Who’s your art hero of the year? Maybe its Glenn D. Lowry for taking the helm on MoMA’s shiny new look? Or could it be Rebecca Salter, the Royal Academy’s first female president? How about that pesky banana taped to the wall—thank you Cattelan. As we head into a new decade, we have selected 40 memorable change-makers—or at the least, those that made us raise eyebrows and drop jaws—of the global art world of 2019 who have resonated with us as we head into 2020.
In no particular order, here are 20 influential personalities—and we say this loosely—who shook our art world bubble this year.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial IMAGES: Courtesy of various
French-Israeli billionaire and founder of telecommunications firm Altice buys Sotheby’s for US$3.7 billion, immediately replacing its top brass with appointees from his own businesses and expresses his intention to hit US$66 million in cost savings. The deal means Sotheby’s returns to private ownership following 31 years as a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, and that two French billionaires now own the world’s two largest auction houses—the other namely being Francois Pinault who owns Christie’s.
Like fellow artist Amy Sherald, Thomas is having a moment. In October, her work Naomi Looking Forward of model Naomi Campbell sold at Sotheby’s London for almost four times its estimate, realising GBP567,000 (US$699,111). Fittingly, you can wear her creations, too, she being one of an exclusive group of artists—Alex Israel, Jenny Holzer, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama—to have collaborated in commercial projects with fashion brands. You can carry the Thomas-designed Lady Dior handbag and jacket and she has teamed up with Grace Wales Bonner to recalibrate the Bar jacket of New Look fame for the Dior Cruise 2020 collection. Be it on canvas or cloth, Thomas, who revels in the beauty and empowerment of black women, manages to be soigné and street simultaneously.
From Old Masters to colonising Mars, former artistic director of the 251-year-old Royal Academy of Arts, broadcaster and aesthetically dapper Tim Marlow has taken the helm of London’s Design Museum as CEO, in a move that may presage the direction in which art is morphing via scientific and technological advances. Part of Marlow’s new mission will be to determine how the current silhouette of design and fine art fit, or whether he might want to recalibrate the disciplines. Industrial design, film (a retrospective on Stanley Kubrick) and architecture have featured prominently among the Museum’s offerings to date. Marlow’s arrival in the space may bespeak of a prophetic new mission: Cultural Odyssey 2101.
Commissioned to produce a work for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, Kara Walker—exponent of grand themes, human frailties, identity, race, sexuality and gender—created Fons Americanus, a 13-metre tall four-tiered fountain inspired by the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. Walker subverts the monument, exploring the interconnected histories of Africa, America and Europe using water as a theme, and how the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade has shaped the development of Black identity and culture in the West. On view until 5 April 2020, it’s a new take on our distorted history and how we remember it through public monuments. Meanwhile Sprüth Magers London is also just wrapping “From Black and White to Living Colour,” formulated by The New Yorker contributor Hilton Als, as a compelling retrospective of Walker’s video works.
A man who reportedly sees ghosts and talks to spirits, Melbourne-based installation and mixed-media artist Brook Andrew becomes the first Indigenous artist to lead the Biennale of Sydney, now in its 22nd edition. Dubbed one of the “definitive Aboriginal provocateurs in the Australian at world,” he will oversee “NIRIN”—the title of the Biennale—which translates to ‘edge’ in Wiradjuri, the language of his mother’s people. Opening in March 2020, expect multilayered storytelling, historical disruption, and the beginning of a new and potentially far-reaching cultural dawn not just Down Under but all over the globe. “The urgent states of our contemporary lives are laden with unresolved past anxieties and hidden layers of the supernatural,” Andrew tantalisingly writes of his intent for “NIRIN.”
From last year’s monumentally successful Gwangju Biennale to her work with the Real DMZ Project (entered around the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea), Sunjung Kim continues to blaze a very singular trail, which saw her bring the group exhibition “Negotiating Borders” to London’s Korean Cultural Centre. All mighty impressive for a woman who acts as president of the Gwangju fair, for which she’s now planning the 2020 edition, as well as being on the international prize juries of the Venice Biennale, Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, and more.
GLENN D. LOWRY
Director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which unveiled its highly anticipated new renovations this year, Glenn D. Lowry certainly tops most art power lists this year. Following the ambitious US$450 million overhaul of the 90-year-old institution, Lowry says it’s all about “making space that allows us to rethink the experience of art in the Museum.” Think pluralism; the institution’s inaugural shows included African-American, African and Asian artists from Michael Armitage and Betye Saar to Haegue Yang. There’s a new digital magazine, a young bunch of curatorial turks, and an extension of Lowry’s contract letting him continue to 2025.
