The Top Art News of 2014

Every day on Artsy we bring you the day’s biggest news in our Daily Digest, reporting on everything from auction results to the latest art-world scandals. Join us for a look back at 2014’s most notable moments.

This year—and the month of November in particular—was far and away the biggest on record for art sales around the world, with over a billion dollars dropped on works by some of the biggest names in art history. Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York blew the rest out of the water with a staggering $852.9 million brought in; leading the sales were Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963) and Four Marlons (1966), which fetched $81.9 and $69.6 million (respectively), while new records for sales of works by Cy Twombly and Ed Ruscha were set. Other impressive auction results were also seen recently at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York, which totaled $422 million; Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot (1951-52) led the pack, selling for $101 million, followed by works from Modigliani, Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso.

Museums made several noteworthy acquisitions in 2014 as well; notably, The Getty purchased Manet’s 1881 painting Spring (Jeanne Demarsy) for $65.1 million, nearly double the previous record for any Manet painting. London’s National Portrait Gallery acquired a Van Dyck self-portrait for £10 million, and The National Gallery added its first major American painting to its collection, George Bellows’s Men of the Dock (1912); the Bellows acquisition, however, was met with a bit of controversy, as it was sold by the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg to boost the museum’s endowment, a move that was protested by local admirers of the work and led Maier Museum director Karol Lawson to step down. 

The National Gallery was not the only museum caught up in controversy this year—this fall the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland was strongly disparaged by Jewish groups around the world after it accepted the late Cornelius Gurlitt’s collection of roughly 1,600 works, many of which are strongly believed to have been looted by Nazis during WWII; the collection is rich with works by Courbet, Delacroix, Géricault, Rodin, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Pissarro, Kandinsky, Dix, and Grosz, among many others. As these museums grew their collections, the Detroit Institute of Arts very nearly lost its own, as the artworks were almost sold to pay off the city of Detroit’s $18 billion debt; the collection was protected by what is being called the “Grand Bargain,” provided that the museum donates $100 million to the support the city’s regrowth, 90% of which has already been raised through donations from various businesses and arts organizations. 

Other museums moved on to further horizons, expanding, renewing, or changing buildings. After five long years of renovation and internal turmoil, the Musée Picasso in Paris reopened, and nearly doubled in size. In New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its plaza in September after extended renovations, unveiling a space that is equivalent to 3 football fields. The Whitney Museum bid a long farewell to its home of nearly half a century, the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue, with a final blowout at the close of its prolific Jeff Koons retrospective in October, staying open a full 36 hours; the Whitney will reopen on May 1, 2015 in the Meatpacking District (in a building designed by Renzo Piano) as the Met expands into the Breuer building, launching an exhibition there in 2016. Three years after it first closed for renovations, The Cooper Hewitt re-opened it doors recently, debuting updated interiors replete with cutting-edge technologies to enhance the visitor experience. The Frick Collection faced opposition for its expansion plan first announced in June, which includes a six-story addition linking the museum to its library building that would overtake the interior garden in the process; by early November over 2,000 individuals had signed a petition to halt the construction, claiming it violates the Frick building’s landmark status. Protests also sprang up around the Guggenheim’s plans to open an Abu Dhabi outpost; protesters in New York have been calling for a more conscientious effort from the Guggenheim to ensure the museum’s construction does not violate any human rights, as labor conditions in the city have been notedly extreme.

Several monumental shows were mounted, with Matisse’s “The Cut-Outs” taking its place as the most-visited show in the Tate Modern’s history, bringing in over half a million visitors before setting sail to MoMA. Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” at the Domino Sugar Factory over the summer was also met with high enthusiasm, with Walker being named Art Innovator of the Year by the Wall Street Journal in November. 

Despite what was generally a strong year for the art world, random acts of art vandalism ran rampant, targeting works both in and out of museums. February saw the destruction of a highly valuable vase by Ai Weiwei at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, which was smashed by a local artist taking out his frustration with the museum and its lack of local art. Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa faux-storefront, installed in 2005 along a Texas road, was splattered with paint and plastered with advertisements for Toms shoes in March by Joe Magnano, who orchestrated the “project” as a sort of commentary on what he views as the consumerist message of Prada Marfa; the original work has since been restored. Jeff Koons’s Whitney exhibition was also the target of vandalism, when first in August a man splattered red paint in an “X” on a wall, and then in October another troublemaker tagged a wall with black spray paint; in both incidents, no artworks were actually harmed. And of course, Paul McCarthy caused quite a stir in Paris with his giant installation Tree, which was deflated by protesters opposed to its sexually suggestive form; one angry Frenchman even went so far as to physically attack the artist, punching him in the face following Tree’s initial inflation.

Kate Haveles


Explore the rest of our 2014 highlights and find out what to look out for in 2015.