A look at some of the forces that have defined ArtReview’s Power 100 list
Artists constitute this year’s top ten. What’s apparent is that an artist is now more than just a maker of images and objects, being also a central node in a network of people and a galvanising force for a movement or a community. Last year the list featured a separate category for ‘activist movements’; this year that category has disappeared, arguably because forms of activism, and many of the most activist agendas, are increasingly part of the activities of individual artists. While the UK tabloid the Daily Mail might note that Nan Goldin ‘changed the world of photography’, the fact that it gave her a glowing tribute at all is because ‘she also had a major impact on the pharmaceutical industry’. In truth, for the best artists, Goldin included, the social stuff is indistinguishable from their practice: this might take the shape of Hito Steyerl’s ruminations on war in and out of the gallery; Sammy Baloji’s long-running work on extractivist exploitation; Yinka Shonibare’s support for African and African-diaspora artists in his shows and through his Guest Artists Space (G.A.S.) Foundation; Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s patient, observation-led movements between gallery, cinema and film school; and even Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinners and ping-pong events.
The Power 100 list also takes into account an artist’s wider aesthetic influence – whether an artist could be said to have a ‘school’ gathering around their way of working. The infectious and pestilential work of Candice Lin, for example, is not just prominent, but also corresponds to the branching mycelial growths of our mushroom-laden times; and while AI is a tool that many artists are still struggling to master, Cao Fei remains a leading figure in envisioning our metaverse-tinged future. Cecilia Vicuña has led a resurgence in textile-based making, while Agnes Denes has become a similar touchstone for the ecological turn in art.
Nor is this just about who has been anointed with top shows: while, say, Jeffrey Gibson represents the US at the Venice Biennale next year, he has also finished a year of relentless touring and editing a book that highlights contemporary American Indigenous practices. Indeed, artists from first nations across the world are retaking the territory on which museums and arts institutions were built: from the Karrabing Film Collective in the country now named Australia, to Maya Kaqchikel artist Edgar Calel. Yet one of the things about the artworld is that while it generates a politics designed to challenge those perceived to be in power – the holders of capital, the galleries, the institutions – those in power are equally doing their best to subsume those politics into their prevailing system. It can often appear, as a result, that those in power generated the politics in the first place. It becomes a question, ultimately, of who is leading whom, which is why artists lead this list over their galleries and institutions.
There are 34 artists and 4 artist collectives on the 2023 Power 100
Art Fair Directors
Art fairs are the supermarkets of the artworld: sporadic manifestations of dozens to hundreds of booths at which galleries from around the world showcase and sell their wares. Following recent expansions by both Frieze and Art Basel, they’re extending their franchises. Once you factor in participation fees, shipping and transport, it’s an expensive business. International travel was, of course, curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a consequent effect on the art-fair business; 2022 saw a bounceback in art-fair sales, with 74 percent of the collectors quizzed in an annual Art Basel-UBS survey saying they had made a purchase from an art-fair booth. That energy has not been sustained, however, with only 58 percent reporting spending money in the aisles in 2023 (making art fairs the third most popular place to buy art: direct from galleries being the most popular, and then at auction). The pandemic seems to have killed off a previous trend for smaller, more ‘boutique’ fairs, and the art-fair market has seen expansion and rapid consolidation centred on the two players who feature on this year’s list. Still the marker of gallery success, Art Basel runs its original Swiss event alongside fairs in Hong Kong, Miami Beach and, since last year, Paris, seizing the opportunity to displace the longstanding but struggling FIAC and installing Paris+ par Art Basel in its stead; meanwhile, founded in London, Frieze now has fairs in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Seoul.
