Skip to main content

Helen Cammock

2019 – What a year!?

Without a doubt, 2019 will be remembered as a year of transition.

A year full of political and financial uncertainties which consequently also reflected on the art market.

Although the art world was confident, not anticipating major changes in Europe’s so-called “big apple” – London – Brexit led to the closure of some galleries and the opening of their headquarters from London to Paris, to name some of them: – White Cube, David Zwirner, Pace Gallery.

The year was enriched by the 58th Venice Biennale curated by Ralph Rugoff “May You Live in Interesting Times” which – as the title suggests – proved to be a true reflection of the climate of great changes we are experiencing, with works focused on current themes concerning international politics, environmental emergency and social problems such as the issue of migrants, the feminist movement, racial and gender equality.

On the occasion of the Biennale, the city’s foundations and museums have prepared exceptional exhibitions such as the retrospective on Jannis Kounellis at the Prada Foundation, Arshile Gorky at Ca’ Pesaro, the monograph on Georg Baselitz at the Academy Galleries, Luc Tuymans at Palazzo Grassi, Pino Pascali at Palazzo Cavanis and Alberto Burri at the Cini Foundation.

With a witty appearance the street artist Banksy, not officially invited to exhibit but also inevitable figure that this year has caused a lot of talk about himself, was also noted.

In addition to this performance followed by a mural in the Dorsoduro district, Banksy was able to anticipate and ride the Brexit wave with the work “Devolved Parliament“, strategically put up for sale by Sotheby’s on the occasion of the last London auctions prior to the exit of the Great Britain from the EU, marking the record for the artist with 11.1 million euros.

Always on time on occasions, this time anticipating Christmas, the artist offers his version of Santa Claus on a wall in Birmingham, rendering the tragic beauty of the holidays into flesh and blood.

Instead, Maurizio Cattelan, on the occasion of Art Basel Miami – after 15 years of absence – presented his new sculpture “Comedian“.

The edible banana attached to the wall with adhesive tape and priced at 120,000-150,000 $, was a winning strategic move to get the whole world talking about it, and it is clear that the old concept of the value we attribute to things is reconfirmed to be still very much popular.

Cattelan had leapt to the headlines already in September when his work “America“, a massive gold toilet, was stolen during his recent solo show at Blenheim Palace, Oxford.

2019 was a year characterized by very important retrospectives dedicated to great artists, such as Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern in London, Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy, Mario Merz and Cerith Wyn Evans at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan, the aforementioned Maurizio Cattelan at Blenheim Palace in Oxford, Lucio Fontana at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and many others.

The result of 4 years of work, with almost 80 works on display, I would say that the exhibition of the year was “The Young Picasso – Blue and Pink Periods” at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, where even the prestigious monograph on Rudolf Stingel had a huge feedback.

In international auctions the climate of uncertainty was recorded in the appearance of a smaller number of works valued above 20 million dollars, perhaps a symptom of a period of little confidence.

Despite this the general results were quite positive again this year, so much so that we have witnessed excellent records, including Jeff Koons who has reconfirmed himself as the most paid living artist in the world with the “Rabbit“, a sculpture of 1986, sold at auction in May by Christie’s New York for 91.1 million dollars.

It was a year of great changes for the historic Sotheby’s auction house – founded in 1744 – which passed into private hands following the sale last June: entrepreneur and collector Patrick Drahi bought the giant of the sector for 3, 7 billion dollars.

The main international trade fairs have registered excellent sales and the recently concluded Art Basel Miami, featuring a positive climate, seems to be no less so.

Similar to it, Frieze London has also enjoyed excellent feedback from the public and buyers, so much so that in the climate of uncertainty many have called it a bubble of happiness.

Also Fiac in Paris saw a great success both in sales and in public, a result obtained also thanks to the first benefits of the shift of interests.

The Turner Prize – established in 1984 – was for the first time assigned to all four finalists, Lawrence Abu Hamdam, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani.

The innovative proposal came precisely from the artists through a letter to the jury explaining that at such a difficult time, their choice to present themselves as a collective is a symbolic gesture in the name of sharing and solidarity, in art as in society.

