The ArtReview Power 100, the list of the 100 most influential people and movements in the artworld in 2022, is out now. Here is a look at some of the forces that have shaped this year’s list.
What does it mean to be an artist in 2022? Increasingly, it might not be so much a question of medium or what form artists are working in, but more a question of how. While large, figurative paintings might shape the majority of what circulates at art fairs, as well as much of this year’s Venice Biennale, it’s a far cry from the community centres and project spaces where much of today’s other versions of art are actually taking place.
This year, ruangrupa top the list, as the first artist collective to have done so. Artists have only been placed in the pole position five times previously, with Damien Hirst first, in 2005, and again in 2008, followed later by Ai Weiwei (2011) and Hito Steyerl (2017). Though, of course, this isn’t a competition but a long, hard look in the mirror: ruangrupa’s presence reflects a shift away from the solo artist and discrete art products, and more towards ways of working that are discursive, dispersed and, at times, contradictory. It also reflects on the importance of the role of the artist as activist, on the artist as an organising vector (see Rirkrit Tiravanija, Brook Andrew and Zanele Muholi), as well as the increased necessity to work collectively (Karrabing Film Collective and blaxtarlines).
It is indicative – of what might entirely depend on your perspective – that artists make up just over a third of the Power 100 list. Some might think that the list should be only artists, given that the art is why we’re all here anyway, right? Though ask any artist, no matter how established, about how they feel and you’ll get a long list of barriers and restraints. Others might think artists have no place here at all, as the work filters through the layer cake of galleries, fairs, museums, collections and auction houses, a world unto itself of exchange. Though, despite any of that, art’s place is to celebrate, challenge, inspire, renew, disrupt: it holds a potential to both have power and be wilfully antipower at the same time. The viewing, exchange and importance of this erratic and ambivalent art is part of a web of systems that, paradoxically, ArtReview attempts each year to survey anew and remap.
For the artists featured here, ArtReview’s panel considers the various strata of influence: not just if someone’s work has been exhibited and actually seen, but also the longer tail of influence beyond just the whitewashed walls of galleries and museums. A question that comes up consistently is whether an artist might be said to have their own school, of followers, adherents and imitators. This isn’t about the ‘best’ artist, or even the most successful; it’s about what art is helping to articulate the present and actively shaping the art of the near future.
While this list navigates various types of power and influence in the artworld, and how they interrelate, the easiest type to understand is sheer financial clout. And if the economic contraction caused by the pandemic led to a decrease in worldwide art-buying by the rich (which may have had less to do with access to funds than to opportunity, given that fairs and galleries were closed, and online sales provided less of the social allure that often accompanies getting the credit card out), the ensuing economic contraction (helped along by the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and cost-of-living crisis for most has not halted a return of confidence among the very rich. The high-net-worth individuals surveyed by UBS and Art Basel this year revealed that on average collectors bought more last year than in 2020, and expected to buy twice as many artworks in 2022. Indeed spending in the first half of 2022 nearly doubled that in all of prepandemic 2019, with the sales of works over $1m returning to roughly the same level.
Yet the amount a person has in the bank, and the amount they’re splashing out, is not the only proviso for a collector to make themselves known here: indeed, while the likes of Swiss pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann and Chinese property magnate Adrian Cheng are undoubtedly very rich indeed, and spend a lot on art, there are plenty of their even wealthier art-buying billionaire brethren whose names are absent. Rather it’s that their support for art is not just personal, or purely transactional, but results in an almost evangelical dedication to spreading the word about the artists they love (coupled, for pair the above, with a newfound zeal for NFTs, joining the UBS/Art Basel collectors, who on average spent $46,000 apiece on art-based NFTs in the first half of 2022), through various education programmes and their financial support of innovative and sometimes risky artistic projects or productions.