Expenditure is up in all markets, though the Art Basel-sponsored survey neatly sidesteps any mention of South Korea, where the second edition of Frieze Seoul took place this year. The general feeling was that the event was still finding its feet, but sales were made, albeit at the lower end of the art market’s price range. Meanwhile, Art Basel’s Asia base, Hong Kong, has fallen from favour as an artworld capital due to politics beyond the art fair behemoth’s control: it saw a 27 percent decrease in galleries taking part compared to its last regular pre-covid edition in 2019. MCH Group, Art Basel’s parent company, seems to be testing the waters in other countries, with investments in Singapore’s Art SG fair and Japan’s Tokyo Art Week, reflecting the importance of the Asia market. The Global South, meanwhile, has only a tentative relationship to these northern (and still Western) institutions, though that might be changing – Art Basel’s home edition this year saw the largest participation of Brazilian galleries, 11 in all, and four from India.
For now, however, Art Basel opened its second edition of Paris+ in October, receiving favourable feedback all around. It’s an expansion that Frieze, owned by US entertainment giant Endeavor, has answered with acquisitions of its own: in July it bought The Armory Show and Expo Chicago, further extending its North American presence. Such expansion illustrates the centralising forces of the art market, and the long-predicted consolidation and globalisation of the once-fragmented and homespun art fair economy. How these increasingly big players respond and adapt to the localities they are steadily assimilating remains to be seen.
There are 2 art fair directors on the 2023 Power 100
Collectors and Philanthropists
Both now and in the past, art has been made with the resources available to those who make it. The link between culture and money is not, in this sense, necessary. But, like it or not, money does buy visibility in a global art scene. And so, when it comes to this list, collectors are the people who, to put it bluntly, buy the art, invest in its success and cough up the cash for projects. Of course, it helps that art is increasingly an asset class that can be leveraged against too. But if there is still a huge global appetite among the very wealthy for the buying of artworks (according to this year’s Art Basel-UBS survey of global collecting, the median spend of contemporary art collectors since 2021 was up almost 20 percent), it’s also the case that the characteristics of collector power have changed in recent years. Two decades ago (ArtReview launched the Power 100 in 2002), even the biggest collectors (some from then are still on the list this year) were known primarily for their accumulation of artworks, a straightforward activity.
Twenty or so years later, merely collecting work is what lesser collectors do. Most of the individuals on this year’s list now assert their largesse in a more complex and active way. They of course spend money on buying art, but the contemporary ubercollector is no longer satisfied with following artistic and intellectual trends and would rather be involved in shaping them. That’s perhaps why almost all the ‘collectors’ on this year’s list have foundations of one form or other, which have established significant physical venues, often in several locations. And while an older generation of collectors were known to establish museum spaces to display the things they owned, the contemporary collector and their foundations are involved in a great deal more: many are run more like large galleries, supporting programmes of rotating exhibitions and new commissions, organising events, supporting artists’ residencies and funding research, staging conferences on cross-disciplinary issues such as neuroscience or climate change and underwriting the curatorial programmes of other (often public) museums and galleries.
Collectors, then, have become far more active and outwardly focused than the term suggests, shaping the space in which artists operate rather than simply buying up their product. In that sense, they have become more like philanthropists than private individuals, which is why they share much in common with big philanthropic organisations, and which is also why the only ‘philanthropist’ on this year’s list is Darren Walker, head of the Ford Foundation, one of the US’s largest grantmaking foundations and a substantial funder of us art museums and their programmes. It’s worth noting that there are just as many collectors on the list as there are museum representatives, and those collectors often have wealth chalked up in billions rather than millions. (The number of billionaires worldwide, the UBS report tells us, has nearly doubled since 2013). With funding cuts and inflationary pressures facing many public institutions, private collectors, philanthropists and their foundations are becoming critical influencers in the programming that public institutions might have once been able to provide by other means.
