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By Douglas McLennan

Harry Potter-mania, the opening of the Tate Modern in London, and charges of collusion against the world’s major auction houses are among the top arts stories of 2000.

The leaning Tower of Pisa was stabilized. A newly-displayed dinosaur helped make for record museum attendance in Chicago. And anniversary celebrations for JS Bach (250th of his death), Oscar Wilde (100th of his death), Aaron Copland (100th of his birth), and conductor Pierre Boulez (his 75th birthday) kept concert halls and theatres busy.

Broadway scored a record year at the box office – though the much-anticipated “Seussical” and Kelsey Grammer (as Hamlet) flopped, while Elton John’s “Aida” and “The Full Monty” did not. “Cats” and “Miss Saigon” announced they were closing on Broadway, signaling the end of the mega-musical era.

In London, Andrew Lloyd Webber turned from writing musicals to owning theatres, producer Cameron Mackintosh called it quits, and the West End was besotted by Hollywood movie stars - particularly if they took their clothes off.

Management of venerable Carnegie Hall was in turmoil with mass resignations (including, finally, the director), and movie theatre chains almost went out of business in a hangover induced by overbuilding and a lackluster year for quality movies.

The New York Philharmonic spent the year looking for a new music director, as did the Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center both got new top executives, as did the Atlanta Symphony and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The Australian Ballet contributed its artistic director to London's Royal Ballet, and after a massive search at the end of a very bad few years, the Royal Opera House hired a BBCer to run it.

Cleveland lost a ballet company while San Jose gained one. The Scottish Opera teetered on bankruptcy, but still managed to produce extravagant productions. The perpetually-ill Barnes Collection declared another financial emergency and won some bail-out money from the Getty and Pew foundations. And new operas based on literary works were hot with audiences in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Margaret Atwood won the Booker Prize, Susan Sontag the National Book Award, and Gao Xingjian the Nobel Prize for Literature. Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans took the Turner Prize in a remarkably controversy-free year and architect Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker.

Workers at the Museum of Modern Art and members of the Screen Actors Guild went on strike, as did musicians of the Toronto Symphony, which then lost both lost its music and executive directors. The new management will have to deal with a crippling deficit.

The Guggenheim continued its march to global domination with eye-popping plans for New York, Venice and Las Vegas (Rio to follow?).

They found Giotto's bones under the Duomo in Florence, then decided they weren't but reburied them there anyway. In Egypt they discovered another pyramid and found a message Cleopatra supposedly wrote. A new ancient city was found submerged in the Mediterranean, and another was saved from floods in Turkey.

Greece got tired of waiting for Britain to return the Parthenon Marbles and opened a new subway filled with archeological treasures.

Berlin's cultural elite squabbled about money to support its arts institutions, Australia's arts groups got another $70 million from the government, and China had fits about having a Frenchman design a new opera house in the middle of Beijing.

In South Africa the arts seemed to fall apart at the seams; government funding and corporate support melted away and some of the country's most prominent orchestras and dance companies went out of business.

As usual none of America's national politicians seemed to care much about the arts one way or another, though the presidential ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman found it convenient to attack Hollywood for violent films. Still, the National Endowment for the Arts got a $7 million increase after years of battling Congress, and philanthropy for the arts in the US was up a whopping 47 percent. 


The Top Ten Arts Stories of 2000, as chosen by the editors of ArtsJournal.com:

  1. Art Stolen by the Nazis: This was the year the art world got serious about tracking down art that had been stolen by the Nazis in World War II. In February, British museums made public a list of 350 artworks in English museums whose whereabouts during the war couldn’t be accounted for.
         By March major US museums had posted their own lists to the internet. But despite the burst of attention, only a few artworks were reunited with heirs of the original owners
    , and by October representatives from 37 countries met to urge their governments to do more to help repatriate stolen art.

  2. The Auction House Scandals: The art markets surged this year with strong sales and record prices for Picasso and Rembrandt. But Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s two major auction houses, spent much of the year embroiled in government investigations into charges of collusion.
         Top officials at Sotheby’s resigned as hundreds of lawsuits were filed by angry customers. By late in the year the two auction houses had agreed to a $512 million settlement. Lest anyone think the case was over though, the companies proposed to pay $100 million of the claims with coupons for future purchases.