For Hoffmann, Cheng, Miuccia Prada, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Julia Stoschek, this is done primarily via their private institutions, invariably staffed by museum curators lured away from the public sector, mounting intellectually ambitious projects. (Hoffmann’s Luma Foundation boasts Hans Ulrich Obrist and Tom Eccles as non-executive artistic codirectors; HUO moonlighted from his Serpentine job again for Stoschek, curating a show on art and gaming, and for Sandretto, curating the inaugural performance on her new island setting in Venice and an exhibition by Michael Armitage in Madrid; former Nationalgalerie chief Udo Kittelmann curated a show this year for Fondazione Prada in collaboration with artist Taryn Simon; even ArtReview got in on the game, organising the group show Breaking the Waves for Cheng’s K11 Art Foundation earlier this year). For others – not least Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, Kadist’s Vincent Worms, Nadia and Rajeeb Samdani, and Nicolas Berggruen – and in a rebuke to Claude Lévi-Strauss’s maxim that objects are what matter (‘only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings’), it is through backing external shows (as well as, in some cases, producing their own) and hosting residencies and conferences that they extend their influence, in the process often championing artistic practices (or indeed entire geographies) that have long been neglected or overlooked by the mainstream.
‘Curators are essential,’ Koyo Kouoh told a curatorial forum at this year’s Expo Chicago. Perhaps, in that the Cameroonian-born executive director and chief curator of Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA was recognising that there have been times when they haven’t appeared to be such a fundamental part of the artworld. Certainly, she argued, they are underfunded (despite, in the US, so many curators having a patron’s name attached to their job titles), but also their role is misunderstood. They’re not simply flower arrangers, or protective custodians of collections and legacies. Rather, ‘their curatorial practice is their way of caring for the society and its citizens to ensure their wellbeing and vitality’. We’re all being curated then. (See also: the pub at London’s Gatwick Airport called The Curator, and a brand of salted pork puffs called The Curators – presumably to give the indication that somewhere along the line there’s been some selective decision-making.)
Over the past century or so, curating has moved from being a side gig for aristocrats, to a side gig for civil servants and bureaucrats, to a side gig for art historians and critics, to the preserve of museum professionals and people determined to assert an authorial voice. Over the past 30 years or so it has become professionalised, with a profusion of academic and non-academic courses in curating, and an increase in publications around the history of the profession. You may think that all this leads to a certain amount of trade protectionism (and it does), but equally the profusion of curators has led to an expansion of what
we expect from them, which is what Kouoh was alluding to. Exhibitions and those who curate them are now expected to be demonstrations of social and environmental responsibility, whether the wider society in which the exhibition takes place is or is not actually socially or environmentally responsible. They are expected to demonstrate a more common-sense definition of care, and are expected to shed light on what society overlooks. In short, they are expected to be interdisciplinary social projects. (You might link this, too, to the number of venues – for example the Pirelli Hangar Biccocca in Milan or the OGR in Turin – that became vaccine centres, the latter with a large Anselm Kiefer installation looming over the nurses, during the recent pandemic.)
Today we want our shows, and those who curate them, to show a conscience. And it’s curators capable of doing that who are on the rise. Although that’s not stopping any number of artists (not least this year’s number one) and critics (Hilton Als, Antwaun Sargent, to name just a couple) from treading all over their toes. In either case, you might wonder if this means that we expect curators to be authorial (or uberartists), or whether it means that, despite the professionalisation of the trade, there is still some uncertainty, or debate, over what a curator actually does.
‘You can’t have too many people,’ David Zwirner told a reporter from The New York Times as the pair surveyed the gallerist’s rammed booth at the opening of Frieze London. Of course, just 18 months ago you definitely could have too many people stuffed into a relentlessly air-conditioned tent, and it was unclear whether anyone would ever want to put themselves in that situation again.
