From cancelled fairs to street art’s auction room takeover: the art market’s fruitiest stories of 2019

Protestors gathered at Hong Kong Space Museum ©studio Incendo

What a year of disruption. Not disruption in the tech PR speak sense of 2017–remember all those blockchain companies trying (and failing) to “disrupt” the art market? No, 2019 has been one of actual, physical disruption, from the Hong Kong protests to the shock $3.7bn buy of Sothebys by the French-Israeli businessman Patrick Drahi, to Brexit wreaking havoc with the UK as it is kicked ever further down the road.

And then to top the year off, last week's unforgettable #bananadrama. Maurizio Cattelan's $120,000 banana duct-taped to the wall of Perrotin's stand at Art Basel in Miami Beach went viral causing such a frenzy that it was first eaten by the peckish "performance artist" David Datuna (he was escorted from the fair) and then its replacement, another banana, was removed from display on the final day of the fair due to “several uncontrollable crowd movements" which "compromised the safety of the art works around us, including that of our neighbours,” said the gallery.

As so often with the art market, you could not make it up.

But 2019 has been a year of fair drama across the globe with the cancellation of events worldwide, starting with Art Stage Singapore in January, followed by the announcement that the citys new fair Art SG, scheduled to take place last month, has also been pushed back to 2020. In March, New Yorks Armory Show was abruptly booted out of part of its venue days before it was about to open, when one of the Chelsea Piers was deemed structurally unsafe. The Armory pulled rank over its sister fair Volta, which forfeited its space in order to house a third of the Armorys displaced exhibitors. Another Armory Week fair for younger galleries, Nada, had also been cancelled as its venue was suddenly redeveloped. And the Brussels edition of Independent was scrapped due to both venue and scheduling difficulties in the cramped fair calendar.

An evolutionary pressure is pushing everybody to the same end: grow or die Marc Glimcher, Pace Gallery

Its tough to be a smaller fish in the art industry, but David “Robin Hood” Zwirner swept in to the rescue of some of the displaced Volta galleries, offering up his 525 West 19th Street location by way of a replacement. This pocket of Manhattans Chelsea has embodied the expanding gulf between the haves and have nots of the gallery world this year, with competitive building between the mega galleries—most notably Pace, which opened its eight-storey monolith in September. But the space race within these few blocks continues apace—Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and Marlborough are all expanding (all completing next year) and, not to be outdone, Zwirner is building a 50,000 sq. ft, Renzo Piano- designed tower in a formerly vacant plot. Expected to open in 2021, it is budgeted for “$50m-plus” according to a gallery spokeswoman. Paces president and chief executive, Marc Glimcher, cites an “evolutionary pressure” in the art world that is “pushing everybody in this business toward the same end: grow or die”. But where will this Darwinian survival of the fittest/richest end? And who are all these thousands of square feet for? “The artists,” the galleries will tell you, but, when it comes down to it, a bulging starchitect-designed gallery is a primal assertion of dominance.

Hauser & Wirths €4m art centre on Isla del Rey in Menorca, due to open in 2020, includes a programme of artists residencies Photo: Damian de Clercq, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Another city is on the up in 2019 too–Paris, helped by Brexit taking the lustre off London. Zwirner opened a gallery there during Fiac in October and White Cube will open an office soon. Rumours swirl that Hauser & Wirth is also looking for a premises, but a spokesman says "non": “There is no news regarding a potential Hauser & Wirth location in Paris.” Too obvious—instead, in June the ever capricious gallery announced it will open an art centre on Menorcas Isla del Rey, off the coast of Spain, next year. Marc Payot, a partner and vice president of the gallery, says “such big decisions are really artist-driven. We go where they go and where they want to be”. Its all about keeping hold of artists, and artists, it seems, want to be in the Balearics. Cue art world Love Island.

The “megas” were more in evidence than ever at this years (supposedly non-commercial) Venice Biennale, sponsoring shows of their artists and hosting lavish parties in their honour. As one observer puts it, ten years ago commercial galleries would have kept a low profile, but now they practically “have desks out front [of the pavilions] and are hosting the whole bloody thing”. The assiduous engineering of artists markets is increasingly palpable, not least in the support of museum shows. Take, for instance, the German artist Albert Oehlen, whose solo show at the Serpentine (until 2 February) is sponsored by Sothebys and three galleries, Gagosian, Skarstedt and Galerie Max Hetzler, all of which held exhibitions of Oehlens work–in Hong Kong, New York and London–to coincide with the show.

Our contributor Scott Reyburn identifies the Oehlen push as an attempt to mould new blue-chip names as supply is squeezed. “The whole market is treading water,” Reyburn says, reviewing last months “gigaweek” sales in New York on The Art Newspaper Podcast. This has been a relatively muted year for auctions, particularly in London where the air was sucked out by Brexit fears. But there has also been a lack of major estates, the lifeblood of auctions—thank heavens, then, for the divorce of Harry and Linda Macklowe, who have been told to liquidate their collection worth more than $700m. That will come through next year and the gloves are off for the consignment—expect some hefty guarantees.

A good year for Old Masters discoveries: Cimabue's 13th-century Mocking of Christ

While confidence in the contemporary, Impressionist and Modern markets is down, according to ArtTactic, Old Masters continue on their own enigmatic path and this has been a good year for discoveries–the three notables all found in France and none sold by Christies and Sothebys. First, the so-called “losRead More – Source