After the rush of excitement around digital art NFTs through much of 2020, 2021 remained a comparatively quiet year for NFT art news, as cryptocurrencies began to cool off and much of the NFT focus turned to collectable projects rather than headline grabbing single-piece sales.
Traditional art auctions and exhibitions began to make a tentative return, but were still often dogged by Covid restrictions, lockdowns, and widespread uncertainty about the safety of public events as further variants continued to circulate worldwide, but there were a few big moments.
A collection of Picasso paintings displayed for years at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas were sold by owner Steve Wynn through a Christie’s auction for an impressive $110 million; well above estimates. The Bellagio has always been known for it’s excellent art collection, which retains many other Picasso pieces; funds from the sale are planned to be used expanding and diversifying the art collection to include more art by women and artists of colour, which could lead to some exciting purchases in the year ahead.
One of the other big sales of the year was for a female artist of colour, as “Diego y yo” by Frida Kahlo sold for almost $35 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York, dramatically lifting the record price paid for work by a Latin American artist by almost 350%. Last sold at auction in 1990 for $1.4 million, the self portrait was one of her last and depicted her great anguish through a difficult period with her husband Diego Rivera; the second highest selling Latin American artist of all time.
The NFT market approaches a time of reckoning
Without a doubt, NFTs were the big story in art news over the last two years, and over the whole of 2021 it is estimated around $40 billion was spent on them, however much of this came with a huge boom in cryptocurrencies and crypto associated wealth. In November the markets peaked and began to decline casting all eyes on the future of digital art NFTs, and whether they would also decline alongside those markets, and the general fears of economic downturns after something of a miraculous, and not entirely organic, post-Covid recovery.
So far, much of the NFT focus does seem to have shifted towards collections rather than individual high value artworks; of course the individual pieces in a series of collectibles are far more affordable, much like a range of limited edition art prints, widening the potential sales market. How NFTs will continue to mature is largely anyone’s guess, but they remain a thrilling shift in the art world.
An older entity in the art world is the Turner Prize; introduced in the UK in the 1980s, it often grabbed headlines for focusing on challenging and often controversial contemporary artworks by artists pushing boundaries. It’s relevance has declined somewhat in recent years and 2021 saw a new approach, shortlisting activist art collectives rather than individuals. The winners were announced in November with the top prize going to Belfast’s Array Collective, who created an installation focused on the history of troubles and sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
The art year ends with an unexpected loss
In December the world of fashion was struck with the tragic news of the death of designer, and Louis Vuitton creative director, Virgil Abloh. Having worked his way up from Chicago street fashion and collaborations with music artists like Kanye West, Abloh became the first African-American artistic director of a French fashion house , with his combinations of streetwear and luxury gaining huge international awareness. He passed away unexpectedly from cancer at the age of 41; a diagnosis that had been kept private from the wider world, leading to a series of fashion and music events to celebrate his legacy and work.
Moving into 2022 the world remains in a state of some uncertainty; Covid continues, western governments struggle with unpopularity, and new threats of war has raised, just as financial and crypto markets take a turn for the worst; how this echoes into art news will have to be seen.