There are 7 collectors and 1 philanthropist on the 2023 Power 100
What’s a curator? It sounds easy to define: a curator cares for art collections and organises exhibitions. Though the invention of the ‘curator’ in a wider sense is perhaps the epitome of the rise in prominence of contemporary art in the past few decades: a free agent, who thrives off the networking and connections of the neoliberal world, aligning artists and ideas in a range of contexts and circumstances. Every aspect of the artworld, from talks programmes to gift shops, is now ‘curated’. While the globetrotting superstar curators of previous years aren’t as enviable a model as they used to be (or quite as freelance and footloose as they once were), those at the helm of largescale exhibitions (such as Adriano Pedrosa, appointed director of next year’s Venice Biennale) still wield influence in organising agendas and attention beyond the facts of their exhibitions in and of themselves. And yet, it is those working across multiple, often less flashy contexts who seem to point to a wider, more long-term shift, and it’s among curators that one finds some of the greatest change on the list: those who might be working at one institution while still organising a show here and a biennial there, like Natasha Ginwala’s simultaneous involvement in Berlin’s Gropius Bau, the next Sharjah Biennial (slated for 2025) and the much lower-key Colomboscope in Sri Lanka; or Sohrab Mohebbi, who is director of New York’s SculptureCenter while also asking American audiences to confront their country’s international warmongering in the Carnegie International 2022 (which closed earlier this year).
It’s notable too that artists recognise the potency of the role, both as a means of amplifying their own ideas and as a way of placing them in discussion with those of their contemporaries, with Ibrahim Mahama curating the Ljubljana Biennale of Graphic Arts, and Rirkrit Tiravanija organising the Thailand Biennale; not forgetting the ongoing ripples of last year’s Documenta, orchestrated by ruangrupa, that year’s no 1. It is among curators, also, that we find parallels with the role of activist-artist, in those who are foregrounding and leading long-term drives to bring Indigenous artists and ecological thinking to wider audiences: from Carcross/Tagish First Nation curator Candice Hopkins at Forge Project and Lucia Pietroiusti as the Serpentine Galleries’ Head of Ecologies, to Brazilian Indigenous curator Sandra Benites and Yorta Yorta curator Kimberley Moulton, who has recently been appointed adjunct curator at London’s Tate Modern. So while artists (and artists acting as curators) might lead this year’s list, it is the curators figuring later in the list who may be shaping the institutions of the future.
There are 19 curators on the 2023 Power 100
What’s a gallerist’s job? To promote the work of their artist clients, raising the work’s visibility and desirability in the process, and providing these artist clients with an income (preferably an increasing one) while, as the flipside to this, maintaining a stable and growing list of collector clients, and equally satisfying their needs and wants. Effectively gallerists are the artworld’s middle people; connecting points in the network of individuals that constitute the Power list. The past few years have been a rollercoaster for commercial galleries – closing doors during the pandemic, events and fairs cancelled, some surviving through wielding the blunt but seemingly effective tool of the Online Viewing Room. Now, with the memory of COVID slowly fading, it’s mostly back to business as usual. Which means a continued slant towards largescale galleries (which approach the status and workings of public institutions) with feet on multiple continents, representing huge rosters of artists (people joining Hauser & Wirth, Gagosian and David Zwirner or bouncing between them), and a widening gap between the global footprint of a megagallery and everyone else. As such, some names who haven’t been on the list in a few years, like Jay Jopling, Thaddaeus Ropac, Emmanuel Perrotin and Felipe Dmab, Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood, make a return this year, to acknowledge these manoeuvres.
This is, of course, also just the old-fashioned Eurocentric view. As things continue to shift in Asia, there are multiple hubs for the art market, with cities like Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai all upping their games. On the other hand, some galleries, like Kolkata’s Experimenter and Accra’s Gallery 1957, work beyond their physical square-meterage to build wider networks in their cities and internationally.
There are 16 gallerists on the 2023 Power 100
These are the individuals who gatekeep the hallowed halls of art’s institutions, carefully controlling what comes in and what is put out in the form of exhibitions. Of course, the question becomes: is it the institution itself that confers weight, or the person leading it? Behind each director is inevitably a team that makes the programme what it is, and while museums are represented here by individuals, it is the sum of an institution’s parts that places them on the list.
