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Editor's Letter

The Year that Ends a Decade

Amy Gahyun Lee

Jan 30, 2019

What happened inside the art world in 1999? It is the year we first met Tracey Emin’s My Bed and Louise Bourgeois’s adorable Maman. It is also the year we reunited with Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the Sistine Chapel frescoes after 22 years and 19 years of restoration, respectively. The year 1999 was the year we bid farewell to the legendary Leo Castelli, who introduced us to the genuine manner of a gallerist. This was also the year we praised the artist, Bruce Nauman, for winning the Lion d’or for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale (note: Nauman received the Lion d’or for Best Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 for his representation of the United States). The air of globalization and reconstruction dominated the atmosphere of the art world after the Cold War era collapsed, and the European art world seemed to regain its past glory with the brilliant performances of Young British Artists worldwide. As if to commemorate the end of the century, Nicolas Bourriaud curated Altermodern, the fourth Tate Triennial at Tate Britain and claimed that the period of postmodernism was over.


A decade later, in 2009, Ai Weiwei faced difficulties with the Chinese authorities since writing his blog titled Citizens’ Investigation in response to the government’s lack of transparency in disclosing the names of students who perished in the Sichuan earthquake. The Guerrilla Girls launched an interactive graffiti wall, I’m not a feminist, but if I were this is what I’d complain about… in 2009 to broaden the public’s view on gender issues, alongside several exhibitions delivering the feminist discourse that were being organized worldwide. The art market went down despite many specialists’ claims of the market staying strong during the global financial crisis, and even Francis Outred, former head of contemporary art at Christie’s described the first three months of 2009 as “doomsday.” Though it might have been a year of struggle, a new history was in the making despite the crisis on one side of the world. The construction works for the Louvre Abu Dhabi started in May of 2009 despite doubts and concerns of many Western art professionals, and Asian art and its market started to roar, demonstrating its potential and strength to the other side of the world.


Though it may seem frivolous and perhaps even a bit unnatural to celebrate a certain year based on a certain period in time, 2019, the final year of the 2010s, has just begun. It may be premature to start looking back now on the past ten years, but at the starting point of this year, let us just stop and indulge for a moment to reminisce what we have done for the past nine years and a month. During the 2010s, we bid farewell to Louise Bourgeois and observed the celebration of the YBAs as established figures in the art world. Francis Outred left Christie’s last year after working there for a decade and the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened in 2017. Nicolas Bourriaud borrowed the new term “Anthropocene” to interpret the contemporary era for his 2014 Taipei Biennale, and Bruce Nauman, whose name is forever a part of Venice Biennale history (both 1999 and 2009), is currently holding a retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York. Life continues on and everything left behind is becoming a part of history, good or not.


How will people remember 2019? Though nothing significant may have occurred yet, we know without question that memorable events are on their way to make their mark for this year—remarkable events which will be the basis for defining 2019 as a part of our history.