Turns out they very much do, with the number of exhibitors at the Art Basel and Frieze London fairs, the two behemoths of the market, equalling that of 2019. And although overall public attendance in Switzerland was still down from 93,000 to 70,000 (Frieze, backed by Hollywood talent agency Endeavor, has not released visitor numbers; the jammed aisles in its Regents Park tent were characterised by one collector as ‘an insane crowd of socialites’ – as opposed to serious buyers), the optimism among galleries seems to be borne out in the spending patterns of their rich customers. The UBS/Art Basel art market report (which, though the commissioners obviously have skin in the game, is conducted independently) estimates that 74 percent of collectors bought a work at a fair this year, compared with 54 percent in 2021 (which is not to say that all those expensive IT upgrades were for nothing: 59 percent were still buying through art-fair online viewing rooms this year). Nor did the pandemic years weed out as many of the smaller art-fair players as some had predicted (and others had hoped). When Frieze opened its New York edition in May, it competed with seven similar events that month – TEFAF, NADA, Independent, Future Fair, 1-54 New York, The Photography Show presented by AIPAD, and Volta New York. Liste, Volta and June returned to orbit Art Basel’s original fair too.
The story is slightly different in the geographies that were most isolated – or continue to be – for better or worse. With Brazilians essentially cut off from travelling for almost two years, the already insular domestic market expanded further, with São Paulo now boasting a record number of art fairs, joining the city’s perennial SP-Arte (including rival Art Rio, branching out north; new kid ArPa; and SP-Arte replacing its separate photography fair with an event specialising in artists working in any medium, but who are based beyond the SP–Rio axis). None however are attracting the international galleries and visitors they once did (while Colombia’s ArtBo and Argentina’s ArtBa continue to be respectively primarily regional and domestic affairs). The African contemporary art specialist fair 1-54 also showed there’s an appetite for more focused events, moving beyond its original London location to operate in Paris, New York and, for the second time ever and first time since the pandemic, Marrakech. Frieze, meanwhile opened a new fair in Seoul this autumn, to much fanfare about ‘Asia’ having a new ‘art capital’. (Next year one of the other pretenders to that throne, Singapore, will host a new art fair of its own.) On the other hand, China’s zero-COVID policy is a reminder of the challenges the industry has been through, and of possible continued difficulty ahead. After only two days of VIP previews, Shanghai’s Art021 was forced to shut by authorities because of a single positive COVID test, with the concurrent West Bund Art & Design faring only slightly better, managing three of its four-day run before it too was iced. Still, fairs are back, and despite concerns about their ecological footprints, there are advantages to having a one-stop international art shop.
There’s a scene in the vintage British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous that still periodically turns up on artworld social-media accounts. In it, one of the comedy’s protagonists, ageing socialite Eddie, enters an old Cork Street-style gallery and demands “some art”. When the stereotypically snooty receptionist reacts disparagingly, the would-be collector rejoins: “You only work in a shop, you know, you can drop the attitude”. The gallery world that Eddie might encounter these days is even more bewildering, with dealers going to great pains to expand the definition of their business beyond a place in which artworks are shown and traded. Leading the pack are the likes of David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and Pace, with their ever-growing ventures in publishing, lifestyle, catering, education and the experience economy. Some of these are ostensibly nonprofit: browse the Hauser & Wirth website and you’ll find snippets about partnerships with local schools and sustainability conferences in rural Somerset, book fairs in LA and musical performances in New York. Other propositions might be regarded as more explicitly loss leaders: both Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth publish their own magazines, full of earnestly academic puff pieces for their artists, while Zwirner has its own podcast.
While much of this is undoubtedly PR, the vision of an art gallery as an expanded – and global – lifestyle brand has proved a winner with collectors, artists and artist estates, which in turn inevitably secures galleries places on this list. Others (Perrotin, Sprüth Magers, Gladstone, Hyun-Sook Lee’s Kukje Gallery, Isa Lorenzo & Rachel Rillo’s Silverlens) plough more traditional, but no less effective, furrows, in which, having established themselves as the major player in their respective national art scenes, they leverage that position to place their artists in a dizzying schedule of museum shows and biennials, necessarily expanding beyond that home territory along the way. Then there are those gallerists here who might not have the billion-dollar turnover of some, but are pursuing their own innovative models. So while Liza Essers’s Goodman Gallery has a bunch of major artists (Candice Breitz, William Kentridge, David Goldblatt), she’s also worked on setting up alliances between galleries and nonprofits across the Global South that put her in a position only really shared by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, which likewise defiantly established itself beyond the traditional power centres (and represents a new generation of African artists). Similarly, Prateek & Priyanka Raja’s Experimenter puts as much effort into developing a curatorial scene in South Asia as it does into sales.