OSCAR MURILLO, LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN, HELEN CAMMOCK, TAI SHANI
“At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity—in art as in society.” So said the four shortlisted artists for the 2019 Turner Prize, who agreed to share it for the first time in the award’s 36-year history. Naturally such attitude split opinion, with some accusing the Turner Prize of selling out on what is seen as its fading franchise, while others declared the quartet’s quirky antics as artistically a la mode.
Farsighted Hong Kong aesthete, culturepreneur, and scion to the New World and Chow Tai Fook empires, Cheng launched cultural-retail destination K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong in August, a decade after the launch of his pioneering K11 art malls in Hong Kong and Greater China. Cheng refers to the ambitious project as the “Silicon Valley of Culture,” to which he’s attracted a Cannes Film Festival franchise, a Fortnum & Mason store and restaurant, the biggest MoMA Design store in Greater China, as well as cutting-edge design, fashion and gastronomy offerings, all festooned with artworks selected from his own collection—from Carol Bove, Erwin Wurm to Samson Young and Tianzhua Chen. We see it more as a blueprint for the evolving 21st-century art/retail, real/virtual playground. Whatever the vernacular, Cheng continues to bring art and lifestyle to the people, and expanding his own interests with fashion and entertainment.
Fears over Brexit saw David Zwirner open a new gallery in Paris, sell a Gerhard Richter for US$20 million at Art Basel (a new record for that fair), stage Carol Bove in Hong Kong and show Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms in Manhattan. But perhaps most surprisingly of all, he published The David Zwirner podcast featuring British poet and art critic Michael Glover discussing the virtues and demerits of the male codpiece with American fashion designer Thom Browne—who featured it in his Spring 2020 menswear collection. In the meantime, Zwirner made a bunch of savvy acquisitions in 2019, including Liu Ye, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Paul Klee.
Early in March this year, former nightclub and karaoke bar operator Qiao Zhibing, who has become one of China’s leading collectors, finally got to open Tank Shanghai, the long-awaited museum comprising five disused oil tanks that formerly served Hongqiao International Airport. It’s not modest—at 60,000 square metres it’s an art park with gardens and shops along with exhibition spaces. It opened with Adrian Villar Rojas’s “Sometimes you wonder, in an interconnected universe, who is dreaming who.” Qiao counts more than 500 works among his collection, which include pieces by Sterling Ruby, Theatre Gates, Thomas Houseago, Olafur Eliasson, Michael Borremans, and Damien Hirst, along with Chinese artists Liu Wei, Yang Fudong, Zhang Enli, Xu Zhen and Qiu Xiamfei. Xiao also donated two major early Zhang Enli works to London’s Tate Modern as a way of priming his credentials ahead of the launch. Tank is the new must-visit museum.
Always ever so optimistic and delightful, art collector Patrick Sun launched Sunpride Foundation in 2014 with a mission to embrace and promote the creative history of the LGBTQ community. That manifested in 2017 at MoCA, Taipei with the major survey exhibition, “SPECTROSYNTHESIS I: Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now.” This year saw Sun take his ambition and raise the bar higher with a second—and expanded—iteration, titled “SPECTROSYNTHESIS II: Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia, which opened at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in November. Featuring 58 artists and more than 100 artworks, the exhibition is unprecedented and is the largest survey of LGBTQ-themed art ever mounted in the region.
Because anyone, let alone an artist, who can induce reasons to procure a US$91 million stainless steel rabbit, deserves whatever’s coming to them. As a result, Koons, who refers to his work as “epiphanies”—though British artist Grayon Perry calls them “luxury products”—is once again the world’s most expensive living artist, having temporarily lost the accolade to David Hockney. And then came Koons’ reviled Bouquet of Tulips in Paris for victims of the 2016 terrorist attacks, which one waggish commentator dismissed as “11 coloured anuses mounted on stems.” Love him or hate him—and his merchandise, and the communal in-joke that he’s making an ass of us all—Koons is the mega-watt art world pop star who still upstages the rest. Will the arrival of 2020 bring a kitschy Koonsian window of opportunity: we’ve had the dog, the rabbit… will a gilt-edged golden rodent for the Chinese Year of the Rat become the next most expensive piece of work auctioned by a living artist?
