Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot: Are These Really the 100 Most Influential People in Art

The art world’s annual popularity contest, the Power 100, was released on Thursday by ArtReview magazine. A mix of artists, art dealers, collectors, curators, theorists, and critics, the list ranks the 100 most influential people in art.

Influence in the art world is hard to gauge, and the list seems to sway between the weight of money, the authority of ideas, and presence in the press. More often than not, men with what ArtReview calls “sheer financial clout” hover around the top. 

Six men have been ranked in the top ten for the past three years: gallerists Larry Gagosian, Iwan Wirth, and David Zwirner, Nathan Serota, director of the Tate, Glenn D. Lowry, director of MoMA, and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. 

Record-breakers also fare well. Sheikha Al-Massaya bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir’s daughter, avid collector and head of the Qatar Museums Authority, jumped from 90th to 11th place in one year after her family paid the largest sum ever for an artwork: $250 million for Cézanne's The Card Players. German painter Gerhard Richter advanced five places to occupy number six, probably because his painting recently fetched $34 million, the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist.


Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani

Outside of business savvy, ArtReview seems to value creativity and originality. For the first time since its inception in 2001, a woman, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, topped the 2012 list. Christov-Bakargiev curated this past summer’s Documenta 13, which was hailed by some as the most important exhibition of the 21st century. She was praised for her inspired probing of diverse fields of knowledge, outside the realm of art. The Russian punk collective Pussy Riot came in at 57 this year. Last year, Ai Weiwei, the socially committed Chinese artist, crowned the list.

Again, power is hard to gage. Probably for lack of a better, more concrete indicator, art world power is often equated with the ability to spend or gain massive amounts of money, or it is confused with the ability to generate publicity. If art-related headlines weren’t already dominated by sales figures or art-celebrity gossip, I would applaud the Power 100 for pointing out the interconnectedness of art and power. However, it would be unwise to treat the Power 100 as anything but a redundant, shallow reminder of the narrow lens of cash and sensationalism through which we too often see art. Seeing the world in terms of power reduces of the complexities of art to a catty roll call.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be aware of the influence of money or publicity on art (or have fun indulging in ArtReview as a bit of gossip). However, wouldn’t it be much more interesting to learn something new about the people who show up continually in the press? Or even better, to learn about people whom we don’t already know? What about a list of the least powerful people in art? The most influential artists on young artists today? Or a list of the 100 most underrepresented artists? 

Here are the top ten most influential artists as listed ArtReview, for the full list click here:

1. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
2. Larry Gagosian
3. Ai Weiwei
4. Iwan Wirth
5. David Zwirner
6. Gerhard Richter
7. Beatrix Ruf
8. Nicholas Serota
9. Glenn D. Lowry
10. Hans Ulrich Obrist & Julia Peyton-Jones

 

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