The Art World Winners and Losers of 2015

See who's up and who's down.


Instagram is to 2015 what Facebook was to 2008. The photo-sharing social network has established itself as the ultimate tool for self-promotion, a fact that hasn’t been overlooked by the countless artists and other creatives who make our feeds so much fun to scroll through. What’s more, dealers are actually selling art off the app, often to the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Leonardo DiCaprio. And thanks to appropriation extraordinaire Richard Prince, Instagram images have even become fine art in their own right.

Liu Yiqian
The Chinese billionaire is best known for collecting high-end Asian antiques, but he made a major bid for art world notoriety this year when he purchased Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché for a record-breaking $170.4 million at Christie’s in November.

Thelma Golden
The museum she heads, the Studio Museum in Harlem, is expanding with a David Adjaye-designed building. She’s joining the New York City Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission. And as if that weren’t enough, Thelma Golden gets to hang out at the White House (check her out in the Vermeil Room on Instagram!), as she’s joined the board of the Obama Foundation. In these ways and more, Thelma Golden has won over the art world and has won our hearts.

The Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney opened its new Renzo Piano-designed Meatpacking District location this spring to much fanfare with the critically acclaimed exhibition “America Is Hard To See,” a stunning survey of modern and contemporary art culled from the institution’s collection. While insiders rushed to the many VIP and V-VIP previews to get a glimpse at the new building and show before anyone else, if you walked anywhere near the museum this summer, you know the tourist-filled lines were relentless.

James Turrell
What’s cooler than having a major hip-hop star (in this case Drake) knockoff your artworks for his most popular (and also most lampooned) video of the year? Releasing an official statement noting that, while you appreciate the sentiment, you had and want nothing to do with it.

Yoko Ono
Musician, peace activist, and artist Yoko Ono made a big splash in the art world in 2015, with a major career retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. artnet News’ national critic Ben Davis announced that the show’s heart “is where it should be” and that, in our celebrity-driven age, it “illustrates how issues of celebrity and media are baked into her work from the beginning.” The show, and the artist, may have even helped one of the art world’s losers of 2015, Klaus Biesenbach, who organized the disastrous Björk exhibition that earned the institution so much criticism.

Jerry Saltz
Speaking of Instagram, New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz’s ubiquity reached critical mass this year, in part thanks to his use of social media tools to pump his (famously crass) personal brand. Despite temporarily getting the boot from Facebook, Saltz got his followers to listen to his financial woes, inspired (and was honored alongside Tom Wolfe at) a party thrown by the New York Academy of Art, and even managed to source steamy museum encounters from online fans for an article. Saltz is truly a man of his times.

London-based architecture, art, and design collective Assemble made history this year as the first “non-artist” winners of the prestigious Turner Prize. What’s more, the group won for a project that saved several historic homes in Liverpool’s Granby Four Streets area from demolition.

The Lower East Side
The unofficial new neighborhood of New York art world cool kids, the LES has seen an influx of both new galleries and established outposts (see James Cohan, Lehmann Maupin, Marianne Boesky). Now that Chelsea has a Starbucks, it was really only a matter of time.

Ai Weiwei
After having his passport seized by authorities and held for 600 days, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei had it returned to him this summer. The artist is now free to visit his studio and family in Berlin and to attend various exhibitions of his work around the globe. He also managed to obtain donations of Lego blocks from fans around the world for an installation currently on display in Australia after Lego refused his request to place a bulk order.



Klaus Biesenbach
Biesenbach’s Björk retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was the flop heard ’round the art world. And while the museum’s chief curator at large, and the director of MoMA PS1, didn’t lose his job, as critic Christian Viveros-Fauné called for, he spent a solid six weeks feeling the heat from critics. That said, we have hope that Klaus will rise from the ashes like a phoenix in 2016!

Donald Trump
As the 2016 election nears, Trump’s bid for the presidency has turned from a funny joke to a not-so-funny, super scary joke. But that hasn’t stopped artists from parodying the mogul-turned-politician as a giant pumpkin, a buttplug, and on the side of a bus.

Georg Baselitz
German art star Georg Baselitz has a sordid history of making sexist comments about female artists, and this year was no exception. “The market doesn’t lie,” he told the Guardian’s Kate Connolly. “Even though the painting classes in art academies are more than 90% made up by women, it’s a fact that very few of them succeed. It’s nothing to do with education, or chances, or male gallery owners. It’s to do with something else and it’s not my job to answer why it’s so.” Of course, the joke’s on him, because we found several female artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Cady Noland, and Louise Bourgeois who beat his numbers at auction. Sexism isn’t a good look on anyone, Georg.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston
It’s been one thing after another for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston this year. After facing outrage over an (eventually cancelled) event that invited visitors to don kimonos, the museum played host to several Renoir protesters who somewhat inexplicably gathered to express their distaste for the Impressionist master. The institution finished out the year with protests by security guards, many of whom are threatening to leave over proposed changes to their job. We can only hope 2016 is a less troubled year for the museum.

Yves Bouvier
Not only was the so-called “king of freeports” fined $30 million by a French judge over several allegedly stolen Picassos, he also earned the ire of art world bigwig Larry Gagosian. We don’t wish that on anyone.

Marina Abramovic
When you get caught in a mistake, you own up to it, right? But performance art legend Marina Abramović passed the buck when she got caught slandering rap giant Jay Z. She said he had failed to follow through on a promised donation to her foundation, but the rapper had kept the receipt, and she blamed her staff.

Loris Gréaud
Up-and-coming French artist Loris Gréaud could have easily found himself on the other side of this list, had he not shot off his mouth at a female art critic. His solo show at Dallas Contemporary, in which he smashed many of his own works as part of a surprise performance on opening night, received many reasonably positive reviews. But when local critic Lauren Smart dared to call his methods into question, Gréaud took to Facebook to send her a manic, typo-riddled letter filled with sexist remarks, including the assertion that Smart needed to “study art history and get laid.” Hey, “learn how to take criticism more gracefully” is always a good New Year’s Resolution for an artist.

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