Hito Steyerl, a German artist, writer and theorist known for taking a strong political stand and being unafraid to challenge the power of the art market, has been named the most influential person in contemporary art.
Steyerl is the first female artist to top the annual ArtReview Power 100 list, now in its 16th year.
Last year she was at number seven. This year a committee of 20 art insiders propelled her to number one, and she gains the top spot from the curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine Galleries.
Oliver Basciano, ArtReview’s international editor, said Steyerl was a huge influence to other artists. “The way she works, not just her actual work but the way she runs her studio, is an influence and an inspiration to many younger artists. She looks to disrupt power networks that you can probably see run through the Power 100 and run though the art world.”
Steyerl makes large sculptures, installations and videos which are the product of large amounts of research. This year her work appeared in the once-a-decade Skulptur Projekte Münster and in exhibitions in Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Gwacheon, Helsinki, New York, São Paulo, Turin and Vienna.
On display at Tate Modern is her Monty Python-inspired video piece called ‘How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File 2013’ in which she provides a (sort of) manual on how to be invisible to surveillance.
Steyerl is far from a household name but Basciano hopes that is changing. “The art world is quite an insular place and it takes quite a while for an artist to trickle out, to become a name my mum and dad know. But she is becoming progressively better known in the wider world.”
He said Steyerl was one of a number of artists on the 2017 list who are trying, sometimes succeeding, to have a wider political and social influence.
“We are looking at artists who have very strong practice, are in museums all over the world, doing everything you would expect of an artist, but are also doing more. After the couple of years the world has had, I think that is a very strong thing to look at.”
For that reason the French artist Pierre Huyghe, whose work focuses on environemental issues, is in second place while the Turner prize-winning artist Wolfgang Tillmans, who was involved in artistic campaigns against Brexit and the German rightwing AfD party, is at 11.
Basciano said Hirst was not often cited as an influence to younger artists, unlike similarly big name artists such as Jeff Koons, who is on the list at 54, Yayoi Kusama (55) and Marina Abramovic (89).
This year’s 2017 list suggests there is a need today for big thinking. At number 3 is Donna Haraway, the feminist cultural theorist, while at number 9 is the philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour.
“The more right the world goes, the people who are activists get more powerful. They get more attention,” said Basciano.
Steyerl has been an outspoken critic of the art market but it is well represented in the 2017 list. The top dealer is German David Zwirner at number 5, followed by Iwan & Manuela Wirth (Hauser & Wirth) at 7.
Tate’s new director, Maria Balshaw, who succeeded Nicholas Serota, makes it to number 16, one above the director of MoMA in New York, Glenn Lowry.
2017 ArtReview Power List, top 10
- Hito Steyerl
- Pierre Huyghe
- Donna Haraway
- Adam Szymczyk
- David Zwirner
- Hans Ulrich Obrist
- Iwan & Manuela Wirth
- Thelma Golden
- Bruno Latour
- Gavin Brown
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