In every field, there are people who are simply, unquestionably, at the top of the game. In the arts this is no different. There are those who move in the top echelon of power and influence and whose opinion can truly make or break a career. While these are not individuals you are likely to encounter on a day to day basis, as someone working in the field it is important for you to know the key players. This not only gives you a sense of what direction art is taking, it allows you to converse knowledgebly about every aspect of the art scene. We have broken down the top ten most powerful people in the art world. Keep an eye on the blog in future as we work our way through a list of the top 100.
10. Ai Weiwei: A Chinese political activist and artist, Ai Weiwei is quite possibly one of the best known names in the entire art world. His career has spanned over four decades and he has taken on the Chinese government as well as worked in the capacity of artist, documentarian, musician of sorts, and architect, acting as artistic consultant during the construction of the 2008 Olympic Stadium. He is a force in the art world, the world of politics, and the world at large.
9. Wolfgang Tillman: This German fine art photographer has served on the board of the Tate in Great Britain, been commissioned to create the official portrait for Neil MacGregor in 2015 when MacGregor retired as director of the British Museum, and has countless exhibitions, books, and other works under his belt. He has been the recipient of the Turner Prize, Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, The Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography, and a number of other honors. Just a few museums where his work is currently held are MoMA, The Met, and Tate London.
8. Adam D. Weinberg: A curator and currently the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Weinberg is a key player in the contemporary art world. Weinberg has worked as artistic and program director at American Center France as well as holding positions at other venerable art institutions around the nation and the world.
7. Hito Steryerl: Presently a professor of New Media Art at Berlin University of the Arts, Hito Steryerl is also a writer, visual artist, and filmmaker credited with the innovation of a documentary style known as Essay Documentary. She has exhibited at major galleries all over the world and received multiple awards for her art and filmmaking. Steyerl holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy.
6. Larry Gagosian: In our post about the art world being about who you know (hyperlink) we mentioned the big five influencers in art today. Gagosian Gallery is very much one of them. Larry Gagosian is an Armenian-American art dealer and is the Gagosian behind Gagosian Gallery. He has had a hand in the careers of some of the biggest names in art from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Bruce Nauman. To be represented by Gagosian Gallery is to have arrived, as the saying goes.
5. Frances Morris: Morris began her career with Tate in 1987 as a curator. Since then she has worked her way through the ranks and was head of displays at Tate Modern during its 2000 opening. In 2016 she became the director of Tate Modern, that wonderful behemoth of contemporary art situated on Bankside in Southwark, London.
4. David Zwirner: Yet another of the big five from our post on the importance of connections in the art world (hyperlink again?), David Zwirner is an influential gallery owner who has been named by Forbes Magazine as the second most powerful person in the art world. Zwirner is also a known philanthropist, supporting many international causes.
3. Iwan & Manuela Wirth: Yet again a familiar name for anyone who read our connections blog post (and if you haven’t read it yet, maybe you should…) this husband wife team are the co-founders of Hauser and Wirth, an international art gallery with spaces in London, Zurich, New York, Los Angeles, and Somerset. The couple are also strong supporters of museums and art projects around the globe.
2. Adam Szymczyck: The art critic and curator held the position of director of Kunsthalle Basel until 2014 when he left to take on the position of artistic director for the upcoming Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. Documenta takes place every five years and is a major event in the global art scene.
1. Hans Ulrich Obrist: In our post about the top curators (hyperlink) Hans Ulrich Obrist was king of the lot. Ulrich is artistic director at the Serpentine Gallery in London, co-editor of Cahiers d’art, and an artist in his own right. His career spans three decades thus far and his is truly one of the key players in the international art scene today.