2020 in review: 12 (mostly) COVID-free moments from the year as we welcome in 2021

2020 in review: 12 (mostly) COVID-free moments from the year as we welcome in 2021
We look back at non-COVID art moments from 2020 as we head into 2021

2020 was a year no one is soon to forget, although many of us would prefer to never think of it again. Of course, the world continued on as it tends to do. So, as we head into the new year, we’re looking back at 2020 and focusing on some COVID-free art moments.


Botched restorations… Need we say more?

Two botched restorations made headlines this year in Spain, where there has been a string of heart-breaking attempts to restore works. Recalling the infamous “Monkey Christ,” a sculpture on a Palencia building now resembles something out of Star Wars and a portrait of the Virgin Mary in València was rendered nearly unrecognisable after cleaning. Both incidents have left many calling for stricter rules regarding restoration.

Restoration fail meme via @MajorPazuzu on Twitter.


Penguins on parade

Bubbles, Maggie, and Berkley, three Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo took advantage of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art while it was void of people during the pandemic. Touring the museum, the penguins’ visit was captured and it was nothing short of adorable.

Penguins from the Kansas City Zoo explore the museum during the pandemic shutdown, May 6, 2020 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. Media Services photographer / Gabe Hopkins.


A reckoning for statues

This year the question of what to do with statues glorifying people with problematic pasts hit its limits and the decision to bring down and move monuments was made around the world. From various monuments of Robert E. Lee in the US to statues across Europe, public memorials are under review.


But while we’re on the topic…

This year also saw the installation of two major statues of women. One, by Thomas J. Price, was unveiled in London and is meant to embody the Black “everywoman.” The artwork is a bold monument to the ordinary woman who is often overlooked. Then, across London, another statue was unveiled honouring Mary Wollstonecraft. This statue, by Maggi Hambling, was met with controversy and its likely to continue to divide opinions.

Sculpture of a Black woman on her phone
Thomas J Price’s sculpture “Reaching Out” located on The Line in London. Photo by Jeff Moore.


Green lit restitutions

Three years in the making, France’s National Assembly and Senate finally voted to return more than two dozen artefacts to their home countries of Benin and Senegal. The decision came after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to return portions of the country’s large collection of African artworks and artefacts. These artefacts will be among the first major restitutions to occur.


NYC’s Graffiti Mecca made history, again

A long-term lawsuit against a real estate developer, G&M Realty, was held accountable for whitewashing graffiti artworks adorning a dilapidated factory in Queens, NY, known as 5Pointz. In February, an appellate court upheld a ruling that would see G&M pay artists a combined total of £5.29 million. The case was then kicked up to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case and in November, news came that the developer would be responsible for more than £1.4 million in legal fees. The case was not only huge for the artists whose works were destroyed but also for the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Graffiti art covered wall of 5Pointz before it was later whitewashed Art World Roundup
5Pointz as seen in 2011 before it was whitewashed. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


If you show me yours I’ll show you mine

As everyone got used to staying at home, the Yorkshire Museum sent out a tweet asking for museums to show off their creepiest objects. They kicked off the hunt with a Roman hairpiece dating back to the third of fourth century and the items that followed were downright strange. The #CreepiestObject challenge was followed up by a series of other challenges – what they dubbed a #CURATORBATTLE – that got museums around the world involved in showing off parts of their collections that don’t always get their spot in the limelight.


The search continues

After burglars raided the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) in Dresden at the end of 2019, making off with priceless pieces of jewelry and artefacts, police spent the year searching for the culprits. After four security guards were questioned in relation to the heist early in the year, more than 1,600 police officers were involved in raids that eventually resulted in the arrest of four men who are thought to have been involved. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the items stolen are still unknown.

One of the treasures stolen from the Green Vault in Dresden. Courtesy Staatliche Kunstsammlungen.


Lebanon’s capital was scarred by a massive explosion

In early August, Beirut was devastated by two explosions along the city’s port that killed more than 200, injured thousands more, and displaced around 300,000 people. The city was already dealing with the effects of the pandemic and a dwindling economy when the explosions erupted. The arts community was hit as well, but soon after, artists with and without ties to Lebanon banded together to raise funds for those affected.


The MoMA rehangs

In the autumn, the MoMA unveiled its rehanging of their collection. Originally intended to be unveiled in the spring, the rehang was postponed due to the pandemic. The rehang put artworks of various mediums alongside one another opting for a more chronological approach. The museum now also plans an ambitious feat: to rotate a third of their collection on view every six months. By doing so, the museum intends to showcase more of their collection to offer a less Western-focused art narrative.

Exterior of the MoMA. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Joining forces around the Marron collection

Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella galleries came together to sell more than 300 artworks that belonged to the collection of Donald B. Marron. The conglomerate of galleries was able to snag the coveted collection to the dismay of auction houses who would have been happy to handle the sale of the artworks. Of the artworks that sold, casino magnate and billionaire Steve Wynn purchased a pair of Picassos from the collection reportedly bringing in more than $100 million altogether.


Altarpiece with an altered face

As the second phase of an extensive conservation project on the Ghent Altarpiece came to an end, a newly cleaned lamb shook the art world. In removing layers of paint added to the central panel of the van Eyck brothers’ masterpiece, conservators revealed that the lamb’s face was far more humanistic that originally thought. The removal of yellowing varnish and later layers of paint uncovered other original details but none caught the attention of the internet quite like the lamb’s unusual face.

Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ prior to its restoration. MSK Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent. Courtesy Flickr Commons.