In art, 2016 was a year in which nothing was quite what it appeared. The National Gallery’s main Old Master show – on the great 17th-century realist painter, and probable murderer, Caravaggio – contained only six Caravaggios. And while it wasn’t a bad exhibition, nothing else in it measured up to those six pictures. Tate Modern relaunched with a new wing and a new view of art history that didn’t contain any actual history.
Most of all, 2016 was the year that British contemporary art squared up to the tenor of the times, and moved on definitively from the YBA era with a new kind of art that was almost impossible to describe.
For the better part of three decades the so-called Young British Artists dominated the art scene and the tabloid headlines with their art of “sensation”: Hirst’s dead shark, Emin’s unmade bed and the rest of it. Long after they had passed their creative peak – approaching...
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