The annual ArtReview Power 100 is now an established as a means for taking the temperature of the art world, and this year the Berlin-based artist and writer Hito Steyerl has claimed the number one spot. It is only the third time that the top position has gone to an artist, and the first time to one that is female. (The other two were Ai Weiwei in 2011 and Damien Hirst in 2008.) This immediately sets a more sober, thoughtful tone for a lineup which in the past has been accused of being overly dominated by big-bucks artists, commercial gallery owners and high-end collectors.
Steyerl who trained in Japan, got a Phd in Philosophy in Vienna and is a professor of new media art in Berlin, is anything but flashy. She may not have a high mainstream profile but she is hugely respected within the art world for her videos and installations and "performance lectures".
These combine a fierce playfulness with tough political content to focus on contemporary issues such as feminism and militarisation and the abuse of power - well as the role of digital technologies in the mass proliferation and dissemination of images and information. (Steyerl’s contribution to this year’s hugely prestigious once-in-a-decade Skulptur Projekte Munster was the compellingly nihilistic HellYeahWeFuckDie which included footage of a bombarded Kurdish city in Turkey and films of humanoid robots being tested for endurance.)
To head up a list of the art world’s most influential people with such an erudite, politically committed figure sends a clear message that the 2017 Power 100 is more about ideas than money. Or, indeed, objects. More than at any time in the past the list is peppered with influential philosophers and thinkers.
At No. 3 is Donna Haraway, the distinguished American professor emerita whose writing is central to debates on identity, feminism and ecology and other inclusions are French philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour (9) and the writers Judith Butler (48) and Chris Krauss, (77) both of whom have been a key influence on the focus of somany of today’s artists on issues of gender and sexuality.
Artists whose work engages with social and political issues, rather than those making the most at auction are well represented. Occupying the No.2 slot is the super-cerebral and environmentally conscious Pierre Huyghe, who was also another Skulptur Munster star - his installation in a former ice rink involved genetic algorithms, human cancer cells, hives of bees and chimera peacocks. The anti-Brexit campaigning Wolfgang Tillmans (11) and the tireless activist artist Ai Weiwei (13) have also made it into the top 10.
The rest of the list also encompasses many other politically engaged practitioners with the notable inclusion of David Hammons (19), Theaster Gates (23), Kara Walker (56), and Arthur Jafa (81) each of whom – in very various ways - grapples with racial prejudice and social injustice within American culture.
Among the top curators and museum directors, the Serpentine’s tirelessly omnipresent Hans Ulrich Obrist (6) - who has twice come in at No 1 in the past - has still made the highest tier where he is joined by Harlem Museum’s Thelma Golden (8). The refreshing presence of this year’s newly appointed Tate Director Maria Balshaw (16) is also acknowledged.
The market presence may not be so strong this year, but a fair smattering of gallerists and art fair directors nonetheless confirms the enduring importance of the commercial sector. New York and London based David Zwirner (5) is the highest placed in recognition of the calibre of his exhibitions while a newcomer into to the upper echelons is Gavin Brown (10), suggesting perhaps, that the truculent maverick has now come of age?
Also honourable mention to young east London gallerist Vanessa Carlos who makes her debut at 100 not only for her excellent gallery programme but also for her collegiate role in founding "Condo" the international gallery exchange programme which has offered an alternative to the art fair.
Overall, it is encouraging to see a Power 100 which seems to reflect a more global, thoughtful, interconnected art world that is more engaged with the troubled times in which we are currently living, and which might actually make a difference.
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