THE POWER STRUCTURES OF THE ART WORLD
What a difference a year makes. Last month, ArtReview magazine released its annual list of the one hundred most powerful people in art (see list here). ArtReview’s introduction to the list outlines that the financial crisis of 2008 caused a lot of big shifts in the art world and the list is a reflection of these changes: a third of last year’s entries, both artists and collectors, have fallen off the list and been replaced by newcomers. For instance, Director of MoMA Glen Lowry was not even on the list last year, and this year he enters the chart at number two. The magazine praises the likes of Lowry for being part of a new generation in the art world that they describe as follows:
“…percolating up from the middle ranks is a new generation of highly networked, flexible, globetrotting curators – men and women at the very centre of a new way of working.”
Curators top the list while artists have less clout and websites have more
Overall, it was curators who had one of the strongest presence on the list, with Swiss curator and writer Hans Ulrich Obrist at the top of the list and Sir Nicholas Serto, the director of the Tate Gallery, at third. Artists, by contrast, did not have such a strong presence in the top ten: the first artist on the list was not until American Golden Lion Winner Bruce Nauman at number ten.
The Independent newspaper goes so far as to suggest it is “The Year of the Curator”, which suggests that curators have a stronger influence in shaping what we know about art than the artists who create it. A change in the system of endorsement was also reflected by the increase in webmasters included on the list. It seems that technology now also plays a significant part in disseminating notions of what “art” is.
Questions of power
So who gets to be on the list and how they do they get there? ArtReview explains that its entrants are ranked as follows:
” [It is] a combination of influence over the production of art internationally, sheer financial clout (although in these times that’s no longer such a big factor) and activity in the previous 12 months – criteria which encompass artists, of course, as well as collectors, gallerists and curators.”
That said, it still remains ambiguous as to what exactly it takes in order to get a mention in the Power 100. For example, how does ArtReview compare the merits of two entirely different professions? How do they rank success when success in the art world is often based solely on a system of endorsement? In other words: how is power in art defined? Perhaps future lists will provide us with more answers to such questions, or at least continue to prompt us to reflect on who really is in charge of the art world.
- Iran Inside Out review round up – 56 artist survey show in New York described as mesmerising, a privilege– September 2009
- Embedding the Bed in Public Space – interview Hong Kong artist and ParaSite director Tim Li– August 2009
- Is there a new way to sell art? Vitamin Creative Space China experiments – New York Times– May 2009
- Indian art consultancy threatens to sue US-based internet platform Ning– October 2009
- Crowd-funding – the internet stimulates new ways to raise funds for art projects– August 2009