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5 min read - Thursday 30th December 2021 

Gatekeeper’s 2021 Art-world Roundup

By Lois Freeman

2021: A year of NFTs and LFTs, here are Gatekeeper’s top picks.
  1. The toppled statues: A continued rejection of faux ‘collective’ art.

The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests sparked a global reckoning of colonial landmarks. Citizens began to tear down the art which had been placed in their communities under the guise of collective commemoration. Slave traders, human traffickers, and figureheads of the British Empire, cast in permanent marble or bronze and raised on authoritative plinths, that have shared our streets for centuries continued to be scrutinised in 2021.

Public sculpture is an art form rooted in religious idolatry, in worshipping someone other than God. It initially developed to celebrate the monarchy but in the 18th century became a vehicle ‘to perpetuate the memory of illustrious men and to give us models of virtue’. Statues marked the economic ‘heroes’ of the expanding slave trade. In the 19th century, the era of ‘statuomania’, they became emblems of the past, appropriating history to form a carefully constructed version of the truth. The act of erecting a monument is a political statement which says this is who our society admires most, this is who we will all model ourselves on. It is a choice made by the few, treated as if made by everyone.

2021 has seen ‘The Colston Four’, leaders of Bristol's iconic uprising which led to their Edward Colston statue on the bed of Bristol Harbour, face a public trial. Their treatment has ignited a conversation over autonomy over public art. If the public don’t own it, and have the authority to rescind it, then who does? The statue itself has been placed in an exhibition at Bristol’s ‘M Shed’, while an accompanying survey will be released in 2022 to decide its future. As of June this year, 21 out of the 84 publicly condemned statues across the UK have been removed or will be removed in response. These developments in 2021 beg the questions - should statues even be replaced? Is there a future for statues as an ethical form of public art?

Image description: The statue of Edward Colston torn from its plinth in Bristol by ‘The Colston Four’, is now covered in red graffiti, lying in an exhibition.

2. NFTs

2021’s biggest art buzzword, Collins Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’, and the latest asset to accrue millions of sales in some of the world’s largest auction houses, but what on earth is an NFT?

An NFT, or ‘non-fungible token’, is the certificate of ownership over a piece of online, entirely unique art. It is a GIF, a video clip, a screenshot, or anything on a screen, which is attached to a computer code - an anchor which means its ownership cannot be reproduced or replaced. Where ‘fungible’ bitcoins can be traded - If you swap one bitcoin with a friend, you’ll still end up with the exact same one bitcoin - like a Pokemon card, an NFT swap will leave you with an entirely different NFT. NFT’s can be bought and sold for profit, or curated to form a personal digital art collection. No professional art expertise is required to get started, making NFTs a crucial building block in the work towards a more accessible art market.

Cementing the reign of NFTs was the sale of graphic designer Beeple’s ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days at Christie’s.’ Comprising 5,000 online images, it was sold to Crypto investor MetaKovan for a huge $69.3 million. 2021 also saw auction house Sotheby’s reach NFT sales of $100 million, and Snoop Dogg make $700,000 for NFT portraits of his face.  

Image description: Beeple’s (Mike Winkelmann) ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days at Christie’s’ made up of 5,000 online images in a large digital mosaic.

3. The Year of Banksy

In 2021, Banksy has been busy. His fame has grown, not only through his controversial graffiti work, but through his involvement in some of the year’s biggest political discussions - COVID-19, Statues, and the Arts. Banksy weighed into the conversation on monuments through a one-off collection of t-shirts which he sold to support the Colston Four. The shirt’s symbolic design of an empty Colston plinth signalled his support for the complete erasure of public art that is linked to human atrocity.

He also steadied his shaky status as a sought-after auction house artist through the £16 million sale of ‘Love Is in the Bin’, the product of his infamous shredder stunt which saw ‘Girl with Balloon’ sliced to pieces after being sold for £1 million. The unprecedented sale demonstrates the effect of fame and spectacle on the value of art.

Banksy also used 2021 to slam the perspectives of UK politicians and the privileged few with a satirical artistic envisioning of the idea that throughout the pandemic, ‘We’re all in the same boat’. His work also spotlighted the NHS, raising £16.7m for his piece ‘Game Changer’ which depicts a child playing with a toy nurse - the new heroes of modern-day society. His commitment to the Arts, in response to devastating 50% government cuts, is also displayed through his offer to raise millions to transform Reading Prison into an art venue. His work in 2021 continues to revolutionise the world of art, and the world at large.

Image description: (First) Artwork by Banksy, ‘We’re all in the same boat’, shows three children in a boat, one removing water, and two as captains. (Second) The campaign image for Banksy’s Bristol T-Shirts in support of the Colston Four (Third) ‘Love Is in the Bin’, a Banksy work consisting of the shredded remains of ‘Girl with Balloon’

4. COVID Fashion

From out of the horrors of the pandemic comes a more joyful artistic trend - Covid fashion. To satirise our dependency on the LFT, the now almost mythical Lateral Flow Test, creatives have been incorporating them into artistic wearables. One Londoner debuted LFT hoop-earrings for this year’s sunny post-lockdown season while another flaunted her homemade felt LFT xmas decs. The test has been woven into our new reality, an important piece of cultural capital which dominates social celebrations, so why not make it fashionable?

The recent law reversions in the UK, meaning masks are once again mandatory in indoor public spaces, also signals the return of this year’s foremost accessory - the fashion mask. Designers like Burberry and Marine Serre have applied their signature designs to create the perfect streetwear/infection-status hybrid. 2021 really was the year for public health fashion.

Image description: (First) Londonder shows off his Lateral Flow Test hoop earrings. (Second) Emily Elias’ post on Instagram of her homemade felt LFT tree decoration. (Third) Three models pose in designer fashion face masks, Burberry, Off-White, and Marine Serre.

Gatekeeper Magazine© 2021