Just like all good rows, the conflicts in the art world this year occupied very different and opposing extremes. There were serious disputes over political expression, and sillier protests; craven squabbles over the rights to old pop pieces, and heartfelt defences of truth and beauty. The vehemence with which these arguments were conducted speaks to the power contemporary art still possesses in the eyes of those who wish to suppress it, profit from it, or simply those who wish it to be made and seen by as many people as possible.
Pussy Riot Vs Vladimir Putin
Five members of the feminist Moscow art-rock collective, Pussy Riot staged an anti-Putin performance in Moscow's Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This performance followed on from an equally provocative gig the preceding month in Red Square. Within three weeks, the group's members Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhin, had been arrested and charged with public order offences. All three were convicted in August; Samutsevich was released in October, while Nadezhda and Alyokhin continue to serve their time at two different correctional facilities outside of Moscow.
John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Ed Ruscha and Catherine Opie Vs MOCA LA
Kruger, Baldessari, Ruscha and Opie all resigned from their positions on the board of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art back in July, following the dismissal of chief curator Paul Schimmel, and the appointment of the more populist of NY gallerist turned MOCA director, Jeffrey Deitch. Museum trustee and backer, Eli Broad, is said to have overseen this changes, as well as a closer focus on the musuem's bottom line. Among Deitch's more controversal MOCA offerings was a disco-themed exhibition, co-curated by DJ and frontman for the indie dance outfit LCD Soundsystem. The show, called Fire In The Disco, appears to have been put on hold.
Ai Weiwei versus The Peoples Republic of China
Though he's been out of jail and free to move around China for all of 2012, the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei was still unable to leave the country this year, and faced an on-going battle with the Beijing tax office. The authorities allege Ai's Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd owes £1.5m in unpaid revenue and fines. Having appealed the case since January, the state revoked Fake Cultural Development's licence to trade in October, effectively bringing an end his case to an end, though not clearing Ai's name. In October he filmed his own version of PSY's Gangham Style video, to protest his continual persecution.
David Hockney Vs Damien Hirst
“All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally." What did this small note note on Hockney's poster for his Royal Academy show, A Bigger Picture, staged Jan – April 2012, mean? According to a promotional interview conducted with BBC journalist Andrew Marr in The Radio Times, it was a dig at Damien Hirst, whose April retrospective at The Tate followed fast on the heels of the Hockney show. Marr also quote Hockney as saying the use of hired hands is “a little insulting to craftsmen,” adding “at art school you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft." The Royal Academy issued a retraction on the part of the artist, saying Hockney had not meant to insult Hirst but that his comments on artistic assistance still stood.
Andy Warhol Vs The Velvet Underground
New York's most influential rock band owes their initial success to Warhol, who helped form and launch the group at a time when the music industry considered them unlistenable. However, the band and the late pop artist's estate fell out earlier this year, when The Velvet Underground's attempts to copyright the banana screen print Warhol had produced for the band's 1967 debut LP, failed. The band were outraged by the Warhol estate licensing the image for music related merchandise, such as iPod cases, yet a New York judge ruled Lou Reed and co did not have have a valid copyright claim to Warhol's fruit, presumably leaving a bad taste in some mouths.
The Berlin Biennale Vs Occupy
The Polish artist and curator Artur Zmijewski, must have felt he'd captured something of the moment when he persuaded a group of global activists from the Occupy and Spanish M15 protest movements to present themselves for display at the seventh Berlin Biennale, this June. Yet the protesters revolted against their exhibitors, describing the pen in which they were kept as “a human zoo with a viewing platform where viewers watch activists eat, assemble, fight and sleep.” They demanded the dismantling of the Biennale's hierarchy and the foundation of an Occupy-style working group. Some demands were met, before the event ended at the beginning of July.