Leonardo Outdoes Hockney, Hirst for 2012 Art Headlines

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Photographer: Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima/Kate Burvill PR via Bloomberg

David Hockney and Bloomberg News chief art critic Martin Gayford at Hockney's studio in Bridlington. Gayford's books include "A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney."

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Photographer: Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima/Kate Burvill PR via Bloomberg

David Hockney and Bloomberg News chief art critic Martin Gayford at Hockney's studio in Bridlington. Gayford's books include "A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney." Close

David Hockney and Bloomberg News chief art critic Martin Gayford at Hockney's studio in Bridlington. Gayford's books... Read More

Source: Museo Nacional del Prado via Bloomberg

"Mona Lisa" (1503-16) from the studio of Leonardo da Vinci. The work was on display at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, until March 13, 2012, then at the Louvre in Paris from March 29 through June 25. Close

"Mona Lisa" (1503-16) from the studio of Leonardo da Vinci. The work was on display at the Museo Nacional del Prado,... Read More

Photographer: Tim Nighswander/National Gallery via Bloomberg

"Christ as Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci. The picture was in "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" at the National Gallery in London from Nov. 9 through Feb. 5, 2012. Close

"Christ as Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci. The picture was in "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of... Read More

Source: Royal Collection via Bloomberg

"The Lungs" (c.1508) by Leonardo da Vinci. The details of the spine and liver to the right suggest Leonardo may have dissected a pig. The work was on public display in 2012. Close

"The Lungs" (c.1508) by Leonardo da Vinci. The details of the spine and liver to the right suggest Leonardo may have... Read More

Photographer: Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg

Damien Hirst had the first major museum survey of his work in his home country in 2012. The show, at Tate Modern in London, included his shark, skull, spot paintings and pharmacy shelves. Close

Damien Hirst had the first major museum survey of his work in his home country in 2012. The show, at Tate Modern in... Read More

Source: White Cube via Bloomberg

"Three Parrots with Guitar and Jug" (2010-12) by Damien Hirst. This was the third exhibition of oil paintings done by Hirst without assistants. Close

"Three Parrots with Guitar and Jug" (2010-12) by Damien Hirst. This was the third exhibition of oil paintings done by... Read More

Source: Prudence Cuming Associates/Tate via Bloomberg

"For the Love of God" (2007) by Damien Hirst, was included in his exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London in 2012. Close

"For the Love of God" (2007) by Damien Hirst, was included in his exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London in 2012.

For a man born 560 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci made a great deal of news in 2012.

The exhibition of his work at the National Gallery, London, had the public standing in line from before dawn for tickets.

In Paris, later in the spring, another show built around the cleaned “Virgin and Child With St. Anne” was equally thronged. This contained a recently identified contemporary version of the Mona Lisa, which historians said was probably produced in the master’s studio in parallel with the original.

Leonardo’s year ended on a lower note. Earlier, there were also indications that some remnants of his lost “Battle of Anghiari” may exist behind a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy. However, the search to find it was put on hold in September.

This month, it was announced the Museum of Art, Dallas, had failed to agree a price for the “Salvator Mundi” -- a painting newly attributed to him and included in the National Gallery exhibition. If Dallas can’t afford a Leonardo, one might wonder, who can?

On the other hand, maybe Texas is better off without it. Though I agree it is an authentic Leonardo, it is an odd and not very attractive work.

Among younger artists, 75-year-old David Hockney enjoyed a spectacular twelve months, beginning in January with “A Bigger Picture,” an array of paintings and drawings mainly done within the previous few years, and only shortly before the opening.

The show attracted more than 600,000 visitors in a short two-and-a-half-month run at the Royal Academy.

Getting Better

They would probably still have been lining up down Piccadilly, if the exhibition had not had to move on to Bilbao, Spain. It’s now at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany (until Feb 3, 2013). At each venue it has looked different, and in certain ways better.

The Cologne version has the best installation of Hockney’s 3, 9 and 18 camera films, including an astonishing room with moving, synchronized, multi-image films of the same road at different times of year, one season to each wall.

Hockney didn’t receive a unanimously positive reaction from critics. I suspect that was because in painting and drawing the landscape he has been doing something that contemporary artists aren’t supposed to do. The art world is quite a conformist place, though it likes to think it loves “transgression.”

Another celebrated British artist with the initials D.H. had a big, museum show in Olympic year.

Damien Hirst” at Tate Modern was also popular in terms of attendance: 463,087 visitors in a five-month run.

Plastic Skulls

It broke another kind of record, with some of the most expensive items ever marketed in an exhibition shop, including an edition of painted plastic skulls at 36,800 pounds ($59,388) each and a set of plates at 10,500 pounds.

The visitors were not wrong to flock to Tate Modern, because this was a good representation of Hirst’s work. Close examination of the labels, however, revealed some less flattering figures.

A surprising proportion of the works on show, and almost all the best, were two decades old or more. In an artist who is 47 years old, this was not an encouraging sign.

A startlingly lackluster show of new oil paintings at White Cube in London’s Bermondsey tended to confirm that Hirst, temporarily or permanently, has run out of new ideas. That isn’t good for someone who is, at least partly a conceptual artist. His work may well not last as well as Leonardo’s has when he’s not 47, but 560 years old.

(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Craig Seligman on books.

To contact the writer on the story: Martin Gayford in London at martin.gayford@googlemail.com or http://twitter.com/martingayford.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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