If music was the food of love at fashion designer Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent, he’s switched key into contemporary art with the Celine Art Project, buying or commissioning more than 25 pieces for the luxury purveyor’s stores. Witness, the sculptural work of Theaster Gates, Oscar Tuazon and Davina Semo at Celine in Paris; Elaine Cameron-Weir in Tokyo, along with Virginia Overton, James Balmforth, Jose Davila and Julian Schnabel, just to name a few. He’s also enlisted artists for his Spring 2020 collections, including Christian Marclay (jacket), David Kramer (meme-isms on t-shirts and start bags) and Darby Milbrath. Art’s hardly new in luxury fashion stores—Peter Marino’s been doing it for Louis Vuitton and Chanel for decades—but Slimane’s inimitably hands-on creative direction of its role in stores as fashion designer, is.
MICHAEL XUFU HUANG
The former co-founder of M Woods museum in Beijing will open the tantalisingly titled X Museum (@xmuseum_official) on 17 March, 2020. We know because an Instagram countdown has already started with him promising on a recent post of his own (@michaelxufuhuang) that the museum “is coming to blow you up.” Certainly we can expect the space to show work not just by artists, but architects, scientists, engineers and musicians too. Having set up M Woods with his collecting couple friends Wanwan Lei and Lin Han in 2014, Huang says he wants to focus on youth culture, new talent and cultivate next-gen Chinese consumers who will make art a part of their lives, if they haven’t done so already. X Museum may be 2020’s most prescient art opening.
In a way that makes perfect sense, contemporary artist Sterling Ruby debuted a fashion collection of US$595 t-shirts and US$45,000 ponchos at Florence’s Pitti Uomo to great acclaim earlier this year. Ruby has more than 30 years experience making clothes—he started sewing at 13 according to Vogue—and was collected and then became close friends with designer Raf Simons. Meshing his artistic body of work with the clothes, Ruby seems liberated by the experience—and mobility—that the making and wearing of fashion affords relative to art. “It might not be seasonal, but I will do it again,” he enthused. All of which makes us wonder, which artists would make the most striking fashion designers in 2020 and beyond?
Printer and printmaker Rebecca Salter’s election as the first female president of London’s 251-year-old Royal Academy of Arts is nothing short of sensational. Staff of the RA cheered as the outgoing President Christopher Le Brun (eight years in the role), announced the news in Burlington House, earlier this month. Salter, who was elected Keeper of the Royal Academy in 2017, becomes the 27th President of the RA, an appointment that still requires Her Majesty The Queen’s approval. A new Keeper of the RA Schools will be appointed in 2020.
LITHUANIAN PAVILION @ LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA
Winner of the Golden Lion, Sun & Sea (Marina) is a climate-crisis-themed operatic performance, curated by Lucia Pietroiusti from London’s Serpentine Galleries. This large and very expensive opera by artists and musicians Rugile Barzdzukaite, Viva Granite and Lina Lapelyte took on the issue of climate change and habitat loss by staging an artificial beach in a military complex. A total real-world and virtual showstopper.
Lest the art world needed a provocative, silly, slippery segueway from one decade to the next then Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian, a real banana duct-taped to a wall at Art Basel Miami Beach, delivered a timely—and viral—pre-Christmas PR miracle. As of this post, an IG page @cattelanbanana, powered by @galerieperrotin was registering 16.4k followers, and showing, among other ephemera, how Her Majesty The Queen and a pair of COS shoes got “Cattelan’d”; a Vitruvian Banana; Michelangelo’s David—no prizes for guessing where it was placed; and a mock Time magazine cover showing the banana and tagline Comedian of the Year, along with the declaration “Maurizio Cattelan: The Unicorn of the Art World.” And in what must be the envy of any and all art folk, one post shows Emmanuel Perrotin taking a banana from the duct tape and gleefully consuming its dynamic and newly won art world sex-a-peel. Oh art world… the best of times, and the worst of times.
Her polka dots and mirrored infinity rooms, which appear like codes to the cosmos, have become the global moodboard of every social media diginaut. And the Kusama fever continues. On the back of her just-opened and fiendishly busy show at David Zwirner, New York, we can expect more bubbles, balls and accolades next year with “Kusama: Cosmic Nature” at New York’s Botanical Garden—from 9 May through 1 November 2020—exploring the artist’s lifelong engagement with nature. Otherwise, there’s a bunch of other Kusama distractions—the Gropius Bau in Berlin with fashion pieces on display; two permanent displays in LA, at The Broad, and The Marciano Art Foundation; Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory has two Kusama rooms, one with red polka dots and the other an Infinity Room; while in Tokyo, she has her own museum. If you’re not yet seriously dotty, reset with 20/20 vision and get ready for Instagrabillions of screen time.