A month-by-month retrospective of 2014’s most viral art

The Internet has made phenomenal, high-quality art more accessible than ever. We saw, we swooned, we shared! From amazing amateur artists to enormous professional installations, these artworks and artists made this an exciting creative year. We scoured social media, creative websites and art blogs, and these are the pieces that saw the most love.

It’s so amazing when art goes viral, because it elevates and enhances the international conversation that happens online, and provides a different perspective on contemporary news and culture. Maybe the most exciting thing that happens when art goes viral is that tons of people get inspired by amazing work.

A lot of the art that went viral this year had political and social messages — works like Banksy’s amazing street art to Swoon’s climate change installation. Here are the top viral artworks of 2014, month-by-month.

January: Kim Nguyen’s “Anthros”

In January, Vietnamese digital artist Kim Nguyen’s amazing “Anthros” series spread across the web. Nguyen (aka Zarnala) is a graphic illustrator, and the “Anthros” series features animals personifying humans. These illustrations just ooze attitude. They’re so graphic and feel so human, and that’s why they went viral on art blogs and creative platforms.

February: Zanele Muholi’s “Of Love and Loss”

Zanele Muholi (left in the photo above) is an award-winning South African photographer and inspiring gay rights activist. Her recent show, “Of Love & Loss,” opened in February 2014 at Stevenson Gallery. It showcased images of both weddings and funerals in South Africa’s post-Apartheid LGBT community, celebrating love, through joy and pain. While her 2013 “Faces and Places” series gained great media coverage, this 2014 show cemented her as a global leader in the LGBT arts.

March: Rosson Crow, Francesca DiMattio, and Mickalene Thomas’ “Domestic Unrest”

Mickalene Thomas is one of the most unique artists working today. This spring, she collaborated with two other powerful artists, Rosson Crow (pictured below) and Francesca DiMattio, on a group show called “Domestic Unrest.” The show, which opened at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in March 2014, challenges some important stereotypes about women and work. It was listed as one of the most anticipated shows of 2014 by Complex.

April: Swoon’s “Submerged Motherlands”

Caledonia Curry, known as Swoon, creates fantastic, immersive installations. In April 2014, her “Submerged Motherlands” piece opened at the Brooklyn Museum. This beautiful multimedia installation deals with femininity, motherhood, climate change and even the concept of Mother Earth. It’s a stunningly complex and gorgeous installation by one of Brooklyn’s most talented. It was supported by a series of widely-viewed videos created by the Brooklyn Museum, where Swoon answers viewer questions about her work and the inspirations.

May: Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” & Jessica Harrison’s “FLASH”

If you don’t know about Kara Walker by now, it’s definitely time to get involved with her stellar work. Walker deals with history, particularly the history of race relations in America, and “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” a giant sculpture made of sugar, in the old Domino Sugar factory is no exception.

In this piece, Walker is inverting elitist traditions, making references to the oppressed people who would have harvested the sugar. If you have 10 minutes, watch this brilliant video where she explains her work. It was recently listed by HuffPo as one of the best exhibitions of 2014 (along with a couple other artists on this list).

June: Jeff Koons’ “A Retrospective” & Various Artists’ Street Art in Brazil

Jeff Koons is one of the most well-known and respected artists working today . Exhibit A: That balloon dog sculpture! The Whitney Museum staged a retrospective of his work that had social media entirely abuzz, both because of the graphic nature of his work and his popularity. His pieces are pop, playful, sexual, and really fun.

In June, street art took center stage as soccer’s World Cup serendipitously highlighted the vibrant and compelling street art scene in Brazil. The global spotlight on Rio showcased the art that celebrated, challenged and protested the spectacle that is the World Cup. Artist Paolo Ito’s painting of a starving child with only a soccer ball on his plate went viral, bringing attention to the harsh extremes in Brazilian culture, and has catapulted his work to the mainstream.

July: Kurt Pershke’s “Redball Project”

You may have seen a Shell ripoff of The Redball Project on television ads lately, but if you haven’t, it’s a phenomenal, public, international art installation. The Redball Project is a huge, inflatable red ball that is put in unusual, crazy situations, created by Perschke. Sometimes it’s squished between pillars, sometimes it’s rolling down public streets, sometimes it’s in city centers. This playful, powerful piece is a reminder of the magnitude and impact of interactive art.

August: The United Kingdom’s “Art Everywhere”

This August, London launched an amazing public art awareness campaign called “Art Everywhere.” Designed to exhibit great art on a large scale, pieces were plastered on more than 30,000 billboards around the UK. The best part? All the pieces showcased in the campaign were chosen by the public via the campaign’s Facebook page.

September: Ai Weiwei’s “@Large”

Ai Weiwei is one of the most famous artists working today, and one of the most active on social media. His radical and revolutionary work, which has even taken on the Chinese government and landed him in jail, has made him an art world hero. For @Large, Ai Weiwei went to Alcatraz to make a powerful statement. This enormous seven-part installation made audiences question the nature of our freedom, and set social media ablaze with pictures and commentary.

October: Banksy’s “Girl with a Pierced Eardrum” & Aristarkh Chernyshev’s “Userpic”

Everyone knows of Banksy, but almost no one knows who he (she????) is. That’s why rumors that he’d been arrested sent the art world (and the Internet) into a tizzy. Though the rumors turned out to be false (check out Jezebel’s amazing response), the Internet went wild, sharing and posting the piece associated with his arrest. “Girl with a Pierced Eardrum,” a mind-blowing version of Vermeer’s famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” is an awesome tribute to his power as an artist and a pioneer.

UserPic videosculpture by Aristarkh Chernyshev. 2014 from Aristarkh Chernyshev on Vimeo.

This is another piece that plays on the idea of “masterpieces.” Unlike some of the celebrity artists on this list, Aristarkh Chernyshev doesn’t have a massive international following or a household name. But his recent video sculpture, “Userpic,” really caught the Internet’s all-seeing eye. Created as part of Lightfest, a Russian festival of light and art in Moscow, this piece is a curved sculpture that showcases constantly moving, warped images of classical artistic masterpieces. “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” makes an appearance here, too.

November: New Zealand’s “Art in the Dark”

If you didn’t see pictures of last month’s “Art in the Dark” festival, which was attended by more than 50,000 people, we’re here with your recap. This art and light festival in New Zealand seems tailor-made for the Internet. As the name implies, this is an huge festival of artwork that plays with light and is hosted primarily at night. The glowing artwork in Auckland is really inspiring, and a cool way to celebrate this medium. Attendees were super-engaged on the Facebook page, and Instagram became a perfect outlet for sharing the stunning photos of the festival.

December: Jennifer Williams’ “What My Daughter Wore” 

You may have read about “What My Daughter Wore” earlier this month on HelloGiggles. If you didn’t, you’re going to be amazed. Artist and mother Jennifer Williams drew her daughter’s outfit every single day for two years, and her absolutely gorg drawings will make you smile. The love is just so clear in her work. And her daughter’s fearless style may even remind us all that fashion and explorations of identity are supposed to be fun and freeing.

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