All the Art World Drama in 2018: A Recap of the Scandals, the Controversies, and the Trump Trolling

From Jeff Koons’s public rejection to the Guggenheim offering Trump a toilet.

Sotheby's Press Call
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It’s been a year since Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi fetched $450 million (and inspired a few vicious takedowns), and since 89-year-old Yayoi Kusama officially became too popular for her own good, attracting such enormous crowds to her blockbuster retrospective that one visitor described the experience as “harrowing.” That’s even harder to believe given that the art world has served up no shortage of controversies ever since, making for quite the action-packed 2018, which is still in fact going strong. Read on to catch up on all the drama that artists like Banksy and Jeff Koons served up this year.

The Guggenheim trolled Trump with a toilet.

The year kicked off with Donald Trump, marking his one-year anniversary in office, putting in a request to the Guggenheim to borrow an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh, titled Landscape with Snow, in order for he and first lady Melania Trump to make their private living room in the White House a bit more cozy. Alas, things didn’t go as they’d planned: the museum’s deputy director informed the White House that the painting is “prohibited from travel except for the rarest of occasions,” making it clear the institution doesn’t consider the Trumps’ interior design rare enough an occasion.

Indeed, their feelings became much clearer when they specified the piece they were willing to loan—even long-term—in place of the van Gogh: the fully functioning, 18-karat gold toilet that the artist Maurizio Cattelan trolled the country with by titling it America, which at that point, had already been used by many of the tens of thousands who waited in line to see it when it was installed in one of the museum’s bathrooms. Unsurprisingly, Trump, a famous germaphobe, declined to follow suit.

Banksy took a shredder to Sotheby’s.

Right up there with Cattelan as the art world’s foremost troublemaker, Banksy pulled one of his most shocking stunts yet when he arranged for his 2006 work Girl with the Balloon to self-destruct, just as the bids for it begun at the Sotheby’s auction where it was for sale. The artist, it turned out, had installed a remote-controlled paper shredder into the frame, though things didn’t end up going exactly as he planned, leaving only half of the artwork in shreds. And, as usual, the art world provided yet another perfect example of the consumerist culture that Banksy so often critiques: the work’s value actually increased after its semi-destruction, much to the delight of the buyer, who had no trouble forking over $1.4 million. Naturally, the internet had a field day.

The Best Memes of Banksy’s Self-Destructing Art Stunt

A rather more to-the-point illustration of Banksy’s move to shred Girl With Balloon.

Courtesy of @clic_claque

The DYI T-shirt version of Banksy’s self-destructing stunt.

Courtesy of @sianlloydweather

A belligerent Brett Kavanaugh getting the same treatment as Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.

Courtesy of @interiorphotography

McDonald’s is practically the apotheosis of Banksy’s targets—and, thanks to the Austrian ad agency DDB Vienna, the winner of the best corporate take on his move.

@ddbworldwide, courtesy of @advrtzr

The Mona Lisa—the most renowned “piece of art history”—getting the Banksy treatment.

Courtesy of @drift.r

An art-world follow-up to the terrifying manicure that circulated this past February, depicting Kylie Jenner’s first photo of her daughter, Stormi Webster.

Courtesy of @ees8w3ww

What does Zac Efron have to do with all of this? Who knows, but here he is in a very Photoshopped shredded Banksy crop top.

Courtesy of @knellfabiania

Accompanying the tweet of this image was the caption, “As the gavel went down on the Senate confirmation vote, an alarm started going off, and the Constitution began to shred itself.”

Courtesy of @exador23

Did you know that “Tyra Banks” is an anagram of “Banksy art”? While you contemplate the idea that the supermodel in fact holds the key to the artist’s mysterious identity, allow yourself the pleasure of looking back on her most infamous moment on America’s Next Top Model: “Be quiet, Tiffany.”

Courtesy of @tyrafams

Banksy al dente.

Courtesy of

When life gives you potatoes, make like Banksy.

Courtesy of @faisal2811

How much of the world felt this past week tuning in to a Make America Great Again–hat–wearing Kanye West’s unreal face-off with Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Courtesy of @rontronik

In another country where politics can often resemble a reality TV show—as of this past September, Vladimir Putin literally became the star of what is essentially Keeping Up With the Kremlin—the Constitution of the Russian Federation also went through the shredder, IRL in St. Petersburg.