What unites them is the understanding that a gallery’s success (that is, selling art to the likes of Eddie) is inextricably linked to art’s wider ecosystem (that is, all the others on this list and beyond), and if economics, politics or inherited structural issues leave gaps in that system, then it is well within their (financial) interests to plug those gaps. This might sound cynical, but the upshot of that is positive: whether it be the ability to get a decent lunch at the gallery’s restaurant after seeing a show, or financial backing for better representation of historically marginalised groups in the artworld.
Who would want to be a museum director in 2022? After two years of pandemic-induced disruption – first with lockdowns shuttering cultural life around the globe, then the patchwork of travel restrictions slowing the return of international visitors – big art institutions have taken a battering, a reality reflected in the fact that in 2021 some museum directors dropped off the Power 100 list entirely. The negative effects of the response to COVID-19 highlights how central big art institutions still are to the contemporary idea of art: committed to addressing a broader public (not just wealthy collectors or artworld insiders); international, outward-facing and cosmopolitan; and affirming the enduring value of the encounter with objects and events, to be seen by real people in physical public places.
However, many of those ideas (they might even be ideals) have been under growing pressure in recent years, with the pandemic helping to accelerate or catalyse changes in the way we understand the role of museums – the nature of the things they present, and who it is they are supposed to serve. ‘The public’ is no longer an uncontested, homogeneous identity, and the contemporary artworld has become the space for the assertion of many identities, defined by race, sex and gender, so that museums (particularly in the West) have faced the challenge of acknowledging audiences they once ignored or excluded, whether these are people of colour or indigenous communities. While many (mostly Western) museums reconsider what they collect and preserve for posterity, they have been challenged to justify why they should hold onto many of the artworks and artefacts, as the ongoing arguments over restitution attest.
Meanwhile, museum workers and artists continue to contest the governance of museums, questioning the role of wealthy patrons and trustees whose interests and values don’t align with those of the people who work for them and exhibit in the institutions their wealth supports. Museums, after all, can no longer argue for neutrality or detachment from politics, if only because many artists see art as an intervention into political and social life. But the concept of the museum is anyway changing from within: in August, the International Council of Museums ratified its new definition of the museum, from being an institution that ‘acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits’, to one that is also ‘accessible and inclusive’, fostering ‘diversity and sustainability’, with ‘the participation of communities’.
And if that wasn’t complicated enough, today’s museums have to grapple with a culture that is ever more online – what, after all, is a public space if the public is increasingly to be found online? If the pandemic shut people out of ‘IRL’ physical space, this prompted even greater attention to immaterial space. Virtual reality, augmented reality, the ‘metaverse’, have all started to make an appearance in the programmes of big institutions, vying to appeal to a new generation more used to clicks than bricks…
While one version of power is pragmatic – physical spaces and hard cash – and large parts of the list are dedicated to the doers putting things into action, art is also about the influence of ideas and feelings. The thinkers on the list are writers, researchers and theorists who are helping to define and inspire the art being made and exhibitions being put on right now. Some, like Donna Haraway or Achille Mbembe, might not have expressly published anything this past year, but that belies where agency manifests itself, as ideas diffuse through artworks, books, discussion and the pages of this magazine. We do have some limits: fiction writers, while relevant, feel a step too far on the toes of other forms; and as a rule we recuse critics from the list – we aspire to comment on and critique power, not cultivate it.
Though, like all ideas, this wasn’t how it always was: the first ‘thinkers’ to appear on the list came six years into its history, in 2007, when critic- couple Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz were both included (at numbers 60 and 61, respectively). Which was one way to reflect on art’s power: through its most prominent commentators. But the way art, and artists, work in the world has become more diffuse, and permeable: one can no longer just be armed with Josef Albers’s colour theory and the ideas of aesthetics from an eighteenth-century racist like Kant. And so a wider consideration of artists’ reading lists and checkpoints has come to shape the list, however slowly: in 2013, the only thinkers on the list were a band of philosophers who came to be grouped under the banner of ‘object oriented ontology’. Where are they now? Such ideas of the thingness of the world feel subsumed, and further politicised and contextualised, by concerns that are more apparent now: questions of gender, race, class, ecology, technology and a tangle of intersectional issues.
