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Arts and Culture Review of 2009

30th December 2009

The last 12 months have been busy in the arts world. Here are some of the year's highlights.


Irish author Sebastian Barry won the £25,000 Costa Book of the Year Award for his novel The Secret Scripture. Diana Athill, Sadie Jones, children's author Michelle Magorian and poet Adam Foulds were also up for the prize.

Art collector Charles Saatchi showcased the work of several Middle Eastern artists at Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East. Lurid figures of Iranian prostitutes and images of semi-naked men posing provocatively were among the works at Saatchi's London gallery.

The British Museum celebrated 250 years since opening its doors to the public. The museum's director, Neil MacGregor, gave a public lecture on the importance of being a "world museum".

An art installation at the European Council building in Brussels, which poked fun at national stereotypes, angered many EU members. Entropa, by Czech artist David Cerny, portrayed Bulgaria as a toilet and France as a country on strike. Bulgaria formally complained over the work and part of it was covered up with a black cloth.


Lenny Henry raised a few eyebrows when he swapped comedy for a serious stage role, playing Shakespeare's Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. But he silenced his critics when, following a UK tour, went on to be named best stage newcomer at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards in November.

Campaigners announced they had secured the £50m needed to buy Titian's 16th-Century painting, Diana and Actaeon, for the nation. The painting has been on public display at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and London for more than 200 years, and was offered for sale by its owner, the Duke Of Sutherland.

The National Gallery's first exhibition dedicated to the artist Pablo Picasso opened to the public. Picasso: Challenging the Past featured more than 60 of the artist's works and focused on the themes of European art history and his own career.

A giant white horse was chosen as a new £2m art commission for south east England dubbed the "Angel of the South". The design, by former Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger, was selected from a three-strong shortlist as part of the Ebbsfleet Landmark Project.


British photographer Paul Graham was awarded the 2009 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. The 52-year-old won the £30,000 prize for A Shimmer of Possibility, a publication comprising 12 volumes of photographic short stories of life in contemporary America.

A report into plans for a northern base for the Royal Opera House concluded that millions of extra pounds of investment was still needed. The report from Arts Council England said it had the "potential to transform the artistic life of the north west" but also warned the scheme was "not yet viable".

A £5.4m contest was launched to create 12 public works of art inspired by the 2012 Olympics. Under the scheme, artists would receive up to £500,000 to create works for the Cultural Olympiad in the run-up to the London games. Arts Council England said it wanted artists "to mark a moment" of history in "unexpected ways and places".

Hundreds of Cubans packed into Havana's Museo De Bellas Artes for the launch of the first major US contemporary art exhibition to be shown in the country for almost a quarter of a century. The exhibition, called Chelsea visits Havana, featured around 30 artists from New York's Chelsea neighbourhood.


The influential Whitechapel Gallery reopened its doors to the public following a £13.5m extension, which took two years and saw the venue almost double in size. A tapestry inspired by Pablo Picasso's Guernica, by artist Goshka Macuga, was the centrepiece of the gallery's opening exhibition.

William Blake's first solo exhibition was restaged at Tate Britain, reuniting nine of his surviving works 200 years after they were first displayed. In 1809, determined to make a name for himself as an artist, Blake held an exhibition of 16 works at his brother's shop in Golden Square, Soho, London.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel brought the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela to London for a short residency at London's Festival Hall. Thousands of people claimed free places at open rehearsals, while concert tickets changed hands for hundreds of pounds on internet auction sites.

The author JG Ballard, famed for novels such as Crash and Empire of the Sun, died aged 78 after a long illness. His agent Margaret Hanbury said the author had been ill "for several years".


Carol Ann Duffy, 53, was named the new Poet Laureate - the first woman to be appointed in the 341-year history of the post - at the end of Andrew Motion's tenure. The author, best known for her collection The World's Wife, said she felt "very honoured and humbled" by her appointment.

Almost 40 years after work by US artist Robert Morris was wrecked at the then Tate Gallery by an "exuberant" public, Tate Modern did it all over again by recreating Bodyspacemotionthings for its UBS Openings: The Long Weekend in the Turbine Hall.

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective opened at the Metropolitan Museum. It was the first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to the artist and included 130 works, including 65 paintings, from throughout his career.

Ruth Padel resigned as Oxford Professor of Poetry, just weeks after being appointed, following her role in an alleged smear campaign. She apologised "for anything I have done which can be misconstrued" against fellow contender Derek Walcott. He withdrew following an anonymous letter campaign reportedly detailing sexual harassment claims.


Graffiti artist Banksy pulled off an audacious stunt to hold his biggest exhibition to date in his home town of Bristol. The exhibition, called Banksy v Bristol Museum, saw the artist install 100 of his artworks in the council-owned museum without the knowledge of top council officials. About 300,000 people visited the exhibition before it closed in August.

A museum dedicated to Wedgwood, the world-famous pottery company, won the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries. The judges said they were "bowled over" by the "extraordinary" Stoke-on-Trent museum. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum; Ruthin Craft Centre, and the Orleans House Gallery were also shortlisted.

Greece's new Acropolis Museum, designed by celebrated Franco-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, was unveiled. The state-of-the-art building provides a new home for more than 350 artefacts and sculptures which were previously held in a small museum by the ancient Acropolis.

