From VR masterpieces to PR disasters: 2017's ups and downs

The Art Newspaper team assesses the art world's fortunes in a turbulent year

Alejandro González Iñárritu worked with migrants and refugees to understand the trauma involved in crossing the border Emmanuel Lubekzi

Alejandro González Iñárritu worked with migrants and refugees to understand the trauma involved in crossing the border Emmanuel Lubekzi


Virtual reality

Alejandro Iñárritu’s virtual reality (VR) installation Carne y Arena, arguably the first VR masterpiece, recreated the experience of refugees crossing the Mexico-US border in exhibitions in Milan and Los Angeles, earning the director a special Oscar. Other notable examples were Zaha Hadid’s immersive VR worlds at London’s Serpentine Gallery and Ed Fornieles’s VR sex experience at Carlos/Ishikawa, also in London. Expect more: HTC’s new Vive Arts programme encourages museums to take up the medium.

Cyber criminals

Galleries lost millions as hackers targeted their poorly protected email accounts and rudimentary payment systems. In a widespread scam, criminals hijacked email conversations, intercepting invoices sent to clients and changing payment details to their own account. After clients unwittingly paid the hacker, galleries were left unpaid with both sides unable to recoup their money.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat became the unlikely addition to the elite nine-figure club in May when his Untitled (1982) sold at Sotheby’s for $110.5m. Buyer Yusaku Maezawa broke the artist’s previous auction record of $57.3m of just one year earlier. The artist’s first major UK show also opened to acclaim at the Barbican, London (until 28 January).

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The MCA Chicago had quite the festive 50th anniversary. It finished a $16m building-wide revamp (with a Chris Ofili-designed restaurant); completed an $80m capital campaign; jointly won the inaugural Sotheby’s museum prize; mounted its best-attended exhibition to date (a Takashi Murakami retrospective); and launched an initiative to support Middle Eastern, South Asian, African and Latin American artists.


The Bristolian street artist’s image of a girl watching her heart-shaped balloon float away was crowned the UK’s favourite work of art in 2017, toppling Constable’s The Haywain (1821). Proving that it is an actual hotel as well as a gallery space, Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in the Palestinian territories was voted Art Hotel of the Year. And new Banksys were inevitably noteworthy: a Brexit-inspired mural appeared in Dover in May and two Basquiat homages marked the opening of the late US artist’s exhibition at London’s Barbican in September.

Anne Imhof

This young artist’s star has been rising ever since she won Germany’s Preis der Nationalgalerie in 2015. And in 2017 the prizes have continued to roll in as she nabbed the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale and the Absolut Art Award. She will use the €100,000 prize money from the latter to create her first public work—in Death Valley—next year.

African art

The massive, privately funded Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa opened its doors in Cape Town with a mission to spotlight artists from Africa and its diaspora. In the trade, Sotheby’s launched its first auction of Modern and contemporary African art and the 1:54 fair announced Marrakech as its third location, in February 2018.


Artist Jeff Koons poses in Rockefeller Center in front of Seated Ballerina, a new public art project on May 12, 2017 in New York City 2017 Getty Images

Jeff Koons

One of the world’s richest artists reportedly downsized his New York studio in June after slow sales of the Gazing Ball paintings. In Paris, he lost a plagiarism lawsuit and drew criticism for his gift of a Bouquet of Tulips sculpture—still caught in bureaucratic delays—dedicated to victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks.

Single-venue galleries

“Support your local galleries simply by going,” urged the New York critic Jerry Saltz on Instagram in early 2017. But misery for the middle market showed little sign of abating, with gallery closures around the world including Laura Bartlett (London); Andrea Rosen (New York); Freymond-Guth (Zurich) and Leo Xu (Shanghai).

Beatrix Ruf

The German-born super-curator resigned from the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam just as she was to unveil the new hang there, following detailed investigations by a Dutch newspaper into her art-advisory activities and remunerations beyond the museum. The Stedelijk has opened two independent investigations into the matter; Ruf has claimed that she was transparent about her private work.

Confederate monuments

A statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee prompted the grim spectacle of white nationalists descending on Charlottesville, Virginia in August. A lawsuit still hangs over that monument, but since then Confederate-era statues have been removed in Baltimore, Gainesville and Austin, among other cities, with many more voting to do the same. Some are calling for the statues to be housed in museums, but others point out that most are terrible quality anyway.

Adam Szymczyk

It was a far from triumphant year for the Documenta director, who too often found himself on the defensive, whether over accusations of ignoring the local scene in Athens, or dealing with the expected €5.4m deficit that Documenta’s expansion beyond Kassel left in its finances. Most significantly, critics’ reaction to the show itself was largely lukewarm.

Dana Schutz

The US artist was accused of cultural appropriation when her painting Open Casket (2016) went on display at the Whitney Biennial. The work, based on a photograph of the badly beaten body of the African-American teenager Emmett Till, was temporarily pulled due to a water leak but was later reinstalled. Later, Schutz’s exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston also attracted criticism, even though the incendiary painting was not included.

Sexual harassment (at last)

The sexual assault allegations made against the film producer Harvey Weinstein and the ensuing social media explosion of #MeToo revealed the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Its repercussions were felt in the art world, too, with Knight Landesman, the publisher of Artforum magazine, and Benjamin Genocchio, the former editor of Artnet, both being accused of sexual harassment. Genocchio was subsequently relieved of his position as the director of the Armory Show.