Who Are the Most Influential Artists of the Last Century? 26 Industry Leaders Weigh In
Presented by Cartier
In 2017, a century since Marcel Duchamp turned a readymade urinal into an artwork, we’ve wondered how to characterize the past 100 years in art, posing challenging questions to some of the industry’s brightest figures: What are this century’s most iconic works of art ? Who were last century’s most trailblazing curators ? Today, we finish our three -part series with perhaps the most daunting question: Who was the most influential artist in the last 100 years?
It’s not an easy question, and there is no perfect answer. But a group of leading curators, arti sts, critics, and dealers were equal to the challenge, weighing in with their choices for artists whose legacies have defined the last 100 years and continue to reverberate in the work of artists today. The resulting list (below) is nothing short of a surv ey of modern art history, ranging from conceptual art forefather Duchamp to the video pioneer Nam June Paik to modern masters of abstraction like Jackson Pollock and Agnes Martin —and, of course, Jeff Koons.
Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Nam June Paik. I commissioned his show “ Becoming Robot” when I was at the Asia Society, and I think he is one of the most under -recognized artists, particularly for his early experimentation with technology. His ongoing influence on new media artists working today is profound.
Vilma Jurkute, director of Alserkal Avenue
I would have to say Hassan Sharif , who is a conceptual artist from the UAE and is known as the godfather of contemporary art here. Hassan sadly passed away last year. I very much look forward to his landmark retrospective at the Sharjah Art Foundation opening this November, which will showcase his body of work from the early 1970s to 2016.
Natalie Frank, artist
Jeff Koons. A trickster for the 21st century, transforming the everyday into the excess of the sublime predicated on the banal. The showmanship and lavish production foreshadow a Trumpian rule: shiny kitsch, lost innocence, and an alpha -male touch that predated Trump with prescience. Koons’s art would be at home in Donald Trump’s crib. And by crib, I mean a small jail -sized structure for a baby.
Eva Hesse. Both through her unconventional choice of materials and her innovative take on abstraction, Eva Hesse was not bogged down by the limitations of traditional techniques and had a wide -eyed approach to making art that remains fresh and endures as groundbrea king even today. Her work was beyond prescient when she made it, and we can still see reverberations of her influence.
Jackson Pollock. You just can’t deny the power of Pollock’s abstractions. He may have, in de Kooning’s words, “broken the ice,” but he offered a revolution by breaking down the picture plane, rebuilding it on his own terms to magnificent effect.
Lorraine Kiang-Malingue, director, Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong
Tobias Ostrander, chief curator, Pérez Art Museum Miami
Lygia Clark, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.
Christo‘s immersive artworks have captivated us for the past 50 years. Along with his late wife Jeanne-Claude, the duo created monumentally scaled sculptures and installations, which challenged and changed the way we experience art. Never afraid of controversy, his work explores politics, bureaucracy, capitalism, and industrialism. Christo’s influence is evident as more site -specific and immersive artworks arrive.
Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of Masterpiece London
It has to be Picasso. His oeuvre has become all things to all men. He innovated art over and over again. He knew how to communicate feeling (I’m thinking about his blue paintings) and tragedy (you need only think of Guernica, which must be one of the best paintings of the 20t h century). He was of his time—reflecting on the society of his day —and so outside of his time. His work was the product of a unique vision crafted by such a creative and influential person.
George Goldner, former prints and drawings curator at the Metropolitan
Most important artist of the last century? Pablo Picasso. His range of subject, media, and expression is without parallel in the last century. Equally, more than any other artist of his time, his greatest themes —as in Guernica—resonate far beyond the narrow confines of the art world.
Almine Rech, owner, Almine Rech Gallery
Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp , and Andy Warhol.
Natasha Stagg, writer
So, I don’t think of myself as an art person or an expert by any means, but I think that most of the art I see in New York now looks to be heavily influenced by Ryan Trecartin , who is, in my ignorant opinion, a visionary. I hope that his and Lizzie Fitch’s collaborations will continue to be recognized as historically important years from now, since it seems so clear that what they have done with their videos changed the art -world landscape, in a similar way to what the Andy Warhol scene did. Those first videos became a platform for so many other young artists who went on to do interesting work, while the later videos featured actors who wanted to cross over into the art world and discuss their celebrity status as a medium, which is a pretty big part of art i n the 21st century, I think.
