As parts of the world returned to some kind of normalcy this year, there were developments of all kinds in the art world. NFTs became a topic of everyday discussion, new archaeological finds expanded our understandings of history, controversies pushed museums in new directions, and artworks of all sorts provoked fierce debate. But what news stories proved most popular? Below, a look at the 10 most popular stories on ARTnews’s website in 2021. Thank you for reading, as always.
Charles Venable resigns from Newfields following a job posting controversy
When the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields posted a job listing for a new director that could center its “traditional, core, white art audience,” the institution touched off a controversy that took the nation by storm. Not too long afterward, Charles Venable, the museum’s president, resigned. “We are sorry,” the museum’s board wrote. “We have made mistakes. We have let you down.”
Research uncovers Leonardo da Vinci's living descendants
Many aspects of Leonardo da Vinci’s life and art have long been a mystery—including his family tree. Earlier this year, researchers claimed that they had found 14 living male descendants of the Renaissance artist. One researcher said that doing so felt “like discovering, piece by piece, the design of a lost ancient mosaic.”
The 2021 ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list
Now in its 32nd edition, the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list surveyed the most powerful movers and shakers in the world when it comes to buying art. New additions this year included Ric Whitney and Tina Perry-Whitney, who place a focus on African American and African diaspora artists, as well as Latinx artists, and Yan Du, who recently acquired a talked-about Sun Yuan and Peng Yu sculpture that appeared at the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Pornhub deletes parts of its Classical Nudes art history guide
Over the summer, when Pornhub introduced a guide to naked figures throughout art history titled Classical Nudes, it was greeted with curiosity and laughter. Museums, however, took it seriously, and even threatened legal action, claiming that the pornography site had not sought permission to use artworks in its holdings for the guide. As the pushback mounted, Pornhub removed sections of its Classical Nudes guide.
Experts name the best Rembrandt works
The Night Watch, The Anatomy Lesson, The Return of the Prodigal Son—these works may rank among Rembrandt’s most famous paintings. But, when ARTnews reached out to a grouping of experts to select their favorite pieces by the Old Master, none picked these works.
Beeple NFT sells for $6.6 million ahead of Christie's sale
The first signs of an NFT boom in the art world came before Beeple even joined the ranks of the most expensive living artist. Days before he sold an NFT for $69 million, he sold another focused on the 2020 U.S. Presidential election for $6.6 million, shooting far past expectations. Sales of the sort became somewhat normal in the months that followed, but at the time, the auction came as a shock.
Calida Rawles talks about her unique portraits
Back in 2019, Calida Rawles’s paintings of Black figures immersed in water were seen in a big way when one portrait appeared on the cover of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s critical acclaimed book The Water Dancer. Following that novel’s release, her paintings have been seen more frequently in the art world, at spaces like Lehmann Maupin gallery, where she recently got representation, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “I’m trying to capture the figure in a pause, in the split seconds that your eye can’t always pick up, which is really intimate,” she told ARTnews.
Bernie Sanders becomes an art history meme
One of 2021’s first viral memes was also one of the top art stories of the year. As Joe Biden was inaugurated as President of the United States, a bundled-up and masked Bernie Sanders could be spotted seated on a folding chair. Twitter users embraced that image, and transplanted it to art-historical settings, putting the Vermont senator before Marina Abramović and setting Sanders inside quaint landscape paintings of yesteryear.
Studio Ghibli creates a flop
Studio Ghibli is known for beloved Hayao Miyazaki animated films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, both of which are prized for their rich style. But with Miyazaki’s son Goro taking the helm and pushing the studio’s animation style in a decidedly disappointing direction, is Studio Ghibli no longer what it once was? “What’s ultimately frustrating is that Goro Miyazaki isn’t the right heir to this great legacy; without much artistic vision of his own, Studio Ghibli is just taking on these lower-budget projects,” Shanti Escalante De-Mattei writes.
An Italian statue of a field worker draws controversy
Was a statue intended to honor workers in Sapri, Italy, the year’s worst artwork? Some politicians certainly thought so. The monument in question, a statue by Emanuele Stifano, depicts a field worker referenced in a 19th-century poem; in Stifano’s rendition, the worker is a lithe female whose buttocks are particularly pronounced. On Twitter, the statue became an unexpected viral sensation. Italian politician Laura Boldrini called the work an “offense to women and the history it should celebrate.”