Technology, including new startups, art created by artificial intelligences or Cryptoart – a market that involves only digital works of art to be purchased with digital currency is also playing an increasingly important role in the art world.

We are in the era of interactive images and many museums are moving to accommodate new methods of using and learning. In Italy, the M9 in Mestre and the MAV in Ercolano are an example, the new generation museums that use advanced technologies and immersive installations.

The desire to live a 360° cultural experience is increasingly leading to the creation of virtual tours in many cities of art, the most recent promoted in Milan on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci.

In recent years, online art sales have shown considerable growth (in double figures) and have produced revenues of about $ 6 billion, a sign that the art market – very traditional in structure and dynamics – is opening up more and more to new languages.

I imagine that the future of art will reserve us many beautiful surprises and also in 2020 there will be fun!


“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”

Women in Art

The Women’s Day is not just a celebration to give mimosas, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on the status of women, on the rights they have won and on the goals yet to be achieved.

Recently the #MeToo movement, started in America in October 2017, has helped to stir up consciences and then spread to reach worldwide importance, leading to a wave of reports of violence and harassment suffered by women.

The movement was recognized as being so important that it was included in the third place in the ArtReview 2018 Power List, ranking on the most influential personalities of the art world drawn up each year by the authoritative British magazine, famous for indicating and anticipating new trends.

Also Frieze London, on the occasion of the 2018 edition, came forward to the recognition of the female world by introducing “Social Works”, a section dedicated to eight female artists active between the 80s and 90s who tried to challenge the art market and that stood out in the feminist movement for a strong political and social commitment. The aim was to reduce the male dominance in the art world and shed light on the marginal role that women play in terms of visibility and market.

A leading figure in the feminist movement of the 1970s is Judy Chicago (Chicago 1939), an American artist who has always fought for a recognition of the role of women in art and is considered among the most influential personalities of the debate.

She was echoed by Nancy Spero (1926-2009), a great supporter of the emancipation of women, a pioneer of feminist art and very active also against wars, injustices and abuses of all kinds.

Chiara Fumai (1978-2017), an Italian artist who prematurely passed away and who has always placed a reflection on the role of women at the centre of her intense performances, also denounced male chauvinism. Milovan Farronato chose her to represent Italy at the next Venice Biennale with Liliana Moro (1961) and Enrico David (1966).

About 79 invited artists will be presented at the festival in the lagoon, also Ludovica Carbotta, an Italian who lives and works in Barcelona, ​​and Lara Favaretto.

The Rabat Biennial (Morocco), which will take place in April, will present an all-female edition, exhibiting 60 female artists from different parts of the world. Even more interesting choice since the Biennale takes place in a Muslim country, traditionally not very open to the emancipation of women. The event curated by Abdelkader Damani will be held at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Mohammed VI, but will also see the involvement of other exhibition spaces in the city.

Body Art and Performance have been the favourite expressive means of many artists especially for the immediacy and the emotional impact that they have the power to arouse in the public. In addition to the aforementioned Chiara Fumai, also Gina Pane, Vanessa Beecroft, Marina Abramović, Ana Mendieta are united by having put the body at the centre of their research.

Also Cindy Sherman (1954), an artist currently among the most quoted, uses her body as an expressive medium, but prefers photography. Sherman creates conceptual self-portraits in which she reflects on today’s society’s obsessions and denounces the female stereotypes that are imposed by cinema, television and glossy magazines.

In addition to the serious problem of the commodification of the female body, it seems that women do not receive due recognition not only in the intellectual but also in the economic sphere. According to a recent study, it seems that even in the art world women earn less than men, with a difference in auction prices for paintings created by men or women.

A disparity of treatment we hope will go away also thanks to initiatives such as the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, a biennial prize created in 2007 by Iwona Blazwick (director of the Whitechapel Gallery) and composed of an all-female jury that supports women artists in the UK.

The winner of the last edition is Helen Cammock, an English-Jamaican multidisciplinary artist who uses different mediums like photography, performance, poetry and music and has always been committed against prejudices such as being black and being a woman.

