The past year has been one for the history books. But the moments of almost unfathomable darkness—the ongoing pandemic and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, climate catastrophes, and police violence to name just a few—were punctuated by levity, hope, resilience, innovation, and of course, art. Here are some of the images that defined 2021.
A “missing” poster in Dresden for one of the Benin Bronzes. The posters are a project by Emeka Ogboh. Photo: Oliver Killig.
Stan Douglas, 22 April 1924 and 7 August 1934, from “Penn Station’s Half Century” (2020), a series of nine ceramic ink on glass photographic panels at Penn Station’s new Moynihan Train Hall, New York. © Stan Douglas. Photo by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the artist, Victoria Miro, David Zwirner, Empire State Development, and Public Art Fund, New York.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures after signing the Brexit Trade Deal with the EU in 10 Downing Street in London, United Kingdom on December 30, 2020. Photo: Pippa Fowles/No10 Downing Street/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
A rioter holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. Photo: Ruddy Roye
Tyler Mitchell’s portrait of newly elected U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on the cover of Vogue‘s February 2021 issue. Courtesy of Vogue.
A snowman is built outside the Cibeles Palace in Madrid on January 10, 2021 as Spain is hit by its heaviest snowfall in 50 years. Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images.
The “Field of Flags” memorial to victims of the Covid-10 pandemic is illuminated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joe Raedle/AFP via Getty Images.
A close up of the “Field of Flags” display along the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
One of the many art-related Bernie Sanders memes that went viral following the Senator’s grumpy appearance at the U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Image via Twitter user @_smartify.
U.S. President Joe Biden added Paul Saurez’s bust of the late Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez to the Oval Office. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
People gathered in Krakow, Poland, to support Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and demand for his release from prison in Moscow. Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Punjabi Liverpudlian artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman with her Winter Commission at Tate Britain, Remembering a brave new world (2020). Photo by Joe Humphrys, © Tate.
Sophie Duberson, from the Louvre Museum’s restoration department, cleans the Egyptian funerary stele Senusret while the museum is closed during lockdown. Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images.
Protesters raise three-finger salutes and hold up banners as they march against the ousting of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a military coup on February 08, 2021 in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Stringer/Getty Images.
A rare sight of the snow-covered Acropolis in February 2021. Photo: © Stavros Petropoulos/Alaska for the Onassis Foundation.
A GameStop storefront in Athens, Ohio. The video game retail chain was at the center of a viral stock market surge this year, as individual internet-savvy investors banded together to raise its share prices and cost hedge-fund short sellers billions of dollars. Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Members of NASA’s Perseverance rover team react in Mission Control after receiving confirmation the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars, Thursday, February 18, 2021, at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Photo Bill Ingalls, courtesy NASA.
Artist Tommy Zegan cleans his statue of former U.S. President Donald Trump during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Florida, February 26, 2021. Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Frederic Malon (left), deputy director in charge of the fight against organized crime at the French Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ), officially returns an ancient breastplate stolen from the Louvre Museum nearly 40 years ago to Jean-Luc Martinez (right), the Paris institution’s president, on March 3, 2021. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images.
Doctor Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, holds his personal 3D-printed model of the SARS-CoV-2 virion, which he donated to the National Museum of American History, during the “Great Americans Awards Program.” Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.
A picture taken on March 23, 2010 in Paris, shows a painted ceiling by American painter Cy Twombly at the Salle des Bronzes at the Louvre museum. The artist’s foundation sued the museum this year over a major redecoration of the space which they said compromised the permanent installation. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images.
Experts at the Warsaw Mummy Project examine the first mummy discovered to be pregnant. Photo courtesy of the Warsaw Mummy Project.
David Hammons permanent installation Day’s End (2021) under construction on Pier 52, near the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Photo by Timothy Schenck.
This image of the model Emily Ratajkowski standing in front of a work depicting her by Richard Prince was turned into an NFT and sold at Christie’s in an effort to “buy back” her likeness. Photo courtesy of Emily Ratajkowski and Christie’s Images Ltd 2021.
An aerial view of the Christ The Protector Statue, under construction in Encantado, Brazil. Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images.
