The tentacles of power stretch out in different directions depending on where you are: click here to view 2022’s Power 100 in full.
Every edition of ArtReview’s Power 100 list begins with the same basic question: what exactly is power in the artworld? For the purposes of this list, there are some basic criteria: individuals being considered have to have an influence over the kind of art that’s being shown around the world today; they need to have an influence that goes beyond the local (although at the same time ArtReview accepts that any kind of power begins at a local level); and they need to have been active in forms that are visible or invisible over the past 12 months. It’s good to have rules. Rules makes things so simple and straightforward, don’t they? If only that were true.
What is true is that different tentacles of power stretch out in different directions depending on where you are. For example, the world of art will look very different to someone who experiences it in New York compared to someone who experiences it in New Delhi. Reconciling these different perspectives into something universal (or even just global) is the pole around which much of the debate surrounding the list spins, pirouettes or dances. The tentacles of a megagallery or a major institution in New York, London or Paris might not reach so deeply into countries in the Global South as they do into the Global North. In the Global South its exhibitions and labours might be experienced online or through social media (if the recipient is in a connected area – according to German consumer data company Statista, as of April this year only 63.1 percent of the world’s population were internet users, and the statistic for the US is more than double that of India) or through catalogues and other secondary sources. As ever, what some of us take for granted is what others struggle to find. And nothing, within a city or a country, is ever as neat or as even as statistics alone can describe.
In a way, what this list also measures is the extent to which the artworld (or perhaps art ‘industry’) as we know it is entirely the construction of the Global North, or whether there is room for other systems and ways of organising that are more rooted in the Global South; ways of making, displaying and proliferating the ideas and practices of artists that are particular to those contexts. It’s a list that, over its two decades of existence, has measured change. Or more often during that timeframe, the lack of it.
That there is some change, after almost two years of near-global lockdowns and travel restrictions, cancelled or postponed exhibitions, vanished biennials and mothballed art fairs, is in part a result of the fact that 2022 saw the ‘IRL’ world come back with a bang (although, to be honest, anything IRL might have felt explosive to the majority of us). Travel has been to some degree more possible (if in many cases more costly) than before, exhibitions and biennials have been opened and relatively accessible. A time in which thinking about art and what the point of making it might be, secure in the assumption that everything would cruise steadily forward, has been replaced by a time in which making it and experiencing it have become more urgent, fragile and uncertain – and as a consequence suddenly more relevant. No more theory! Nothing but practice! To a degree.
As ever, there continues to be existential debate about what art is and what it’s for. Of course, we recognise that it is an asset, and that in our times, in most parts of the world, assets are governed by markets and the forces that shape them. But the interest in new forms of solidarity, in art that can actively shape or reshape society, that can address pressing issues of social or environmental equality, or definitions of care, persist. Because these are the issues that confront us in the real world, a real world in which art necessarily exists. How art deals with both the interior space of the gallery and the exterior space of the society and environment we inhabit remains up for grabs. And this year’s list continues to reveal that. It’s not a ranking of thinkers, practitioners and enablers that’s smooth or consistent. It reveals differing ways of valuing art, different ideas about the purpose of art and different notions of what art can or should do. It reveals the kind of debates and discourse that should make us all care about and want to engage with art in the first place.
All of which in a way brings us to this year’s occupant of the number-one spot. For the first time not an entity identified as coming from the Global North, and not an entity that is uncontroversial (although almost every occupant of the number-one spot is controversial to some degree, given that everyone – you’d hope – has their own ideas about that). This year’s Documenta, possibly art’s biggest international platform, was far from universally liked. Continuously mired in controversy about racial and religious prejudice (antisemitism in particular), it featured many artists who exhibited but later withdrew, as well as heated debates about historical positions and, more broadly, what a largescale exhibition can be, that went all the way to government level. This wasn’t power expressed as a smooth, seamless (and usually invisible) assertion of influence, but instead the revelation that testing the limits of a structure, an organisation and a culture has its own fractious, disruptive potency.
But because of this, Documenta offered proof that what is expressed through art does have a social relevance; and that there is the possibility of evolving new systems, new networks and new structures that can change the way we think about art. Systems, networks and structures that will evolve, mature and continue to be debated in years to come. Documenta contained alternative ideas about what curating might be beyond a statement of authorship; alternative ideas about the relationship between artists and audience; and alternative ideas about what an artist might actually be. In the words of its curators – the collective ruangrupa – it introduced a new ‘operating system’ into the heart of Western art. And part of the debate will doubtless be whether or not that operating system works. And consequently, whether or not it’s art’s hardware that really needs replacing. Debates in which many of the people in the list as a whole are, for different reasons in some cases, also involved.
As ArtReview’s J. J. Charlesworth put it when reviewing this year’s Documenta: ‘Art, here, is not the product of the well-oiled and well- resourced institutions and markets that make up the wealthy art centres, but something produced by far more precarious contexts, for reasons that have much more to do with social activism and the self-representation of communities, priorities that diverge radically from the ethos and culture of the stable, enduring culture of the white cube art gallery’. Which is not to say that Documenta had no relationship to the money and power of the Global North. But rather, as Charlesworth concludes, ‘These relationships are neither inherently good nor bad, but up for debate – they’re what you negotiate when support is nonexistent in your own locality. But they of course reflect the fact that power – soft power, cultural power, of richer countries over poorer ones – is always somewhere in the mix.’ Something that might equally be said of this list itself.
And this list, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not about what one reviewer or indeed ArtReview alone thinks. Rather, it’s the product of the views of more than 30 individuals, spread across the world, each of them with various, differing perspectives on and involvements in the artworld. (They remain anonymous for the reason that they inevitably work with a number of people on the list, who may or may not feature as prominently as they feel they should.) Then the poledancing starts. But what’s important is that this list is not about likes or dislikes, about judging ‘good’ from ‘bad’ (that’s the domain of art criticism, of which this list is not a part), or indeed about better or worse. It’s just about the relative prominence of current artistic debates. And of course, those who shape that. Because power, as we all know, is always somewhere in the mix.
ArtReview’s Power 100 – the annual ranking of the most influential people in art – is out now