Last year the art world was rife with intrigue, mystery and moments that shook the world. There were bathroom robberies, Old Masters that vanished off the face of the earth only to reappear again, and that duct-taped banana.
Here are some of 2019’s most gripping moments in art and design…
1. Da Vinci Disappearing Act
Last year the missing Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi, worth around £350 million, was finally found.
The painting mysteriously disappeared in 2017 after it was sold at Christie’s for a record $450.3 million – making it the most expensive work ever sold at auction.
Officially, reports at the time said it was bought by Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud. He intended it to be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Yet it never arrived and it was never publicly seen again – until now.
It was discovered that the real buyer of the painting was the ruler of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, and the painting has been hanging inside his £400-million super yacht, Serene.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that the world’s most expensive painting has gone missing. After being originally painted for King Louis XII of France in circa 1500, it ‘disappeared’ between 1763 and 1900 until it turned up at auction in the UK in 1958.
It then fell off the radar again until 2005, when it was again bought at auction. After a thorough restoration, it was unveiled in 2011 at London’s National Gallery at the blockbuster exhibition ‘Leonardo’, before being sold at the Christie’s auction in 2017.
It’s fair to say this painting is one of the most memorable and sought after works of all time.
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2. Duct Tape Banana
It was the artwork that prompted a thousand memes.
Maurizio Cattelan’s duct-taped banana artwork titled ‘The Comedian’ made headlines around the world when it sold for a very surprising £91,000.
A second edition sold for that same amount – and the price of a third edition was raised to £114,000.
The artwork was quite literally a banana that the artist had duct-taped to the wall.
A spokeswoman for Art Basel, where the work was sold, enthused: ‘After a 15-year hiatus, Maurizio has returned to the international art fair, and we are so fortunate to collaborate with him. The banana is many things – a symbol of global trade, a witty double entendre, and a classic device for humour. Maurizio takes mundane objects and transforms them into vehicles of both delight and critique.’
Is this pushing the boundaries of art too far? It certainly got people talking.
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3. Golden Loo Theft
The duct-taped banana wasn’t the only time Maurizio Cattelan made headlines last year.
In the art robbery that baffled society, his fully functional 18-karat solid gold toilet, titled ‘America’, was stolen from an exhibition at Blenheim Palace.
Just a few days after it went on view to the public in England, the golden toilet went mysteriously missing.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Blenheim Palace said that Cattelan’s gold toilet had been ‘stolen’ from its exhibition of the artist’s work. On its website, Blenheim Palace said it was closed for the day, following what it described as an ‘unforeseen incident’.
Edward Spencer-Churchill, the founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation, which mounted the show, said in a statement, ‘We are shocked and saddened by this news and are working with the Police to restore the artwork to the exhibition as soon as possible.’
The golden loo had been plumbed in, then shortly after its instalment, it was stolen. Despite multiple arrests, the thief is still to be named.
4. Banksy’s Parliament
2019 was also a big year for Graffiti artist Banksy, as he sold his most expensive artwork to date. His painting fetched £9.9 million when it was sold at auction.
But it was the subject of his painting that made the news; Banksy’s Devolved Parliament depicts the House of Commons overrun with chimpanzees.
The 4m (13ft) wide artwork was painted by in 2009, and sold for nearly five times its estimate at Sotheby’s in London. Banksy reacted on Instagram, saying it was a ‘record price for a Banksy painting’ and ‘shame I didn’t still own it’.
The painting went within 13 minutes of bidding. Sotheby’s tweeted the painting had sold ‘to applause at £9,879,500 – nine times its previous record – after a 13-minute bidding battle’.
The auction house said: ‘Regardless of where you sit in the Brexit debate, there’s no doubt that this work is more pertinent now than it has ever been.’
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5. Rembrandt Heist
East Dulwich was subject to an ‘audacious’ attempted art heist at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in November. The suspect managed to escape after spraying one of two security officers in the face with an unknown substance after they responded to the alarm being triggered.
Two paintings had been successfully removed from their hooks (setting off the alarm), and the gallery security arrived at the scene in the nick of time as the thieves fled – discarding the artwork in the grounds.
Rembrandt’s Light exhibition at Dulwich displayed 35 of the Dutch Master’s most celebrated works, including those lent by the Paris Louvre, the National Gallery in Washington and from the Royal Collection.
But the gallery hasn’t revealed which paintings the thieves managed to remove from the display.
6. Banksy Pop-Up Shop
Banksy took everyone by surprise last year when he unveiled a pop-up-shop installation, named Gross Domestic Product, in Croydon, to announce the launch of a merchandise range.
He took to social media to explain the move, as he claimed he had been forced to release the branded merchandise following legal action from an unnamed greeting-card company.
He had been advised that selling his own branded items (some items on sale were priced at as little as £10) was the only way to protect his brand against a greeting-card company that was trying to ‘seize legal custody’ of his name.
‘GDP is the homewares brand from Banksy and this is our first and only store,’ said Banksy on Instagram. ‘The showroom is for display purposes only and the doors will not open. All sales will be conducted online when the website opens soon.’
‘This shop has come about as a result of legal action,’ the statement continued. ‘A greetings cards company are trying to seize legal custody of the name Banksy from the artist, who has been advised the best way to prevent this is to sell his own range of branded merchandise.’
According a to statement made by Banksy, many of the items for sale have been made especially for the online store, grossdomesticproduct.com, and have each been handmade in the UK using existing or recycled materials wherever possible.
The items each seem to make a clear political statement.
The product description for small wooden children’s toys resembling refugees reads ‘engage all your child’s learning muscles with this fun counting game. See how many figures they can fit in the truck while it makes a quick stop.’ Proceeds from the sale of those items were used to support migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
A ‘clutch bag’ made from bricks is described as ‘this fashion-forward accessory is made from a genuine real life house brick and is perfect for the kind of person who doesn’t carry much but might need to whack someone in the face’.
For out of stock goldfish escaping their bowl, the site reads ‘Due to some issues with bubbles that need to be ironed out, this product will be available in the New Year.’
Faux animal trophies on mounts, also out of stock, read ‘This delightful wall-mounted collection of critters is perfect for the Blue Planet generation. Made from charity shop kids toys and genuine random beach detritus, so may contain germs/infectious substances.’