donations for several museums over the past decade, Joyner has shown the power of what one collector can actually do, not solely in the marketplace, but in scholarship and advancement in the world of art museums.

Angela Choon 

Senior Partner, David Zwirner Gallery

The exhibition highlights of the year are Kerry James Marshall’s long overdue retrospective, which is currently at the Met in New York after opening first at the MCA Chicago; it will travel to LA MoCA next year. I feel honoured to be working with Kerry. Other exhibition highlights include The Infinite Mix, the Hayward Gallery’s offsite project in London, and the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy. The gallery is proud to be working with two new estates this year: Sigmar Polke, who had an exhibition earlier this year in New York, and Josef Albers, whose first exhibition with the gallery just opened in New York and who will have an exhibition in London in January. The Brexit vote and Trump’s election came as a huge shock to everyone.

Maria Balshaw 

Director, the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries

I cannot say anything other than I am worried about the world and that what museums and galleries offer is more vital than ever. We have witnessed divisive politics at home and abroad; countering this and creating space for exploration of difference and intercultural understanding gets to the heart of the civic role of museums of all stripes. Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here was a masterstroke of commemoration that embraced the widest possible constituency of people. My first sighting was a group of uniformed young men walking across Whitworth Park; a moment later I saw a tweet from a Whitworth staffer. By the end of the day the nation was engaged and moved—truly remarkable.

Polly Staple

Director, Chisenhale Gallery, London

Processing my thoughts on the morning of the US election result, two of the most significant events of 2016 are the Brexit vote and the outcome of the US presidential race. A third is the removal of arts and humanities from the core curriculum in British schools. I am stunned by all these events. One upshot is that it makes the work of public art institutions and those who support them even more important—to offer an open-minded alternative to hate politics and ignorance, and to support the artists and communities we work with to continue to offer a different perspective on the world.

Melissa Chiu 

Director, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC

2016 has been a momentous year for the art world. In June, I had the privilege of attending the opening of the new Tate Modern and the rehanging of their permanent collection, which now comprises works by over 300 artists from more than 50 countries, signifying an important shift 

in recognising an increasing number of international and emerging artists as part of the canon. Another highlight was Theaster Gates’s 

immersive solo exhibition How to Build a 

House Museum at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Theaster’s unique practice, which engages social justice and urbanism as artistic modes, transforms cultural narratives by reinvigorating and recontextualising historically disenfranchised spaces. Theaster joined the Hirshhorn’s board as an artist trustee last fall, and we are very proud to have his guidance and expertise as a part of our institution.

Francis Outred 

Post-war and contemporary, Christie’s 

A standout moment for me in 2016 was the opening of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a building constructed with the primary purpose of looking at art, a rare thing in today’s museum world. It more than delivers on that promise not only in the fabric of the building but also the quality of work. The superlative Fisher Collection as well as gifts from over 200 global collectors have created an institution that rivals the best in the world. This was just one of the many things that stood out from an inspiring trip to the West Coast of the US that I took in the spring of this year. Other highlights included San Francisco’s burgeoning art scene as well as witnessing the continued evolution of LA as an art capital with the Broad, Hauser & Wirth’s new gallery, and the proliferation of artist studios—all of which are recreating the art landscape on the West Coast right now. While there I also had the distinct honour of dining in John Lautner’s Chemosphere, one of the great mid-century buildings.

Nazy Vassegh 

Chief Executive, Masterpiece, London 

Masterpiece 2016 took place a few days after Brexit. At the time I remember wondering whether anyone would come and was particularly nervous about how the uncertainty might impact the success of the fair. I needn’t have worried—in fact, in many cases it had a surprisingly positive impact. Collectors acquired works far more quickly than in previous years, encouraged by the exchange rate, and exhibitors reported strong sales within hours of opening. Thinking about this rationally, I believe that in times of turmoil in the financial markets collectors are often drawn to more tangible assets, as presented at Masterpiece.

Lucy Mitchell-Innes 

Principal, co-owner, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

Two memorable events come to mind in thinking about 2016. The first is Pope.L’s performance The Problem at Art Basel in June. The performance culminated with its protagonist, a huge white gorilla, finding thousands of euros tucked away behind Pope.L’s paintings on view at Art Basel. The gorilla stuffed the cash into a big bag and ran off. The second is the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy in London. I made a dedicated trip to London to see the show, and it was absolutely worth it.

Eli Broad

Founder, The Broad, Los Angeles

We celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Broad in September. My wife Edye and I couldn’t be more delighted with the public response to our museum. Our first-year attendance was more than 820,000—more than triple our opening projections, with an incredibly young and diverse visitor demographic. We also had our first special exhibition, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, and it was exciting to present the work of an artist we’ve collected since the 1980s in such depth. Outside of Los Angeles, my wife and I are anxious to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. I served on the board of regents of the Smithsonian and remember when we selected the design and site for the museum, so it’s exciting to see the project completed and now open.

Taco Dibbets 

Director, the Rijksmuseum

The highlight was the show of our acquisition together with the Louvre of Marten and Oopjen, the two Rembrandt wedding portraits. It was the largest museum acquisition, but it was also a highlight because it could be an example of countries working together within the EU on art. It’s fantastic to see that there’s now a treaty on two works of art between France and the Netherlands: it’s much nicer to have a treaty on art than anything else. The low point was when the images were released of the destruction of Palmyra, a place I deeply love. To realise that something that’s been there for so many years and has been treasured by us as mankind for so long has been destroyed—that is a deed of aggression that makes you lose faith.

Stephen Deuchar 

Director, the Art Fund

One of the most powerful but unsung art events was the Some Are Nights Others Stars exhibition at the Towner, Eastbourne. It was so cleverly conceived—five international artists treating diverse experiences of human displacement, loss and separation—and beautifully realised, with the unspoken context of the growing migrant crisis in Europe driving its impact. Isaac Julien’s 2010 film Ten Thousand Waves (inspired by the tragedy of the Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay) was among its sharpest highlights. Meanwhile, as the year draws to a close, the unresolved funding situation at Inverleith House and the New Art Gallery, Walsall, reminds us of the perils facing huge numbers of visual arts organisations, especially those dependent on local authority funding. 

Jessica Morgan 

Director, Dia Art Foundation, New York

The São Paulo Biennial, Live Uncertainty, this September reaffirmed my faith in large-scale exhibitions. It was an impactful yet still joyful journey through some of the major issues of today, not least global warming. Jochen Volz and his team gave space and presence to each artist and a rich materiality characterised the works—whether an earthy connection to the land and ecosystems, an exploration of sound and dance and their forceful physical embodiment, or conceptual and structural correlations to the social and political sphere.