Power 100

Most influential people in 2021 in the contemporary artworld



Artist - A brand name through commercial partnerships and celebrity supporters that few can match

29 in 2021

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Photo: Nils Mueller for Wertical

One criterion for entry onto this list is influence on the public perception of what art is. This influence is sometimes indirect – as in the thinkers whose ideas shape the art that the public encounters in museums – and sometimes direct. KAWS, the Brooklyn-based artist also known as Brian Donnelly, belongs in the latter camp. Starting out as an animator by day and street artist by night, he has, in the past 20 years, achieved a level of brand recognition through commercial partnerships and celebrity supporters that few in the field can match. That brand takes the ubiquitous symbols of commercialised capitalism, most notably Mickey Mouse, and subverts them in a manner too vague to qualify as either critique or celebration. Kid Cudi’s arrival at the Met Gala wearing a KAWS-designed necklace valued at $1m was typical of the artist’s ability to generate buzz, but it is this year’s retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum that suggests his influence on culture might be longer-lasting than many had thought, or hoped.

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