Mrs. Lee Hyun-sook, founder and chairwoman, Kukje Gallery, Korea
Joseph Beuys, as he believed that everyone can create art, as expressed in the statement “every human being is an artist,” and his ground -breaking and unique performances, along with s ocial activism, broadened the scope of art as we know it today.
Simon Denny, artist
The artist critical media group Top Value Television (TVTV), whose independent television documentary Four More Years was filmed on Portapaks at the 1972 Republican Convention in Florida, and broadcast later that year across several networks in the US. At a time when Trump rides the waves of the web 2.0 attention economy at full maturation, it’s a compelling example of artists working in a contemporary media (television) with new technology (the small a nd inconspicuous Portapak) doing politically prescient work which was both entertaining and critical.
Luke DuBois, artist
Wassily Kandinsky . Imagine a world where we still only made representational art, and where we identified artists solely within the confines of their visual style and subject matter. Kandinsky wasn’t the first abstract artist; that title belongs to Hilma a f Klint. He didn’t genre -bust like his other Bauhaus colleagues, and he lacked a certain political edge that really gave abstraction its teeth. But Kandinsky’s paintings and writings gave us a language to start with, to talk about pure form, interdisciplinary thinking, and the idea of the artist as engaged in a form of progressive research.
Julien Lombrail, owner, Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures are timeless in their exploration of the human figure, right from the beginning of humanity to its end. His sculptures are reduced to the bare essentials, right to the core. Realized in bronze, they are indes tructible. They will remain after us and will become our legacy.
Gonzalo Casals, director of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Vaginal Davis. Self -identified as an American, intersex, gender -queer artist, Davis is a multidisciplinary media maker who originated movements such as Queercore Zine and queer punk
music. Lauded by scholars as “Terrorist Drag,” Davis used their work to critique the co -opting of African, Hispanic, and LGBT culture by the mainstream.
Jack Smith. Often recognized as the father of American performance art, Smith was the first proponent of camp aesthetics influenced by Hollywood kitsch. His work largely influenced drag culture as we know it, experimental theater, film, and performance. His aesthetics can be traced in the work of Warhol, John Waters, and Cindy Sherman.
Claude Cahun. One of the earliest examples of 20th -century artists undermining traditional gender roles through their work. Her work became recognized decades after her death. Her life itself became a performance o f sorts, a commentary on existing notions of sexuality, gender, and beauty. As a photographer and a poet, her presence in the Parisian Surrealist movement expanded the group’s aesthetics and representation. Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman are just a few of the artists who recognize Cahun as one of their influences.
Jens Hoffmann, co-artistic director of FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art
While I think that Tino Sehgal is for sure one of the most important artists of the 21st century, there are many others over the last 100 years who have had a tremendous influence. Each answer
to this question will be utterly subjec tive, but there is, of course, no way around Marcel Duchamp. What the American philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead said about Plato: “Philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato” can be said about Duchamp: “Art of the 20th century was a series of footnotes to Duchamp.” Obviously, that is not entirely true, but it can be applied to a wide range of artworks made over the last 100 years. Let’s list a few more, and they are all probably fairly obvious: Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, etc.
My wish is that artists like Cindy Sherman, Agnes Martin, Leonora Carrington , Etel
Adnan, Vija Celmins, Lygia Clark, Luisa Lambri or Julie Mehretu will one day have the same status as male artists have in the past and that the answer to this question will include a much more diverse roster.
Jordana Pomeroy, director of the Frost Art Museum at FIU
You could fill galleries with books, catalogues, and articles on these artists, each of whom has influenced and shaped the history of art by adopting a different lens from anyone else, by expressing new ideas and pushing ideological, visual, and material boundaries . That said, my list would be: Pablo Picasso, Jean -Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Tony Smith,
Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramović, Marcel Duchamp, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Damien Hirst.