What a year. Highs, lows, and bloopers. Here is our take on the art, architecture, and design drama that was.

Flooding in the streets of Chelsea (photo by Lindsay Howard)

Flooding in the streets of Chelsea (photo by Lindsay Howard)

#1 — Hurricane Sandy

The havoc Sandy wreaked on the Eastern Seaboard was immense. The world’s largest concentration of art galleries, Chelsea, was partially flooded, losing millions of dollars in art, and countless artist studios were destroyed. We covered the storms impact from many different angles, including its disastrous impact on nonprofits, but at the end of the day it was a major disaster for everyone.

A screenshot of BBC video shows Aleppo's ancient souk engulfed in flames. (via BBC)

A screenshot of BBC video shows Aleppo’s ancient souk engulfed in flames. (via BBC)

#2 — Destruction of Syria’s Artistic Heritage

This is a tragedy that continues to unfold and my worry is that things will get much much worse. Home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world, Syria’s archeological and artistic heritage is one of the richest in the world. From medieval Crusader castles to early Islamic mosques, from Roman ruins to some of the world’s oldest Christian churches, the country is practically an open air museum. The list of endangered sites in Syria is long and many have already been damaged by shelling (including the ancient souk of Aleppo and medieval fortress of Krak des Chevaliers) and other sites, like the Hama Museum, have been looted. The war looters are already doing brisk business in Syria, and at the end of the day, we all lose.


#3 — “David Gate”

China’s propaganda official TV network CCTV ran a segment on an exhibition of Italian art at Beijing’s National Museum of China during which it blurred out the crotch of Michelangelo’s “David” (not the famous one, the other one). Thankfully the Chinese thought it was ridiculous they would do that and the whole thing became a pretty funny meme and trending topic on Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site.


#4 — Camouflage Idiocy

Who said money can buy everything? The US military spent $5 billion on their new pixelated camoflage, which debuted in 2004. Turns out, it didn’t work. The now defunct iPad newspaper The Daily reported earlier this year:

“In a candid interview with The Daily, several of those researchers said Army brass interfered in the selection process during the last round, letting looks and politics get in the way of science.”

… The fact that the government spent $5 billion on a camouflage design that actually made its soldiers more visible — and then took eight years to correct the problem — has also left people in the camouflage industry incensed. The total cost comes from the Army itself and includes the price of developing the pattern and producing it for the entire service branch.

Oh, US Military, you cray cray.

The vandalized Picasso on left, and the vandalized Rothko on the right.

The vandalized Picasso on the left, and the vandalized Rothko on the right.

#5 — Artists Using Vandalism as a Fame Gimmick

What a year. First there was the Picasso vandal in Houston and then the Rothko vandal in London, but what these two incidents had in common was they were done by artists, yes, artists, who saw it as a way to propel their careers. These weren’t street artists eager to be in a museum or artists who have something to say other than “look at me,” but opportunistic people who salivated at the chance of using other people’s art as a fast track to fame. Lame. I still believe that we should largely ignore these people, other than report it as a news item, and then we won’t fuel the flames of their desperate need for attention.

#6 — Petroglyph Destructions

rash of petroglyph destructions this year across North America have been largely ignored by the media but something tells me these are only the tip of the iceberg. Australia has long had similar problems with its aboriginal petroglyphs and a recent incident in Morocco (which the Moroccan government says is untrue) points to the fact that petroglyphs around the world are threatened every day and something must be done to protect them.

#7 — One Art School’s Picture-less Art Book

The Ontario College of Art and Design’s (OCAD) $180 pictureless art history book was so funny that you would think it was an Onion article. Sadly, it was very real. Obviously a bad decision by an administrator, and OCAD’s reputation isn’t really going to be hurt by such a small thing, but it was a total disaster. And did we mention this is one of our favorite kinds of disaster, a funny one!

#8 — NYPD’s Attitude Towards Art & Culture

It has become a chronic problem in New York. The city’s overzealous and often overly militaristic NYPD has overstepped the boundaries by persecuting artists who are trying to inform, challenge, beautify, or critique the city and some prevalent attitudes.

From the destruction of Occupy Wall Street’s People’s Library in late 2011 to the arrest of Takeshi Miyakawa for his plastic bag lamps earlier this year, from the whitewashing of a mural to the arrest of street artist Essam Attia for his drone strike posters (both this year), the NYPD has an important job to do, that’s obvious, but bad officers or harsh policies mean that members of the creative community are victims of the NYPD’s ridiculous policies. And we’re not even mentioning the “stop and frisk” policy that victimizes black and latino New Yorkers on a daily basis.

#9 — Pussy Riot

The flurry of activity around the arrest, jailing, and censoring of Pussy Riot by the Russian authorities is a crazy mess that has damaged Russia’s image in the international community. What does the Russian government think it will achieve with the severe punishment of Pussy Riot? Who knows, but right now two Riot members continue to languish in labor camps and the rest of the world is wondering why.

#10 — Gallery Girls

What the hell was that show? Even for reality TV standards it was painfully bad. Less said about it the better. Though, let’s hope the scripted version of art on TV is more entertaining.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

10 replies on “10 Biggest Art Disasters of 2012”

    1. Yeah, because a couple years in a Russian prison is such a huge benefit. They are STILL in jail, asshole.

  1. Some of these don’t qualify as art disasters, IMHO, but whatever. My beef is that you have missed the biggest art disaster story of all: the dismantling of the Barnes Foundation. The Merion, Pennsylvania site has long been revered around the world as a unique complex of art, architecture, and horticulture designed by Albert Barnes, Paul Philippe Cret, and John Dewey. This year, the art collection was installed in replica in a massive, cold building in Philadelphia destroying a place that could likely have qualified as a World Heritage site, if it had remained intact. Gone from the authentic, historic setting — the 130-year-old arboretum and purpose-built gallery building, Albert Barnes’ collection has been entombed in a grand mausoleum on Philadelphia’s busy Parkway. Despite reports to the contrary, in Merion it was inexpensive to run (a $4 million annual budget); accessible (on the border of Philadelphia, near bus and train stops); and unlike anything anywhere in the world. It has been reduced to a re-enactment, with all the trappings to maximize commercial revenue and for all the investment, visitors still must reserve in advance. The loss is immeasurable, but you should note it in a round-up of the year’s disasters. For background on the political machinations that brought it about, see “The Art of the Steal” by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce.

  2. 5 billion wasted by the military for camo that doesn’t work. But what we really need is “entitlement” reform, right?

  3. Don’t forget the art restoration effort of artist Celia Gimenez. Probably the most talked about art disaster!

  4. Congrats ! It’s very significant that you mention Syria and its endangered antiquities as well as the looting and destruction of American Indian petroglyphs. I winch at the destruction of Iraq aka Babylon .The fiasco of Army camouflaged would be comic ,aside from the D.O.D contractors laughing their way to the bank with 5 billion. In all a well thoughtful out list that goes well beyond the insulsar bounds of contemporary art.

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