Tulsa’s new Greenwood Rising museum, remembering the massacre of the historic Black community in 1921, under construction. Photo courtesy of Selser Schaefer Architects.
An installation view of Nicholas Galanin’s sculpture Never Forget, at the 2021 Desert X festival in Coachella Valley, California. Photo courtesy of Lance Gerber, Nicholas Galanin, and Desert X.
A climate change demonstration in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran told the country’s Council of State that health regulations necessitated art gallery closures during lockdown. Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images.
Robert Nava in his studio with Jumanji the cat. Photo: © Taylor Dafoe.
Black Lives Matter activists calling for equal representation for the works of black artists in British museums, galleries and national institutions. Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
A banner for the exhibition “Alice Neel: People Come First” hangs outside the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Photo by Ben Davis.
A lumberman works on the felling of oak trees from the Villefermoy forest, to be used in the reconstruction of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, on March 15, 2021. Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images.
In what officials dubbed the Pharaohs’ Golden Paradeon April 3, 2021 in Cairo, a convoy transports 22 royal mummies along the Nile, from the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC). Photo by Islam Safwat/Getty Images.
Customers line up outside Krispy Kreme in New York’s Times Square days after the mega-bakery began offering a free glazed donut per day to anyone with proof of vaccination. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.
Members of Ubunthu Arts perform during a artists protest action against the National Arts Council (NAC) and the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC) at the Artscape Plaza on March 27, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images.
The Prado Museum in Madrid installed reproductions of some its most famous masterpieces around the city, including its portrait of Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg by Titian on Calle de Gran Vía. Photo: © Museo Nacional del Prado.
Protesters outside the occupied Odeon theatre in Paris carry out a performance during a demonstration of entertainment and culture sector workers against a reform of the unemployment insurance, on April 23, 2021. Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images.
Alejandra Osorio, the cultural director of the diffusion coordination of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM), shows a sculpture by British-Mexican artist Leonora Carrington at her house and studio in Mexico City, on May 24, 2021. Photo: Claudio Cruz/AFP via Getty Images.
A demonstrator holding a Palestinian flag during a Strike MoMA protest at the New York museum. Courtesy of Strike MoMA via Twitter.
Italian authorities with two recovered ancient frescoes. Courtesy of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Interior braces support the roof vaults at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during restoration work. Photo courtesy of Etablissement Public pour la restauration de Notre-Dame de Paris.
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before the fire. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Palestinians check the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 19, 2021. Photo by Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images.
The exterior of the COEX Center in Seoul, where the first Asian offshoot of the Frieze art fair will take place in September 2022. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.
Auctioneer Adrien Meyer fields bids during Christie’s 20th Century evening sale in New York—its first major live auction since the start of the pandemic—in May 2021. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021.
Auctioneer Gemma Sudlow fields bids during Christie’s 21st Century evening sale in New York in May 2021. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021.
Good Chance theater company’s performance The Walk, featuring the Little Amal puppet created by Handspring Puppet Company, in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Bevan Roos, courtesy of Good Chance theater company.
Frieze New York opened its first in-person art fair since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at The Shed in Hudson Yards. Photograph by Casey Kelbaugh.
The overhead view of the booths at Frieze New York at the Shed in Hudson Yards. Photo by Casey Kelbaugh. Courtesy of Casey Kelbaugh/Frieze.
Helena Newman, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art department, leads the Modern and Contemporary art evening Sale, June 29 2021. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.
From left: Diego della Valle, chairman of the Italian leather goods company Tod’s; Dario Franceschini, Italian minister of culture; Alfonsina Russo, director of the Parco archeologico del Colosseo; and Andrea Della Valle, vice-chairman of Tod’s, during the presentation of the restoration works on the underground area of the Colosseum. Photo: Marco Ravagli/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.
Laurent Le Bon, the new director of the Pompidou Center in Paris. Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images.
Rijksmuseum staff reconstruct the panels of Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch (1642) after a major restoration. Photo: Rijksmuseum/Reinier Gerritsen.
Inside the viral art experience “Immersive Van Gogh.” Photo by Ben Davis.
A participant holds a placard showing Russian President Vladimir Putin, in front of the parliament building in Budapest on June 14, 2021, during a demonstration against the Hungarian government’s draft bill seeking to ban the “promotion” of homosexuality and sex changes. Photo by Gergely Besenyei/AFP via Getty Images.
