Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine Galleries dubbed as the “curator who never sleeps”, has topped this year’s ArtReview Power 100 of the most influential people in the art world.
It is the second time Obrist has been named the most powerful figure in the global art world for his work, not just at the Serpentine but also as an art critic, curator, author and sought-after panellist.
Oliver Basciano, deputy editor of ArtReview, said the 20-person panel had selected Obrist once again because of “his energy and the fact that he connects so many people; he’s everywhere”.
Obrist first topped the Power100 in 2009 but Basciano said his influence had continued to grow since then.
The 48-year-old began his career by obsessively seeing exhibitions all around Europe, meeting and collecting artists and curators, something he did until 1991, when he hosted his first show in the kitchen of his student flat.
He continued hosting shows in unusual locations, gaining notoriety on the art circuit, and in 1995, curated his first at the Serpentine, the now notorious Take Me (I’m Yours), in which people were asked to take home something from the exhibition.
He became director of the Serpentine in 2006 and has become famous for his refusal to conform to normal sleeping patterns, working almost every hour of the day and travelling the world constantly to exhibitions, arts fairs and conferences. Obrist’s evolving DIY art show Do It has been going strong since 1991 and this year will visit 50 locations including New Jersey and Croatia.
“I think something that runs through this list is that the power lies in ideas circulating rather than objects,” said Basciano. “Hans Ulrich’s ideas pass through the art world as well as through instagram and social media. He’s quoted everywhere, he knows everyone and he has this vast network – his thoughts are going places that one single artist’s work could never hope to end up.”
Also in the Top 10 is Polish curator Adam Szymczyk, who will be the artistic director of Documenta in 2017, the influential contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany, that only happens once every five years.
Outgoing director of the Tate, Nicholas Serota, is tied at fifth place this year with Frances Morris who became director of the Tate Modern in January.
As well as gallerists and directors, the Power 100 list includes several influential artists. An acclaimed Berlin-based video artist, Hito Steyerl, was the highest-ranking artist in the list this year, which Basciano said was a tribute to her work, her ideas and writings on subjects such as mass media and technology.
“Her work goes from video to writing to theory, and these ideas can travel faster than objects,” he said. “Her ideas are quoted all over the world and her theories have had quite an intense impact on art production, so she transcends her own work in some way.”
Other artists in the Top 10 were Wolfgang Tillmans and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
The newest, and also youngest, artist on the list was the British digital and video artist Ed Atkins, at No 50. Basciano said Atkins was included this year for his “sheer unbiquity … Ed Atkins he’s been canonised by the European and American galleries and there are so many people supporting that … in 50 years’ time people will still be referring to his work. There’s almost an assured longevity there.”
The American feminist cultural theorist Donna Haraway also made her debut in the Power 100, a nod to how influential her ideas around feminism, technology and the breaking down of boundaries between gender identity have become over the past year.
Similarly, the continuing rise of art as a powerful type of social activism was reflected in the inclusion of artists such as Theaster Gates, South African artist Zanele Muholi and Rick Lowe, who works with the social fabric of places in his art.
Basciano said that in post-Brexit Britain, the international spread and influence of the figures in the Power 100 were proof of how resilient the art world still was in defying national borders and would continue to be so in the future.
“Hans Ulrich personifies that globalist outlook but so does Wolfgang Tillmans, whose work – not just to mention his anti-Brexit posters – very much is a documentation of that liberal internationalism,” he said. “Contemporary art is, in its very DNA, internationalist and that’s not going to change.”
The 2016 Power100 Top 10
- Hans Ulrich Obrist
- Adam Szymczyk
- Iwan & Manuela Wirth
- David Zwirner
- Nicholas Serota & Frances Morris
- Larry Gagosian
- Hito Steyerl
- Adam D. Weinberg
- Wolfgang Tillmans
- Ai Weiwei
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