2012: A seminal year in art, part two

“The mind loves the unknown,” said Rene Magritte. “It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” Herbert Vogel, a retired postal clerk, and his wife Dorothy, a librarian, could appreciate such a sentiment. The diminutive New York couple defied the odds and became known for having accrued a wonderful collection of art, despite not being moneyed.
2012 would be the end of something quietly beautiful about the pursuit of art when Herbert passed away at the age of 89. He was an exception to the excesses and pretentiousness that taints the establishment, and so it is that with him goes something inimitable. The art world is a poorer place.
It also saw the passing of Robert Hughes, one of the most respected art critics of his generation, who was respected for his well-crafted and acerbic polemics of art. He was known for being particularly critical of contemporary work, while also conceding that art criticism itself had become increasingly marginalised.
He was like Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal, a writer and thinker who took his job very seriously, which was to cast doubt on perfection, as the Italian author Antonio Tabucchi once put it.
Such sadness was balanced by one particular episode of dark humour. An 80-year-old woman in the Spanish city of Borja sought to restore a damaged fresco and ended up transforming it into something more comical, dishearteningly funny.
In classing her efforts as being reflective of dadaism, she brought an otherwise unknown work of art to the attention of the world. It was therefore anti-art, a consolation that was still hard to accept.
Mark Rothko, who would have one of his works vandalised in the name of Yellowism – a truly despicable act – continued to dominate auction sales, making him one of the most bankable artists in a long while.
Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) became the most expensive post-war work of art to sell at auction when it went for £53.8 million, and though No.1 (Royal Red and Blue) didn’t surpass that figure, £47.2 million was a very respectable price regardless.
The latter was part of a record-breaking auction for Sotheby’s, which saw it mark the best sales it has ever had in any category in its entire history (it raised a phenomenal £236 million). If that wasn’t enough, Christie’s followed up in spectacular fashion when its auction of post-war and contemporary art totalled £259.9 million.
“This truly was an extraordinary sale,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Russia, at the time. “Clearly there’s an enormous amount of energy in the post-war and contemporary market. It’s highly likely that we’ll see a continuation of records being broken.”
It was history in the making, something that the Centre Pompidou set about achieving with its blockbuster Salvador Dali exhibition. It is the biggest Dali retrospective of the surrealist master since his 1979 show at the museum and delivers a very frank portrait of the controversial artist.
Dali was one of those characters whose brilliance was unmistakable but whose conceit made him equally despicable, the kind of villain you love to hate. This exhibition doesn’t dispute this, but what it does show is that beyond the venality and eccentricity lay a talent that was out of this world.
There you have it, a very succinct overview of the year, there simply isn’t enough words to do it justice. We could have talked about Death: A Self-Portrait at the Wellcome Collection, or the fact that an original Rubens was discovered in Russia.
Or how about news of Henry Moore’s public sculpture Draped Seated Woman being sold by Tower Hamlets Council, because the austerity cuts have left them desperate in how they are to make sizeable and devastating savings. Alas, we have run out of time and space. 2012 was a vintage year.
“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason,” the twentieth century French-Cuban author Anaïs Nin once wrote.
“I am so thirsty for the marvellous that only the marvellous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvellous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
Let’s hope 2013 offer us similar experiences.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.