Visual Art in 2008: How the Tate was given a good run for its money

Abstraction rose from the grave, but the art world has lost the man who created the blank canvas

I never thought I'd write these words, but the best piece of art I saw in 2008 was conceptual. Martin Creed's Work No 850, popularly known as "The Tate Sprinters", saw a sequence of athletes pounding down the Duveen Galleries' marbled halls at one-minute intervals from July to November, their hell-for-leather dash turned from heroism to pathos by the sheer vastness of the space. It was heart-stopping.

For me, Work No 850 has changed Tate Britain for ever: I'll never go there again without hearing the spectral footfalls of Creed's runners, waiting for them to speed past, strong and intent, Attic and frail. And what is art for if not transformation?

Turkey of the year

Turkeys being American, mine is the judgement handed down by Judge Stanley Ott who, in May, dismissed a petition in a Pennsylvania court to stop the Barnes Foundation from being moved. Founded in 1922 by an irascible medic of that name, the Barnes is pure magic – a suburban neo-Renaissance villa full of Picassos and Cézannes, with a site-specific mural, La Danse, by Matisse. It is one man's vision, a relic of his generosity and passion. But Philadelphia's porkbarrel politicians have decided, in the abused name of "accessibility", that Dr Barnes's collection should be shifted to a soulless new building on a city centre highway. If it goes ahead, the move will constitute one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism in American history. Join the protest at www.barnesfriends.org.



Face of the year

Not, oddly, a new face but an old one – Sir Norman Rosenthal, who retired from the Royal Academy in January after 31 years spent organising its exhibitions. Often loathed, occasionally loved, sometimes punched on the nose, the pugnacious Rosenthal took the RA from a musty club for shires painters to the international art hotspot it is today. While putting on such classical biggies as The Genius of Rome in 2003, the outgoing head of exhibitions also showcased new work – most famously, that of the Young British Artists in Sensation in 1997. As a result, Royal Academicians now number Gary Hume and Tracey Emin in their ranks. But for Rosenthal there might not be an RA today: on which grounds alone, Hail, Sir Norman, and farewell.



Newcomer of the year

Tomma Abts' 2006 Turner Prize win was a sign that abstraction was not quite gone from the earth, and an exhibition in June by a young German-Italian artist, Esther Stocker, was another. What I Don't Know About Space at Museum 52 was her London debut. Using nothing but genius and black sticky-tape, Stocker turned the gallery into something between a 3-D Bridget Riley and an inside-out Daniel Buren. Stocker's games of space and line were mesmerising. They were also strangely funny, as though the pinstripe-order of British society had suddenly come unstuck. Every now and then, you despair that old-fashioned formalism has disappeared beneath the dead hand of concept. And then a wonder like Stocker comes along to prove you wrong. Hurrah.



R.I.P.

Robert Rauschenberg, who died in May at the age of 82. Long before the Chapmans were drawing red noses on Goyas – before they were twinkles in Mrs Chapman's eye, in fact – Rauschenberg was rubbing out a de Kooning drawing to produce Erased de Kooning (1953). His Combines of the early 1950s paved the way for modern installation art by cultifying mounds of trash; his 1951 show of blank white canvases led one abstract expressionist to snap, "If this is modern art, I quit." If Rauschenberg himself peaked too early – his best work was done by 1960 – his willingness to embrace the peripheral and scabrous made him the greatest artistic influence on the generations that have followed: it is hard to imagine most of the YBAs without a Rauschenberg having existed. "Screwing things up is a virtue," he said. "Being right is never the point". Gor' bless 'im, one and all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world