In 2019–20, when permissions around bodily experience were largely restricted, we had more time to dust off some books and think about
art. Theorists, therefore, were ever-present on ArtReview’s power lists in those years. What now, when experience is back? Does the thinking stop? Does new thinking about an old system fade away?
We are, it is perhaps superfluous to point out, living in divided times – not quite postlockdown, maybe mid-recession, definitely post-truth. Things as they were seem to be reasserting themselves with a vengeance: some people are just too tired to keep considering real change. Bureaucracy and structure continue to assert themselves through art’s funders and institutions. But at the same time, different hierarchies of thinking and working are emerging within, and separate to, those who think they run the ship. Many of the thinkers this year tend towards a more bottom-up conception of organisation. From Anna Tsing’s integrated forms of cooperation, to Fred Moten’s articulations of slippery agency, to Sara Ahmed’s strategies of complaint, such ideas help shape the terrain for the sprawling messiness and localised collaboration that is coming to define many pockets of the artworld. Collectivism and unions are also ideas in themselves, templates that adapt and shift with each place they are formed in. What we might be witnessing is the artworld’s own version of the multiverse, as spheres of the market and real contemplation drift further apart.
It’s easy to think of power in the artworld as a mostly benign (if often ruthless) contest of creative one-upmanship, professional career jostling, institutional clout and, of course, money. But this would assume that the artworld stopped at the limits of officially sanctioned institutions and the art market, without questioning those limits as themselves an expression of power. But ever since the Power 100 recognised the impact of activist movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, it’s been clear that artists and others are increasingly ready to confront the power written into the artworld’s long-standing ways of thinking and operating.
Since much of the artworld continues to function on the basis of an intense concentration of wealth, workers in the cultural sector have become increasingly militant about their own working conditions, evidenced by the upswell of unionisation campaigns, particularly in the us, while those campaigns are often intertwined with challenges to the ethics of governance. At the other end of the spectrum, in more restrictive regimes, cultural workers are organising to protest the conditions of censorship and political repression that make free expression difficult or impossible, as witnessed by the determined efforts of Cuba’s 27N movement.
Activism, even if it doesn’t take the shape of a defined group or organisation, seems now to have bled into many aspects of the artworld’s everyday functioning. Artists, for their part, have become increasingly active in negotiating their participation in the programmes of art galleries, often insisting on their right to withdraw their work from exhibition in protest at the agendas and policies of institutions and curators – the artist’s boycott has become an effective way for artists (usually those with significant reputations, admittedly) to influence the cultures and agendas of even large institutions.
But in this upswell, it’s also worth noting that the artworld’s powerful actors are themselves turning to what could be seen as forms of activism. The programmes of respectable, mainstream art venues are filled with exhibitions that deal with issues of social and political importance – environmentalism, climate change, racial justice, gender equality, to name just the most prominent issues addressed. Both in programming and policy, artworld organisations, galleries, curators and collectors see their roles increasingly as one of intervening in what are social and political questions that affect wider society. The artworld, called out in recent years for its exclusivity, indifference and privilege, has responded by putting its resources into supporting a range of social-justice issues.
There are contradictions to this, of course. What happens when the artworld’s moneyed and institutionally powerful turn that power to trying to promote agendas that, by their nature, are subjects of wider debate and controversy? And is the source of that power – still largely concentrated in the wealth of the ultra-rich – itself ever questioned, even if that wealth is put to ‘good causes’? No better example, maybe, of the ethical ambiguities and paradoxes of art, activism and power than the headline-grabbing acts of art-vandalism of the campaign group Just Stop Oil – scandalising the public by attacking cherished works of art in the name of climate emergency, yet funded by philanthropist Aileen Getty, heiress-granddaughter of oil magnate J. Paul Getty…
ArtReview’s Power 100 – the annual ranking of the most influential people in art – is out now