16 of 2016's Art Moments

Leaving behind 2016, a year of huge political and global upheaval, and the deaths of many national treasures, I thought I’d turn to the perhaps lighter subject of the biggest art moments of the year. Here I’ve collected my favourite art experiences this year, as well as some of the biggest news headlines in the art world. Here’s to a year of more exploratory exhibitions, inspirational documentaries, and unveiling of new artistic mysteries.
The Armada Portrait 
 1: Armada Portrait

Elizabeth I’s portrait commemorating the events of 1588 was brought by the Royal Museums in Greenwich for £10million. This saved the highly-symbolic painting for the nation, before it was put on the open market or exported. Interestingly, part of this fund was generated by a public appeal which raised £1.5 million. Elizabeth I’s profile has been iconic since her reign, capturing the imagination and interest of the British public.  She was the very face of a strong empire. This interest in the monarch is touchingly captured by this 7 year old’s plea…
This schoolgirl sold these cupcakes to raise money for the purchase 

2: A-Level
This was the year that History of Art was questioned and valued as an A-level, but the debate went further, arguing whether it was worthy as an academic subject at all. Luckily, the threat on the subject was lifted and AQA announced it would not be axed. However, it bothered me how the arguments (made by many influential art critics) seemed to imply AQA was trying to axe art history as an entire discipline. There is a difference between the a-level and art history as an academic subject. I did not take the A-level, and yet I am just as passionate about the degree as my peers, it is not crucial to understanding and enjoying art history. It is a distinction I feel we should be careful to make.
David Bowie's iconic album cover 

3: Bowie
David Bowie was best known as a singer-songwriter yet his influence in the art world was far reaching. In 1972, the world was introduced to Ziggy Stardust, a flamboyant and glamorous rock character which inspired artists and photographers and fashion designers for decades. Brian Duffy’s photograph of Bowie on the cover of Aladdin Sane has become one of the most iconic images of the star, signalling the success and connections with Art Pop. In 2013, the V&A curated an exhibition simply exploring the career of Bowie. Bowie’s own art collection sold at Sotheby’s for £32.9 million.

My first visit to the Bristol Art Museum took place in the first few weeks of term. Amongst all of the madness that is Fresher’s, it was genuinely comforting and calming to be surrounded by the companionable silence that is an art gallery. Bristol is known for its contemporary, rebellious, loud art and this museum seemed like a small break from all of that. With an eclectic collection and beautiful building, it is nice to know it’s just a small walk from campus.

Visiting the National Gallery's Beyond Caravaggio 

In this ambitious exhibition, the National Gallery surveyed the influence of perhaps one of the most influential artists (and of course one of my personal favourites). It would be hard to properly capture all of the works Caravaggio inspired, but this exhibition came close, especially with the accompanying book (which, obviously, I forked out £20 for).  Most exhibitions about Caravaggio would strive to have most of the pieces be Caravaggio’s. But this display was different, with only a few choice Caravaggio pieces, and the rest showing his strides in advancing the painting of light, religious allegories, and baroque realism.

This year, I’ve started writing articles on arts for the Bristol branch of culturecalling.com, an online culture guide. It’s been a learning experience writing articles for a deadline, word limit, and editor! It’s been interesting going to exhibitions with the view of writing about it later, not just seeing what I want to see. I’m excited about continuing this for the year to come and writing about a broader range of subjects.

7. Design Museum
After years and years of planning, the Design Museum reopened in a beautiful new building in Kensington. Amongst smooth wooden curves and large open spaces, the new museum promises innovative exhibitions. Their permanent display ranges from typewriters to shoes, questioning the relationships between designer, maker and user.
The synagogue in Budapest 

During interrailing this summer, we visited this Shul in Budapest. The architecture was truly astonishing and the history was dark and unsettling. As Jews it was important for us see this part of our heritage and as an art lover, it was remarkable to see this piece of Jewish architectural history and the beautiful memorials to the murdered members of the community.

9. Harry Hyams
The developer of Centrepoint died aged 87. It was revealed this year that he had left £450 million to a charity that will preserve his extensive collection of fine art and antique cars for the nation. Many works of art- including Turner’s The Bridgewater Seapiece, portraits by Stubbs and Millet’s Cherry Ripe- will be shown to the public for the first time. This marks one of the biggest charitable bequests in British history.

10. Lost Caravaggio
When a painting was discovered in a French attic, it quickly caused rifts across the art world as Baroque specialists argued whether this truly was a Caravaggio original. If so, it could be worth around €120 million and could represent the planning that took place before his later masterpiece Judith Beheading Holofernes. It continues to add to the debate of how accurately we really can identify artists, particularly when they worked with many pupils completing some of their works.

11. Medieval Manuscripts
This year I learnt way more about this art form, something I had previously dismissed as boring and well… medieval. As part of my course, I’ve since realised what a crucial medium it is for us to access the key ideas that drove medieval people. And quite apart from this, they can be really detailed and beautiful. I also went to see the huge collection of illuminated manuscripts in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, seeing how techniques and subjects have developed over time was really fascinating.
The Mantegna display in Milan 

12. Milan
This summer I went to Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera which had an exhibition comparing paintings of the death of Jesus. Mantegna’s treatment of the subject is so famous because of his ground-breaking use of perspective, and it was really something to see it in person and see the other artists the piece has inspired. And –not that I talk about him all the time- I also got to see a Caravaggio so that’s always a plus.

The second great exhibition I went to at the National Gallery this year: Painter’s Paintings was a huge collection showing the relationships between famous artists and the artists they admired. I loved the plaques next to the pieces which delivered interesting back-story about the friendships between some of the most famous artists in history. The selected quotes blown up on the walls gave great insights into these relations. For instance, Degas felt Forain imitated him and once said “he paints with his hands in my pockets.”

14. Palmyra
This year, ISIS recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria. Seeing the footage of the ruins of the once-astonishing archaeological site can remind us all once again how heart-breaking this is. Of course, ISIS has caused many atrocities and horrors across the world, and the destruction of art is at the bottom of a long list… but it does show how much we lose through war. Not just lives, but history and values too.

BBC's documentary Six Wives 
15. Six Wives
Lucy Worsley’s 3-part documentary on the wives of the King Henry VIII was a beautiful piece of television. At some points managing to blur the lines between documentary and period drama, Worsley added her own opinion to the ever-growing historiography surrounding the King and his unlucky spouses. She challenged the image of Katherine Howard, who historians have often portrayed as a rather stupid, slutty young woman. Worsley quite chillingly observes that if this were to happen today, we would protect the teenager as a victim of child abuse. Worsley also argued Protestant Catherine Parr had a huge influence on young Elizabeth, thus shaping the future of our Protestant country.

16. Volunteering
This year I began volunteering at Kenwood House in Hampstead. It’s been such a valuable experience, allowing me to access the behind-the-scenes of a stately home and gallery. It’s taught me how to deliver bits of interesting information to the public, how to check the humidity of the room to preserve the paintings, and how to keep little children focused on their cutting and sticking activity! It’s been amazing being up close-and-personal with some world-famous paintings such as the Rembrandt and Vermeer on display. I’ve loved seeing how people interact with the pieces. There is one man who comes for 10 minutes every week just to sit in front of the Rembrandt, saying he ‘sees something different every time.’

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