A Year End Appraisal of the Visual Arts

Art world highs, lows, and scandals

Artist Paul McCarthy's monumental artwork 'Tree' at Place Vendome on October 16 in Paris, France, as part of the FIAC - Contemporary Art Fair. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images

Now that it is the end of the year, Fine Art takes a look at the top stories, including both the high and low moments in the visual arts, during the year 2014. Here are the top notable art stories from around the world.

2014 was the year of money flippers, forgeries and fraud, but the year was not only about greed, as there were memorable moments of art too.


The year began controversially when the Guardian’s February article reported that architect Zaha Hadid said “It’s not my duty as an architect” in regarding the nearly 1000 deaths of migrant construction workers in Qatar.

Hadid, the architect of the 2022 World Cup stadium, who is also known for her museum designs and exhibitions, drew criticism in social media for what many comprehended as callous remarks.

Vanity Fair reports on how this story escalated when Hadid sued the New York Review of Books for defamation of character. As it turns out, a shocking number of workers did die in Qatar, but Hadid’s project hadn’t even begun construction. Hadid had stated that “the migrant deaths were a serious problem but it was a matter for the Qatari government.”

This story provides several cautionary lessons here: don’t immediately jump to conclusions on social media without knowing all the necessary facts; don’t publish criticism without fact checking first; stick up for your artistic integrity when it comes into question; and when running a huge project, make sure it won’t injure or kill the workers.

Real vs fake

A forgery scandal in New York contributed to the closing down of long-established Knoedler Gallery.

Pei-Shen Qian, the 75-year-old painter, who painted canvases resembling the works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning fled to China to escape 45 years of prison if convicted in the $33 million forgery.

This forgery story is of a philosophical nature. If the painting looks like a Jackson Pollock, art collectors are willing to fork out millions of dollars for it.

So if two paintings look the same, what is the intrinsic difference between the real one and the fake one? Is it just the signature? In other words, what’s the value of a paint drip? And what does it mean when experts such as the gallery dealers cannot even discern the difference between an authentic Pollock and a forged copy?

And talking about copies…

Uzbek State Arts Museum is also in the center of a huge scandal. It was reported that the chief curator Mirfayz Usmonov, and other museum staff, whom all have received lengthy sentencing, had been selling original works of art from the museum’s permanent collection and replacing them with copies for a period of 15 years.

Something lost, something found

Museo Prado’s approximately 800 missing works show the importance of hiring qualified registrars who keep track of a museum’s permanent collection, so that every item is accounted for. Even though the museum did not yet recover the unaccountable works, according to Artnet, they found they had a Swiss bank account containing over €1 million.

More scandals...

Another scandal took place in Germany with well-known art advisor Helge Achenbach charged in June with a multi-million fraud claim for defrauding his wealthy clients in the sales of fine art and vintage cars.

This year also saw several reports claiming that Marcel Duchamp’s famous work titled Fountain 404 (which is an ordinary urinal installed on its side) was created by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

One controversial public art work became the ‘butt’ of many jokes. Paul McCarthy’s large inflatable green ‘tree’ installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris provoked strong reactions and was eventually deflated.  

Now for the Highs...

Mike Leigh’s Turner biopic received rave reviews for its masterful portrayal of the historical painter, and shows that a feature-length film about an artist can still be a huge box office draw.

The Judith Scott retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum also received glowing reviews. Judith Scott has a unique biography. She was born deaf and with Down syndrome, and was institutionalized at 7 years old as “profoundly retarded.” Fortunately, she was rescued by her twin sister who enrolled her in an art program.

Judith began art making at age 47 and created an impressive body of work. She died age 61 in 2005.

Celebs try to be artists

Art Info reports on the feeble attempts of Hollywood celebrities becoming artists, and which goes to show how difficult it really is to be a visual artist creating great works of art.