In 2022, art roared back. Blockbuster exhibitions returned, and the world’s top art festivals, including the Venice Biennale and Documenta, did as well. Historical study of past works continued apace, and new artworks were added to the canon. Although artists had been making art with the same passion during the pandemic as they did before, this year the energy was especially palpable.
Across the world this year, artists continued exploring the ways that racism, colonialism, and misogyny shape society, and they did so as vitally as ever. Their work offered powerful views into alternate universes devoid of these poisonous prejudices while also staring down realities that must be contended with.
Along the way, it became obvious that the study of art history must change too. Artists of color and women artists who had been dealing with these topics for decades were suddenly seen anew, and the works they produced seemed ever more notable. With the understanding that nothing is fixed, experts also upended past conceptions about famous works, even at one point discovering that a beloved abstraction had been hanging upside-down for years.
To look back on the past 12 months in art-making, below is a survey of some of the most important artworks made or presented in a new light in 2022.
Ernie Barnes, The Sugar Shack (1976)
Ernie Barnes, The Sugar Shack, 1976.
Photo : Christie’s
Momentum around Ernie Barnes has been building since 2019, when Los Angeles’s California African American Museum held a survey that sparked new interest in the athlete-turned-painter. But even with that in mind, it was still a surprise when Barnes’s 1976 painting The Sugar Shack became one of the star lots of the May auction season in New York. The work, a nightlife scene showing dancers at a segregated North Carolina dance hall, attracted more than 20 interested buyers during a Christie’s evening sale. Gradually, as the price ascended into the millions, the competition thinned out, and two bidders helped push the work to its staggering hammer price of $13 million. That figure was roughly 80 times its $150,000 low estimate; Houston-based former hedge-funder Bill Perkins had won it for a final price of $15.3 million with fees. Perkins later loaned the work to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, solidifying Barnes’s place within the country’s top institutions, if only temporarily. Perkins described the purchase as “a realization of a childhood dream.” —Angelica Villa