Jude Law swapped the big screen for the stage in the Donmar Warehouse's production of the Shakespearian tragedy Hamlet. He received generally positive reviews for his portrayal of the Danish prince, and the production later transferred to Broadway.


Artist Anthony Gormley launched his One and Other project on the empty fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Sqaure. The 100-day art project saw 2,400 members of the public spend an hour on the plinth as a living statue. Gormley said the project was "about people coming together to do something extraordinary and unpredictable".

German choreographer Pina Bausch, whose work was credited with revolutionising the language of modern dance, died aged 68. The Wuppertal Dance Theatre, where she served as director, said Bausch's "unexpectedly fast" death came five days after being diagnosed with cancer. She last appeared on stage at Germany's Wuppertal Opera house on 21 June.

A major solo show by US artist Jeff Koons was unveiled at London's Serpentine Gallery. The focus of the exhibition was on his paintings of cartoon character Popeye, as well as inflatable beach and bath toys, including a giant lobster. Koons said he wanted visitors to feel that "their history, their culture is perfect".

Several high-profile authors, including Philip Pullman, announced they were to stop visiting schools in protest at new laws requiring them to be vetted to work with youngsters. Pullman, author of fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, said the idea was "ludicrous and insulting".


Soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa announced she was planning to retire from the opera, after a career spanning four decades. The 65-year-old said she was saying goodbye to the operatic stage because the discipline is "exhausting", but did not plan to give up singing completely.

The Royal Opera House announced it planned to stage an opera created through social networking site Twitter and invited people to submit their "tweets" online to form the new libretto. Excerpts were performed at the Royal Opera House in September.

Advance ticket sales for this year's Edinburgh Fringe were up 20% on 2007 at 395,000, figures showed. Festival officials said "staycation" holidaymakers helped boost sales. The Fringe, which rans until 31 August, included 34,265 performances of 2,098 shows in 265 venues.

The British Library announced it planned to exhibit rarely seen images from the early days of photography in its first ever major photographic exhibition. About 250 original images, including work by 19th century pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot and Julia Margaret Cameron, went on display in London.


German author Herta Mueller was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Romanian-born writer, born in 1953, is renowned for her depiction of the harsh conditions under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime.

The UK's largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure was discovered buried in a field in Staffordshire. The collection of 1,500 gold and silver pieces, which may date to the 7th Century, was said to be worth "a seven-figure sum". Terry Herbert, who found it on farmland using a metal detector, said it "was what metal detectorists dream of".

A solo exhibition of the acclaimed artist Anish Kapoor opened at the Royal Academy, in London. The exhibition, which covered Kapoor's career to date and showcased new works, was visited by 5,000 people per day.


A nude photo of actress Brooke Shields aged 10 was removed from an exhibition at the Tate Modern, following a police pornography probe. Richard Prince's Spiritual America shows Shields from the knees up, naked, oiled and wearing make-up. A Scotland Yard spokesman said it was working with the gallery to ensure they did not "break the law or cause any offence to their visitors".

Author Hilary Mantel was named the 2009 Man Booker Prize winner for her historical novel Wolf Hall. Mantel, 57, beat five other shortlisted authors with her book based on Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell. Judges praised her "extraordinary story-telling".

Polish artist Miroslaw Balka's How It Is became the latest artistic commission to fill the massive Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. The artist described the 30m long, 13m high, and 10m wide pitch-dark chamber as "everything and nothing".

Amazon's Kindle e-book reader went on sale in the UK, prompting fears of a wave of book piracy.


Nottingham Contemporary, the city's new £19m art centre, opened with a David Hockney exhibition, showcasing more than 60 of his works done between 1960 and 1968. It was the first time Hockney's early work had been brought together since 1970.

New legislation was passed to allow national museums in England and Scotland to return artefacts found to have been looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners. Labour MP Andrew Dismore said the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act would "right a long-standing injustice".

Andy Warhol artwork 200 One Dollar Bills fetched big money when it sold in New York for $43.8m (£26.5m) - the second highest auction price for a work by the pop artist. The 1962 silk screen print, which shows 200 life-sized images of dollar bills, had a pre-sale estimate of $8m to $12m (£4.8m to £7.3m) at Sotheby's.

A book about sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church won Canada's main literary award, the Giller Prize. Linden MacIntyre, an investigative journalist who wrote the novel, dedicated his award to "priests and nuns struggling to do their jobs". The prize exclusively honours the best in Canadian fiction writing.


Painter Richard Wright, whose work includes striking, large-scale frescos, won this year's Turner Prize. Wright was presented with the £25,000 prize by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy at Tate Britain in London, with judges praising his "profound originality".

The Royal Academy of Arts was left "very disappointed" after a major exhibition was cancelled because of an export row over a painting belonging to the Prince of Liechtenstein. Paintings from the collection of Prince Hans-Adam II were to be shown at the Royal Academy next autumn, but an unrelated dispute with HM Revenue and Customs led the prince to pull the entire exhibition.

There were mixed reviews for film actress Keira Knightley, who made her West End debut in an updated production of Moliere's 17th-Century classic satire The Misanthrope, at London's Comedy Theatre. Speaking to the BBC before opening night, Knightley said she expected to be "burned alive" by the critics.

The Victoria & Albert Museum opened its new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Ten galleries, occupying an entire wing of the Museum, tell the story of European art and design from the fall of the Roman Empire to the end of the Renaissance period (AD300 to 1600).


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