No, we aren’t going to talk about the Jerry Saltz coffee thing. Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for New York Magazine.
Robert Simon inspecting Salvator Mundi at the National Gallery, London, in 2011, as seen in still from the documentary film The Lost Leonardo (2021). Photo by Robert Simon, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Exhibition staff install specimens in the newly renovated Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Photo by D. Finnin, © American Museum of Natural History.
Auctioneer Jonathan Crockett sells Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action at a sale in Hong Kong, June 8, 2021. Image courtesy Phillips and Poly.
People visit the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona on May 29, 2021 as it reopens for tourists. Photo by Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images.
Welcome to the metaverse. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Twitter.
From left: France’s ambassador to Russia, Jean-Maurice Ripert; Musee d’Orsay director Laurence des Cars; and Marina Loshak, director of Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, attend a press conference on the signing of an agreement of cooperation between both museums. Photo by Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images.
JR’s Eiffel Tower public art installation in Paris. Photo courtesy of JR.
A rendering of Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects design for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens.
U.S. Representative Mike Waltz speaks in support of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA agenda during a rally on July 3, 2021 in Sarasota, Florida. Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images.
A Space Jam Air Jordan 11 sneaker signed by legendary player Michael Jordan. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.
A “for rent” sign posted outside an apartment building in San Francisco on June 02, 2021. After rental prices in the city plummeted during the lockdown, they have surged back to pre-pandemic levels. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
A Strike MoMA march in New York. Photo: Zachary Small.
A statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee is removed from its pedestal in Charlottesville. Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Tim Berners-Lee, physicist, computer scientist, inventor of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and founder of the World Wide Web, speaks at the Digital X conference in 2021. Photo by Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images.
A statue is toppled in Winnipeg as part of “Cancel Canada Day” protests. Courtesy David William via Twitter.
Prince William (left) and Prince Harry view a statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 60th birthday, on July 1, 2021.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé pose in front of a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in an advert for the jeweler Tiffany’s. Image via Tiffany.com
Musician Drake reveals the Damien Hirst-designed cover art for his new album, Certified Lover Boy, on his Instagram.
Police arrested six suspects they believe to be tied to the brazen heist of $1 billion worth of jewels from Dresden’s Green Vault in 2019. Photo: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa.
A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021. Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images.
Digital artist FEWOCiOUS sold five NFTs at Christie’s on June 28, 2021 in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images.
A mural from Banksy’s series A Great British Spraycation (2021) installed in towns throughout the U.K.’s East Anglian coast. Courtesy of the artist.
A television cameraman films an work entitled Show me the Monet by the street artist Banksy during a photocall at Sotheby’s. Photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP.
A view of a steel sculpture dubbed The Gesture by Lebanese artist Nadim Karam, made using debris from the aftermath of the blast at a port in Beirut. Photo: Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.
Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association, and John Stanwich, of the National Park Service, unveil one of three plaques in Lafayette Square Park on July 28, 2021 in Washington, DC, noting the contributions of enslaved people to the building of the White House. The other plaques mark the location of the park as a protest zone, and describe First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s contributions to creating the White House Historical Association. Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and his wife Elke Büdenbender, stand next to Chancelor candidate and minister of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet (far left) and financier and exhibition sponsor Lars Windhorst (second from left) at the opening of the “Diversity United” exhibition at the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, June 8, 2021. Photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images.
Emanuele Stifano’s sculpture La Spigolatrice in Sapri, Italy. Controversy over the statue of a woman farmer, who aided the failed expedition of the Risorgimento hero Carlo Pisacane in 1857, has sparked heated controversy over perceived sexism. Photo by Ivan Romano/Getty Images.
A visitor contemplates Mgoki’s massive painting, presented by dealers Jack Shainman and Larry Gagosian, at the Unlimited sector at Art Basel in Switzerland in September.
Kerry James Marshall has been chosen to create new stained-glass windows for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The artist, who has never before worked in the medium, will be replacing previous windows, which depicted Confederate iconography and were removed in 2017 following a spate of white-supremacist violence. Photo: Colin Johnson / Washington National Cathedral.
