The 2010s in Art: A Decade of Astounding Auctions, Instagram Aesthetic and Subversive Art

Art Wise

Every decade, century and millennium since the beginning of time has been greatly influenced and determined by the ones preceding it. The world of art has had a tumultuous decade, with the headline-hogging mammoth sale of the ‘Salvador Mundi’, the iconic shredding of Banksy’s ‘Girl With Balloon’ painting, art that has made powerful political statements, and much more.

As we put a bow on the 2010s, take a look at the biggest instances and developments that inspired, shaped and shook the art world in the last ten years.

1. Art for the ‘Gram

The decade was largely defined by the emergence of the Instagram culture, after the app launched in 2010 and users began Instagramming their outfits, meals and relationships with disturbing dedication. The art world caught on swiftly and art shows have been tagged by how Instagrammable they are, following Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirror Room’ installation in 2013. Instagram feeds were flooded with the scene of endless glittering lights converging on a figure in a dark room, with a camera partially hiding their face.

Yayoi Kusama's 'Infinity Mirror Room' (Photo credit: Bored Panda)

The artwork, which uses infinity mirrors, lights and strung objects to create an otherworldly experience, attracted visitors in hordes, looking for the perfect image for their Instagram profiles. With artists increasingly using their Instagram accounts to exhibit their work, the art world’s engagement with the social media platform has only been growing, and is definitely on the rise as we step into the next decade.

2. Art Straight Off the Internet

Art galleries of all sizes have invested in their online spaces this decade, with the trend of buying artworks online growing in popularity. A more convenient and cheaper alternative to buying art fair booths, small and medium sized galleries are embracing the selling strategy. Art collectors consider purchasing art online as seriously as from physical spaces, and galleries are expected to increase their investment in their online capabilities over the next decade.

Online art gallery

According to the annual Online Art Trade Report 2019, the online art market grew 9.8% in 2018 and online art sales for 2018 totalled to $4.64 billion. With online viewing rooms and portals off the gallery website where potential buyers can see works situated in living spaces, the online art space is here to stay.

3. Figurative Art Gets Political

Figurative art saw a revival in the 2010s, with representation becoming a focal point. Marginalised groups have been prominent in art shows, with artists looking into their own identities and communities for inspiration. Historically oppressed bodies of women and the black community dominated the narrative, with artworks making strong, inclusive statements.

An artwork by Mickalene Thomas (Photo credit: Artsy/Mickalene Thomas Studio)

Artists such as Mickalene Thomas, whose proud, black, lesbian gaze has given visibility to an entire section of people who have been side-lined for ages, were celebrated. Art history is rife with pendulum swings and seismic shifts, and according to art experts, the 2020s will see the art world moving from figurative, back to contemporary abstraction.

Mickalene Thomas (Photo credit: Financial Times)

4. Street Art Goes Mainstream

Street art received a lot of attention this decade, starting with Banksy, the most prominent street artist gone mainstream. The British artist, activist and provocateur can be tagged as the phenomenon of the decade, with his 2018 auction house stunt in which his renowned painting ‘Girl With Balloon,’ shredded itself upon being sold for £1 million.

'Girl With Balloon' by Banksy (Photo credit:

Banksy brought the decade to an end on a warm note with another political statement in his subversive style. The artist combined compassion and the spirit of Christmas in a mural in Birmingham, England, depicting two magical reindeer pulling a bench that the homeless use as a bed, into the night sky.

Banksy's Christmas mural (Photo credit: Economic Times)

Following this, yet another Banksy artwork gained popularity – ‘The Scar of Bethlehem,’ which features a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, with a large bullet hole against a grey backdrop, instead of a star. The artist, who has made statements on the Palestine-Israel conflict earlier too, draws attention to the formidable state of affairs in Bethlehem through his latest artwork.

'The Scar of Bethlehem' by Banksy (Photo credit: Fox News/AP Photo)

The conversation around high-brow vs. popular culture is in the spotlight, with street art becoming a part of art shows and being widely appraised. Politics and culture have always been interlaced with art but this decade saw politics in art becoming all the more significant and mainstream.

5. A Booming Voice of Dissent

In April 2011, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was held captive by Chinese officials for 81 days. A huge hit to freedom of expression and the right to dissent, one of the most outspoken artists of our time had been silenced. The artist, known for calling attention to human rights violations through his works, had expressed outrage over the Chinese Communist Party’s governance. His famous art installation, 'Straight,' is made of about 90 tonnes of reinforcing steel bars, which were mangled and twisted in the devastating magnitude 8 Sichuan earthquake of 2008. The rods were all straightened by hand and shipped from China for the Royal Academy of Arts show in London.