Courtesy of @edine_

And in other news of political turmoil, an image of Brazil’s flag meeting its demise began to circulate following what one political correspondent described as the “mourning Bolsonaro’s resounding first round triumph,” aka the first electoral go-ahead of the country’s openly sexist and homophobic presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro.

Courtesy of @tomphillipsin

On a much lighter note, off in New Jersey, one dog owner did her best to turn her pet Leo’s trimmings into a “million-dollar haircut.”

Courtesy of @jenniferfuchs

In case you’re still in the market for a Halloween costume—and your partner is willing to go out in public dressed as a paper shredder.

Courtesy of @alirosemeow

As if the dystopian feel of Edvard Munch’s The Scream weren’t already palpable.

Courtesy of @drift.r

A friendly reminder that even before it self-destructed, the sale of the spray-paint work marked an all-time auction high for a work solely by Banksy

Courtesy of @_emilyobrien

The Met demanded its visitors to pay up.

After years of discussion amidst financial struggles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art abandoned its 50-year policy of free admission by instituting a $25 fee for non-New Yorkers who wish to pass through its doors. While that’s the same amount as they’d formerly “suggested” that visitors pay for entry to the world’s largest cultural institution, the number of visitors willing to take that suggestion has significantly shrunk, dropping from 63 to 17 percent over the past 13 years.

Intended to raise the museum’s revenue, making the fee a requirement ended up bringing a massive backlash from communities both inside and outside of the art world along with it. “It’s like taking the jacket off a poor person,” the Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei told the New York Times, which put together a roundup of artist reactions. Reflecting on how much it meant to him to still be able to see art when he was struggling financially, he also vowed to “never go to the Met” under its new policy.

Nan Goldin went to war.

At the end of 2017, the photographer Nan Goldin revealed why she’s taken such a break from the public eye, as well as the reason that she decided to make an Instagram): she’d been battling an addiction to opioids ever since a doctor prescribed her OxyContin in 2014, after which she didn’t leave her house for nearly three years.

She’s also made her battle against the opioid crisis boldly personal, focusing her attack on members of the Sackler family, whose name can be found across art institutions that they’ve donated millions to around the world—and all across the history of Purdue Pharma, which manufactures and originally patented OxyContin. (Goldin names “the Sackler family” in P.A.I.N.’s mission statement, though not all of the Sacklers have been involved in or profited from the sale of the drug.)

The Whitney Museum saw another wave of protests.

Following the revelation that Warren B. Kanders, vice chairman of the board of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, has murky connections to the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, nearly 100 Whitney Museum staff members signed a letter demanding a response from the institution. Six years after Kanders, a so-called “significant contributor” to the museum’s current blockbuster Warhol retrospective, purchased the company Safariland for $124 million, the company’s logos began turning up in an unlikely place: nearby San Diego, where they were being hurled at asylum seekers.

Within a few days, Kanders responded, insisting that he admired the bravery of those taking a stand against, but that he is “not the problem” they should be concerned with in the scenario. He also claimed that Safariland’s role is not to determine when and how its products are employed, but to “provide safety holsters that prevent criminals from taking firearms from cops and we make the majority of the bomb suits worldwide worn by people who risk their lives to keep us safe.” That defense, of course, did not go over well, and within a week, the activist group Decolonize This Place had staged a protest in the museum’s lobby, in part to express displeasure with the museum’s director, Adam Weinberg, for the leadership’s inaction.

Paris publicly rejected Jeff Koons.

Back in November of 2016, Jeff Koons, one of the wealthiest artists in the world, benevolently attempted to bestow the gift of his work Bouquet of Tulips, monumental public sculpture, upon the city of Paris, in honor of the victims of the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks in the city. There was, however, one snag: over the course of the past year, it became increasingly clear that the city didn’t find much appeal in 27 tons’ worth of Jeff Koons, not to mention the costly installation process that would come along with it.

Eventually, a group of artists and political officials banded together to accuse Koons of having “ulterior motives,” and demand that the initiative come to a halt. As of this October, though, the sculpture is supposedly set to be installed in the gardens of the Petit Palais at some point during 2019, though it’s still yet to be definitely greenlit.

Jeff Koons with a mockup of *Bouquet of Flowers*, at the press conference announcing he would be donating the work to the city of Paris in November, 2016.

Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images

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