Another prestigious award given to contemporary British artists, the Turner Prize, was awarded in 2018 to Charlotte Prodger (1974), a video artist who proposed a reflection on the landscape and gender identity.

Like them, many other artists have had the skill and tenacity to fight and stand out to be able to emerge in a male world.

One example is Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who holds the world record for the work of an absolute dearest female artist with the painting “Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1” sold for over $ 44 million. during a Sotheby’s auction in 2014.

Follows Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), who with the monumental sculpture “Spider” has reached 28 million dollars in 2015 also from Sotheby’s in New York.

In the field of sculpture, Camille Claudel (1864-1943) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) distinguished themselves, two great artists who had to face many difficulties linked to that historical period in order to express their creativity and innovation.

Hepworth, friend of Henry Moore and wife of Ben Nicholson (also an artist), avant-garde pioneer, has embraced the use of direct carving, a sculptural technique introduced by Brancusi that does not include the use of the terracotta model. Mother of three twins in a historical period that certainly did not facilitate the rise of a woman, Barbara Hepworth was nevertheless able to establish herself in the world of art.

But which are the most popular artists? In addition to those already mentioned, the abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin, Sonia Delaunay, Tamara de Lempicka, Carla Accardi, Niki de Saint Phalle and Frida Kahlo, among others, are experiencing great media attention, and recently, in the first months of 2018, also the Mudec of Milan dedicated a large retrospective to them.

Recently Maria Lai (1919-2013), a Sardinian artist known especially for her “embroideries”, who during her artistic career has used various media such as weaving, embroidery, drawing and sculpture, is experiencing strong and renewed interest. Her work “Bed Sheet” of 1989 was a new record for the artist during the Christie’s auction “Thinking Italian” on 4 October 2018, reaching £ 150,000 (including interest) from a starting estimate of £ 20,000-30,000.

Turning to the living artists, it is Jenny Saville (Cambridge 1970), the brightest star, who is proclaimed as the most expensive woman artist in the world thanks to the work “Propped” sold for more than 9 million pounds at the Sotheby’s auction in London on 5 October 2018. The painting is particularly significant because, besides being a self-portrait of the artist herself, she overturns and challenges the aesthetic canons that impose a vision of the idealized and flawless woman’s body.

Yayoi Kusama, known for the Polka Dots that characterize her works, also had to fight against sexism. She is a highly rated artist, and a documentary film is now on screens about her unconventional life – since 1977 she has been living and working in a psychiatric hospital in Japan for her choice. The artist herself is speaking about the difficulties to succeed in establishing herself in a male-dominated world such as that of the American art in the 1950s when she moved from Japan to New York.

Many women artists are also socially committed to fighting important battles to improve the living conditions of the less fortunate.

Kara Walker (1969), an African American artist who has always been linked to the fight against racism, explores issues related to violence, sexuality and slavery suffered by the coloured people over the centuries. She uses different media, ranging from the collage technique to installations or drawings, all united by the representation of black silhouettes on a white background. Starting in October, the Tate Modern in London will host the works of Walker that will take the baton of Tania Bruguera for the fifth edition of the Hyundai Commission.

Cady Noland (1956) is instead engaged in a critical analysis of the most immoral aspects of American society, such as the morbid curiosity towards brutal crimes or the exaggerated exaltation of male virility.

Other contemporary “stars” are Jenny Holzer, Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley (one of the greatest exponents of Op Art) and Julie Mehretu, whose large canvases are inspired by the densely populated cities typical of our time.

The London artist Cecily Brown (1969), always poised between abstraction and figuration, obtained yesterday (7 March) a great result at Phillips’s Evening Sale London with “Armed and Fearless”, the work of 2014, reaching the quote of £ 1,755,000 including the premium from the estimate of 600,000-800,000, also reaping applause in the sales room.

The list of deserving female artists is – fortunately – very long and it would be impossible to name them all, we can only hope that the day arrives when it will no longer be necessary to make any kind of clarification because we will be – really – all the same.


“The shades of the art rainbow are endless: choose your favorite!”