'Straight' by Ai Weiwei (Photo credit: Artsy)

Ai Weiwei recreated the image of drowned infant Alan Kurdi to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees
(Photo credit: The Guardian/Instagram)

Once released, Ai Weiwei emerged with renewed enthusiasm and productivity and held shows around the world. Contributing to the global wave of voicing dissent through art, he continued creating art that revolved around the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Social revolution has played a prominent role in shaping art in the 2010s. Posters, pop artworks and graffiti from the Hong Kong protests are all loud expressions of dissent through art, and have sparked the interest of art lovers everywhere.

Ai Weiwei (Photo credit: Vox/Getty Images)

6. Last Da Vinci and A Banana Sweep Auctions

‘Salvator Mundi,’ a 500-year-old portrait of a solemn Jesus Christ, marketed by Christie’s as “the last Da Vinci,” was sold for a record-breaking $450.3 million in December 2019. The artwork was bought by an anonymous Saudi prince who turned out to be a proxy for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Bidding over the phone, the artwork was sold to the prince, who is believed to have whisked it away to his private yacht, ‘Serene,’ which is now sailing in unknown waters, along with the last ever Leonardo Da Vinci painting.

'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo Da Vinci (Photo credit: Artnet News/AFP)

The blockbuster art sale of the decade stirred up the age-old debate of commercial worth vs. aesthetic value. The latest sale of the duct-taped banana at Art Basel, Miami, brings the decade to a fittingly ironic end, and has left many wondering, “Has the art world gone completely bananas?”

The artwork, ‘Comedian,’ by Italian artist and absurdist Maurizio Cattelan, was priced at $120,000. Taking the absurdity of it all to a whole new level, Georgian artist David Datuna entered the scene and ate the ‘Comedian.’ Datuna called his performance art piece ‘Hungry Artist,’ and instantly went viral. The duct-taped banana has taken conceptual art to new heights, and as we cross over to the next decade, the question of whether the art world has indeed, gone bananas, continues to loom.

'Comedian' by Maurizio Cattelan (Photo Credit: Vogue/Shutterstock)

7. Indian Art Breaks Auctions

The commercial value of big names in the Indian art landscape like S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain and Tyeb Mehta has shot through the roof this decade – the upward swing had begun in the 2000s. Indian modern artist S.H. Raza’s ‘Saurashtra’ was sold for a whopping $3.48 million at a Christie’s auction in June 2010, kicking the decade off with a collective gasp from the Indian art space. Following this, artworks from Indian artists have continued to draw big bids in international auctions.

In 2015, an untitled artwork by V.S. Gaitonde became the most expensive Indian painting sold in an auction, fetching $4.4 million at a Christie's auction. The same year, 'Birth', by modern India master F.N. Souza sold for a sum north of $4 million at a Christie's auction. In 2016, Raja Ravi Varma’s ‘Radha in the Moonlight’ was sold for $3.2 million at a Pundole’s auction and in 2018, modernist Indian artist Tyeb Mehta’s ‘Kali’ was sold at $3.7 million at a Saffronart auction.

'Radha in the Moonlight' by Raja Ravi Varma (Photo Credit: The Tallenge Store)

8. A Decade Marked by Loss

While the 2010s saw immense growth for Indian art, it was also marked by the loss of some of India’s most acclaimed artists. One of the greatest Indian artists of all time, Maqbool Fida Husain (M.F. Husain), known as India’s Picasso, passed away in 2011 in London, where he was living in self-imposed exile. Husain had left India in 2006, after persistent threats from religious extremist groups for his portrayal of Hindu deities. However, Husain continues to be the face of modern Indian art, with his artworks displayed and in collections all over the world.

Artist M.F. Husain (Photo credit: The New York Times)

The decade also witnessed the loss of legendary modern artist Syed Haider Raza (S.H. Raza). After a prolonged illness, Raza passed away in 2016 in Delhi, aged 94. Instantly recognisable by his works which feature geometric figures, Raza had built a towering legacy of modern art in his lifetime.

From top to bottom: Artists S.H. Raza and Ram Kumar
(Photo Credit: Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Noted Indian artist Ram Kumar, who was a contemporary of Husain and Raza, passed away in 2018 in Delhi. Along with Husain and Raza, Ram Kumar was also associated with the Indian modernist scene, though his paintings were mostly those of abstract landscapes. With Ram Kumar’s demise, Indian art has lost one of the last members of an epic generation of artists, who, with their distinct ideas and clear artistic beliefs, changed the landscape of modern Indian art forever.

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