An art handler holds Frida Kahlo’s 1949 painting Diego y yo (Diego and I), which sold for a record $34.9 million at Sotheby’s in November. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Cuban activists and supporters march in Washington, DC from the White House to the Cuban Embassy on 16th Street during a Cuban freedom rally on July 26, 2021. The demonstration was held to urge the American government to intervene in Cuba and support human rights. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s major posthumous installation L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris, (1961-2021). Photo: Benjamin Loyseau. © 2021 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation.
Alvin Ong, “In My Head” on display with Yavuz Gallery, Singapore and Sydney, at the 2021 Armory Show held at the Javits Center in New York. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Guests at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
The statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond is removed from its defaced pedestal. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
US Vice President Kamala Harris and Opal Lee (2nd from left), the activist known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, watch as President Joe Biden holds the signed Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, June 17, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images.
Preliminary renderings of the National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, designed by Bennett Partners. Image courtesy of Sable Brands, LLC.
The U.K.’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, leaving 11 Downing Street in London before delivering his Budget to the House of Commons. Photo by Jacob King/PA Images via Getty Images.
Sotheby’s chairman and auctioneer Oliver Barker during the auction of “Picasso: Masterworks” from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection on October 23, 2021 in Las Vegas. Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Sotheby’s.
The Brooklyn Nets playing at the Barclays Center, with Basquiat-themed jerseys and floor decor. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.
The new Munch Museum in Oslo’s Bjorvika waterfront. Photo: Einar Aslaksen.
JR’s Greetings from Giza installation in “Forever is Now,” the first contemporary art exhibition held on the ancient site of the Egyptian pyramids. Courtesy of the artist and Art D’Egypte.
Christie’s 20th/21st Century: Evening Sale Including the “Thinking Italian” auction held at King Street in London.
Banksy’s Love is in the Bin sold to a phone bidder at Sotheby’s contemporary art evening sale in London in October 2021. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Rahul Kadakia sells Curio Cards NFTS at Christie’s “Post-War to Present” auction on October 1, in the first sale to accept live bids in the cryptocurrency Ether. Image courtesy Christie’s.
A billboard announces the opening date of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Photo: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.
Phillips auctioneer Jonathan Crokett sells Gerhard Richter’s Kerzenschein (Candle-light) at the Phillips and Poly Auction evening sale in Hong Kong in November 2021. Courtesy of Phillips.
The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee stands with representatives from Ohio History Connection, after the tribe was reimbursed for a collection of native objects it was forced to buy back from the organization in 1996.
Crypto-art evangelists Jimmy McNelis and Gary Vaynerchuk speak at the “Blast Off” event at the NFT.NYC three-day conference. Photo by Ben Davis.
A visitors views the Moscow Kremlin Egg (centre) and the Swan Egg (left) during a photo call for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition “Faberge in London: Romance to Revolution”. Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images.
Sotheby’s auctioneer Quig Bruning fielding bids for a copy of the U.S. Constitution at Sotheby’s New York. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.
Banksy’s painting Trolley Hunters sold for $6.6 million, including buyer’s premium, at Sotheby’s in November. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.
The ninth edition of ART021, Shanghai. Courtesy of ART021.
Jenny Holzer’s HURT EARTH, (2021), is one of many environmentally themed works installed in Glasgow during the COP26 Summit in November. Text: Marcy Kaptur, “Climate Crisis,” U.S. Congressional hearing, June 16, 2021, © 2021 Jenny Holzer, ARS. Photo: Lee Pretious Animation: Seth Brau.
Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, speaks at a developers conference for the Oculus virtual reality system. Photo by AFP Photo/ Glenn Chapman, via Getty Images.
Author and cultural critic bell hooks, who died on December 15, 2021, poses for a portrait in New York in 1996. Photo by Karjean Levine/Getty Images.
Art on display in the Museum of Crypto Art on the digital platform Somnium Space. Image courtesy Museum of Crypto Art.
Monica Bonvinici’s Hy$teria (2019) on view in Galerie Krinzinger’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images.
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A sculpture by the artist Ja’Tovia Gary, quoting Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved, on display at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair on November 30, 2021. Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.