Away from the big festivals, edgy artists proved their mettle and made it a year to remember The international art scene this year is probably best remembered for the major events of the summer - the Venice Biennale, Art Basel, Munster Sculpture Projects and Documenta to name just the few - all those record-breaking auctions, and the crippling strike in New York last month that shut down most Broadway shows around the Thanksgiving holidays. But there were also 'alternative' events that made this year's global arts scene memorable and bizarre. It was the year that naked male figures basked on rooftops all around London, 'Harry Potter' went naked in the West End, the West End found its musical stars by public vote, and a diamond-encrusted skull was put on sale for GBP50 million (HK$775 million). The London arts year started in January when sculptor Mark Wallinger (plus 15 assistants) painstakingly recreated a one-man anti-war protest outside the Houses of Parliament for a show at Tate Britain, entitled State Britain. The work subsequently won Wallinger the Turner Prize this month. Just along the South Bank, the builders finally left the Royal Festival Hall in June after being on site for two years. Some commentators suggested it looked much the same, although the Festival Hall said this was one of its aims - with all of the original seating reconstructed piece by piece - and emphasised the 'stunning rooftop terraces and riverside cafes' of the reopened area. The opening was celebrated by sculptor Antony Gormley placing life-size sculptures of himself, naked, standing on rooftops all over the South Bank, leading some people to think that the place was filled with would-be suicides. June was also the month that Brit artist Damien Hirst's For the Love of God - actually a cast of a skull in platinum and covered with diamonds - was unveiled. When it was put on sale for GBP50 million, some were sceptical, but it was snapped up by an investment company almost immediately. Cynics pointed out that Hirst himself appeared to be one of the investors. This month, as the media did its annual trawl of nativity scenes (or lack of them - apparently most British schools no longer stage nativity plays), it was discovered that poetry reading in primary schools is also drastically down. But more than half of primary students could probably name some of the West End's newest stars - after all they had voted for at least one of them. When 26-year-old Lee Mead was voted by the British public as the new face of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, eight million people tuned in. The show is sold out until after Easter. Most other commercial theatre could not compete, but virtually all tickets for Peter Shaffer's Equus at the Aldwych were also snapped up even quicker than a diamond skull when they first went on sale. Perhaps because it was a classic dark story about a 17-year-old boy finding freedom and spiritual understanding through a horse. Or perhaps because it had Daniel Radcliffe - aka Harry Potter - stripping in the lead role. And when he had to take all his clothes off, many of his female fans were pleasantly surprised to find that he had grown up rather nicely. When the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, went to see the play, she went backstage afterwards. 'In the next film,' she joked to Radcliffe, 'Harry's going to be naked all the time!' In Los Angeles, Japanese art was all the rage. Among the highest-profile and most elaborate shows of the year was the one organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art to showcase the whimsical madness of Takashi Murakami. The opening of the sprawling, two-month event was hosted by Louis Vuitton, and as a result drew celebrities such as Cindy Crawford and Ellen DeGeneres. Kanye West laid on the entertainment. Still, it was all about the art - the wildly colourful pieces soaked in pop culture that have become Murakami's signature. Now more than halfway through its run, the exhibit is still pulling in the punters. It was a much more sober, though equally illustrious, scene at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose Pavilion for Japanese Art is hosting two separate five-month exhibitions, running concurrently: Japanese Painting - Calligraphy and Image and Japanese Prints - Word/Poem/Picture. The focus was on pieces from the 18th century featuring calligraphy and poetry. Motifs of Zen Buddhism abounded, as did the lush brushstrokes synonymous with classical Japanese art. For those who wanted a dose of Japanese culture without having to get in their cars, the Pacific Asia Museum opened Nature of the Beast - Japanese Paintings and Prints, an online exhibition. The museum's website takes visitors on a tour of the pieces, grouped in the categories of tradition, reality and imagination. There are monochromatic prints and prints inspired by manga, many based on artworks that go as far back as the 16th century. The Web tour also encourages visitors to be art critics, allowing them to contribute their thoughts on the work. And Japanese art would be nothing without a little wackiness. At the Pasadena Museum of California Art, Beyond Ultraman - Seven Artists Explore the Vinyl Frontier paid homage to the vinyl toys that form part of the iconography of Japanese popular culture. The pieces were bold, vivid, colourful and kitsch ... and could almost have been mistaken for something by Murakami. Back in Asia, Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura's series of self-portraits had people talking when it was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei as part of its Fashion Accidentally exhibition in May. Morimura dressed up as a number of female movie stars in an exploration not only of art and fashion but also gender. Taiwan continues to produce some of the most edgy artists, who have worked not only locally but also on the mainland and in the west this year. Performance artist Yeh Yi-li, for instance, has lived in Taipei, Paris and Beijing in the past 12 months. Fellow performance artist Cheng Shih-chun, who's known for using self-mutilation and defecation in his pieces, has completed his military service and has promised to create a more uplifting body of work centred on rock music. The island is also getting serious in positioning itself as a major player on the regional visual arts scene, with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum recently announcing that the city would be throwing its hat into the ring and competing head on with the other Asian biennials, especially Singapore's. The Taipei Biennial will open next September and the museum's new director, Hsieh Hsiao-yun, ruffled a few feathers this month when she called Shanghai 'a black hole - everybody goes there'. Watch this space.