  3. London, City of Arts: London, helped by a huge infusion of cash from the National lottery, spent the year opening new arts buildings. The crown jewel is the new Tate Modern, which was a huge hit, recording a million visitors in the first six weeks after it opened. On the other side of the ledger was the hapless Millennium Dome, which cost £1 billion and which critics derided and the public refused to visit. With an unmitigated disaster on its hands, the Tony Blair government held a fire sale to bail out of it.

  4. Digital Music and the Internet: A year-and-a-half ago, Napster, the nifty software program that lets music lovers trade and download music through the internet hadn’t yet been invented. By October, the company was registering as many as a million users at a time. The recording industry freaked out and sued Napster and MP3.com, the music file sharing service.
         Musicians claimed downloaders were stealing their work, recording companies claimed copyright protection, and sales of recordings? Well, online sales were meager, but sales rose in traditional stores. All of which made some observers wonder if digital downloading hadn’t just made the market bigger. By the end of the year MP3.com had made deals with major record labels, and free music was on the endangered species list

  5. Cultural Plunder and Destruction: Art conservers sounded the alarm about destruction of some of the world’s most important cultural heritage. A British report estimated the value of the international art theft trade at between $1.5-$3 billion a year. The trade is so lucrative, brazen thieves have been hacking the heads off 1,000-year-old statues at Angkor Watt, and cultural sites from China to Guatemala are being plundered and sold on the black market. On the conservation front, officials warned that Venice’s art treasures are being destroyed by acid rain and proposed replacing some of them with copies. And China’s 2,200-year-old terracotta army is being eaten by mold.

  6. Martha Graham Company Shuts Down: One of the 20th Century’s great modern dance companies closed down in May, citing serious debt. But the Graham’s demise also centered around disputes between the company’s board and the Graham heir who owns the rights to the dance pioneer’s choreography. Ongoing attempts to get the company running again failed and by the fall questions were being raised about who really owned Graham’s choreography.

  7. Harry Potter Rules: The latest installment of the Harry Potter series was a bestseller on Amazon weeks before the book was even shipped. Bookstores opened at midnight on the date of publication and held Potter parties to celebrate. Potter-mania even spread to China, where anxious parents scoured stores in search of copies. And author JK Rowling collected an honor from the Queen and became Britain’s highest-paid woman, earning £20.5 million.

  8. Electronic Books: The publishing industry spent the year gnashing its teeth over the promise/threat of electronic publishing. The first e-books started showing up in stores, and everyone seems to agree e-publishing is the road to the future. In the meantime publishers worry about becoming road kill. In March, Stephen King, a book industry unto himself, published a novella online and so many thousands of fans downloaded it that the computers were overwhelmed. King’s later attempt to serialize a novel online sputtered when not enough readers paid the $1-a-chapter King was asking.

  9. A Down Year for Hollywood: Critics complained of a lack of good films, and for much of the year good art films failed to find audiences. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore raised millions in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry, then attacked the movie and TV makers for their violent fare. Civil rights groups attacked producers for their lack of minority hiring. A prolonged strike by the Screen Actors Guild was a distraction and the threat of a writers’ strike next year made producers wary. The number of productions fleeing California for production in Canada turned into a flood. And movie theatre chains, having overbuilt and facing costly digital conversion found themselves awash in red ink.

  10. Animals on Parade: Fiberglass cows on Broadway, moose in Toronto, pigs in Cincinnati – the streets of dozens of American cities were littered with art animals last summer after the success of Chicago’s art cows in 1999. Critics derided the critters as schlock but the public loved them. The populist wave hit museums too. In New York, the Guggenheim mounted a show of Armani clothes. In Las Vegas, Steve Wynn’s gallery at the Bellagio Hotel proved so popular that Washington’ Phillips Collection, the Guggenheim and Russia’s Hermitage all rushed in to secure outlets for their art when Wynn sold the gallery. Everywhere in the art world critics were talking about the merging of art, commerce and popular taste.



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