5 Delightfully Unexpected Things About The 2017 Art Review Power 100

2017's edition of the Art Review Power 100 hints towards the future of the art world — and damn, does it look exciting.

Every year, Art Review publishes their Power 100 list. The magazine selects who they think are the most influential people in the art world, and ranks them according to criteria more opaque than a pair of 100 denier tights (money appears to play at least some part). However, the 2017 edition of the Art Review Power 100 marks a departure from previous years for all the right reasons. After looking at it closely, we’ve come to a set of surprising conclusions. Probably the biggest one is that money no longer shouts as loudly — instead, cultural clout matters.

1. Thinking and Engagement Matter More Than Money and Power

Hito Steyerl. Image: Tobias Zielony

The 3 first spots on this year’s Art Review Power 100 are without a doubt the most surprising ones. “Artist-as-theorist” Hito Steyerl, artist Pierre Huyghe and author Donna Haraway occupy them, marking a dramatic departure from previous years. In 2015 and 2016, Swiss gallerists Iwan Wirth and Manuela Hauser were cosying up at the top with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the art world’s omnipresent gallivanter-in-chief. Showing up and selling well doesn’t seem to have been enough this time, however. Steyerl and Haraway stand for the art world’s current fascination with all things tech and cyborg; their placement shows just how much it matters for art to have a stake in current discussions about AI, surveillance, and subjecthood.

A series of new entries also underlines a newly-discovered appreciation for engaged practices:  the inclusion of author Chris Kraus, artists Kader Attia and Arthur Jafa, and curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung speaks to this.

2. There Is a Surprising Omission from 2017’s Biennial Extravaganza

Rasheed Araeen / Kotzia Square Shamiyaana—Food for Thought: Thought for Change © Yiannis Hadjiaslanis. Image: Documenta Press Office.

2017 saw the Venice Biennale, documenta and Skulptur Projekte Münster all taking place in the same year, which only happens every decade. Critics have been harsh on the former two and benevolent towards the latter, and the Art Review rankings reflect this. Both Steyerl and Huyghe made a strong and lasting impression in Münster, while documenta’s Adam Szymczyk (#4 this year vs. #2 last year) and the Venice Biennale’s Christine Macel (#26 this year vs. #17 last year) disappointed with their endeavours (to put it mildy in Szymczyk’s case). Given this, the absence of Skulptur Projekte Münster founder and curator Kasper König seems particularly odd.

3. Blue-Chip Isn’t That Sexy Anymore

Marina Abramovic, Freeing the Memory, 1975 (performance). Image: Lisson Gallery.

Granted, the mastodons of contemporary art are still very much present in this year’s list — but their plummeting ranking is hard to overlook. Gallerists such as Larry Gagosian, Marian Goodman or Tim Blum & Jeff Poe have lost speed; the same goes for major collectors such as Maja Hoffmann and overly-celebrated artists like Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic, who went from #5 to #89 in just 3 years. The star curators have also been downgraded: Klaus Biesenbach, Massimilano Gioni and, most of all, Stedelijk director and not-so-incognito art adviser Beatrix Ruf have all suffered significant drops. Perhaps the almost incestuous entre-soi dutifully cultivated by these men and women simply isn’t as powerful as it once was.

4. New Models and Discourses Are Rewarded

Bruno Latour. Image: Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons licence.

The discrepancy between the current discourses agitating the art world and its market has become frankly unavoidable. Secondary-market pieces and postwar snoozefests increasingly dominate booths and exhibition programs; at the same time, vigorous discussions about gender, AI, race and politics are taking place within the community. The urgency with which these topics are being discussed has increased with the rise of authoritarian politics around the globe, and the presence of people such as Studio Museum director Thelma Golden (from #29 to #8), sociologist Bruno Latour (a new entry at #9) and the aforementioned Donna Haraway exemplifies this urgency.

5. Is the Art Fair a Dying Breed?

Vanessa Carlos. Image: CARLOS / ISHIKAWA.

Within 10 years, the directors’ team of frieze (Matthew Slotover, Amanda Sharp & Victoria Siddall), have dropped 80 places in the Art Review Power 100. One cannot help but be amused at the not-so-subtle shade Art Review throws at them by describing the trio as “art fair directors partnering with a big-money Californian entertainment agency”. In fact, the rising costs fairs create, both in terms of money and energy, doesn’t seem sustainable for much longer. The entry of young, London-based gallerist Vanessa Carlos at #100 seems a direct response to this preoccupying development. Her gallery-sharing initiative CONDO is innovative, successful and yet realistic, making the traditional art fair model look as tired as a gallery’s staff on the last day of, well, frieze, for example.

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