What a fucking year.
Equal parts surreal and horrifying, 2016 was basically an Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Given how apocalyptic and strange every headline from the mainstream news media has been this past year, it’s easy to overlook all the weird shit that went down in the art world.
But this year was chock-full of crazy art world stories, often that intersected with politics. (Remember a few weeks ago, when Madonna charged Art Basel visitors thousands of dollars to watch her grind on a chair while dressed as a clown, covering Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in front of a giant projection of Donald Trump?) It’s hard to even pick a “top 10”, but here’s our best effort to round-up the weirdest art stories we reported on in 2016:
Ah, remember the beginning of 2016, when we all thought the greatest threat to America’s culture, diversity, and way of life was gentrification art-washing? This story landed in our inbox back then—and today would likely go overlooked amongst the frantic calls to help resist the coming wave of atrocities. For that reason alone, I’m glad we’re listing it first. Basically, a luxury “co-living” space (that sounds suspiciously like a cult for yuppies) is looking to re-brand Crown Heights as the next hip Brooklyn neighborhood by offering an Artist in Residency as an amenity. Manhattan luxury rentals get hammams and golf simulators, so it makes sense Brooklyn’s aspirational branding would be some corporate simulacra of bohemia.
Another early 2016 scandal that feels quaint by comparison? The Met’s controversial logo-switch up. In the midst of all the hubbub over the extremely unpopular “typographic bus crash”, I was gifted a t-shirt from a Mexico City leather bar with an uncanny resemblance to the now-fondly-remembered “M” of yesteryear (and a reputation far more escandaloso than a graphic design faux-pas).
We were really proud of AFC friend and occasional contributor Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, who launched FIREWALL at Chinatown Soup. The installation mimicked a typical cybercafe, but here viewers got a taste of China’s hyper-censored internet. The piece was produced in conjunction with artists, activists, and hackers collaborating across the US and China—and attracted some unwanted attention from the Chinese government. Secret agents (yes, really) began intimidating participants. Even before the news of Russian hackers hit, 2016 started to feel like a real-world-scary version of a cyberpunk thriller that hit uncomfortably close to home.
Ah, another instance of international intrigue. This time Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, just before his own Manhattan opening, was told he could be jailed for tax evasion in his native country. The artist had apparently faced some write-off drama related to his having to repair some works that “melted” do to bad oil medium mixing. What?
For some reason, Edward Snowden and French New Age/trance producer Jean-Michel Jarre decided to make a terrible, terrible music video that looks like the opening to a bad sci-fi thriller. We would ask “what were they thinking?” except they also released a “making of” video that explains (in painful detail) exactly what they were thinking.
We should’ve sensed trouble brewing when the Culture Wars flared up again this Spring. The Catholic League sent complaining about the display of Mark Ryden’s painting “Rosie’s Tea Party,” (above) at Virginia MOCA: “I have a suggestion. Why not substitute a young Muslim girl in a hijab, wearing a machete around her neck, cutting a piece of ham with the words, ‘Allahu Akbar’ inscribed on it. In place of Jesus in the wine bottle, display a picture of Muhammad. And yes, please keep the blood.”
Meanwhile in Georgia, a trio of Right-Wing politicians attempted to shut down Art AIDS America at Kennesaw State University’s Zuckerman Museum of Art. Of the homoerotic work on display, State Representative Earl Ehrhart had this to say: “a fully loaded porta-potty would be a better artistic expression.”
Take it from an art critic guys, don’t quit your day jobs.
This summer Pokémon GO! was all the rage—and inducing some rage. Deana Haggag, director of The Contemporary, had plenty of uninvited house guests when the game’s developers marked a mural on the side of her home as a “gym” where players could congregate to battle one another. This led to strangers appearing on her porch, knocking on her door, and even crashing into her car. She was not happy about this particular form of art appreciation.
Not everyone loves Lucy, apparently. The small town of Celoron, NY was terrorized by a bronze statue of hometown hero Lucille Ball by sculptor Dave Poulin. They were so unhappy with it, the town erected a less scary version by Carolyn Palmer and moved Poulin’s ghoulish creation to a more discrete location. Thankfully, it’s still nearby, so any “scared straight” style field trips can visit both to approximate the effects of crystal meth on one’s visage.
Residents of several major cities were perplexed (and maybe horrified) on August 18th when statues of Donald Trump in the nude (micropenis and all) popped up across the country. The were later revealed to be the work of sculptor Joshua Monroe. In New York, Union Square’s was promptly removed by the Parks Department. But in Miami, the sculpture was stolen a month later, leading to criminal charges.
Just before the election, a bizarre rumor started, involving none other than art star Marina Abramović and the political power-siblings the Podestas. The right-wing seized on a dinner party invitation as evidence that the Clinton campaign was involved in some sort of sordid satanic ritual ring involving Abramović, child trafficking, and a plethora of bodily fluids. The craziest part of this scandal is that it sowed the seeds for the even crazier (and scarier) #pizzagate conspiracy theories. Hands-down the weirdest thing AFC has reported on in 2016.