There’s the question too of what precisely a museum is for. Depending on where you are in the world and which ones you live next to, the museum’s function certainly varies: developer and explainer of national consciousness and spirit, publisher of new ideas, cathedral of beauty; entertainment provider, temple of luxuries, scriptorium of histories; graveyard of unpopular culture or something fundamentally irrelevant to everyday life as it is experienced. They may equally position themselves as generators of art history and more generally as artistic research laboratories. More importantly, while a museum is something that presents itself as stable and timeless (through architecture or sentiment), it’s really a fluid concept. Exploring that fluidity (as say Hong Kong’s M+ does through its deployment of interconnected art, design and popular culture collections) can be just as powerful as doubling down on the stability (as is more often the case with institutions in the Western hemisphere). What’s not in doubt, however, is the fact that museums are the vessels that embed art in the public’s social, political and aesthetic consciousness.
Today’s most influential museum models are much more active and more closely intertwined with the art networks and economies they inhabit in their part of the world. As public spaces, it is museums that have had to bear the highest scrutiny of accountability, intended to hold the ideals of representation, fairness, accessibility and sustainability, at a time when, culturally and politically, sitting on the fence is no longer an option. It’s a difficult balancing act, and the museums on this year’s list, largely occupying its middle ranks, are those that aim to find different ways of addressing that.
But where, geographically, this is taking place is also changing. The list has, in past years, been dominated at the top by the big buildings in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Berlin. Now the big conversations are just as likely being conducted in Singapore or Tokyo. While Adriano Pedrosa ranks highest of the directors on this year’s list, it isn’t just as curator of the forthcoming Venice Biennale, but also for the way, under his directorship, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo has carried out its focused programming umbrellaed under yearlong themes. Meanwhile, Koyo Kouoh at Zeitz MOCAA uses the institution to cultivate a larger artistic ecology in the area. Today, as art and its activisms are expanding too, the fundamental question is, can any institution realistically keep up?
There are 7 museum directors on the 2023 Power 100
Nothing comes from nothing, as Parmenides used to argue. Accordingly, running along and within the practical and financial machinations of art- and exhibition-making are the ideas that shape the understanding of what artists do, and just as often have a big influence on how artists themselves think about their art; ideas generated by the writers, philosophers and theorists who are turned to for inspiration and provide the tools to dig deeper. Whether it’s inspiring whole bodies of work or providing the name for an exhibition or biennial – such as a line from Anna L. Tsing’s oft-quoted Mushroom at the End of the World (2015) providing the title for this year’s Helsinki Biennial, New Directions May Emerge – to getting name-checked in reviews and studio visits, thinkers might not always be the most visible or active figures in the artworld themselves, but their ideas will often be spreading like wildfire. While ‘thinkers’, as a category of entries on the Power 100, has only been part of the list for the past ten years, they are an integral part of understanding the how and why of current art.
And yet, it was not, it can be said, a year for big pie-in-the-sky ideas or revelatory insights. (Unless, given the weather and wars, ‘Armageddon’ is considered as such.) Perhaps, in times of conflict, people turn to familiar ideas, with most of the names on this year’s list having become prominent during the ponderous pandemic years. What is apparent, though, is that people like thinkers who are also doers: if not activists who speak out regularly, like Judith Butler, Paul B. Preciado and Sara Ahmed, then usefully punchy and quotable authors, like Byung-Chul Han. Teju Cole enters the list, as a novelist and writer, who with his recent book Tremor (2023) is becoming increasingly noted by artists; and while Manthia Diawara, also newly entered, is both a filmmaker and a writer, the films are his means of dissemination, reaching a wide audience to consider issues of decolonial thinking. Those like Fred Moten (who pops up himself in a number of artworks), Donna Haraway and Saidiya Hartman might have been quieter themselves, but their ideas of intersectional entanglement and convergence remain on everyone’s minds.
There are 10 thinkers on the 2023 Power 100