The Most Influential Young Artists Today Top 7 of the most influential contemporary artists born after 1970.
Kader Attia, Untitled (Concrete Blocks), 2008. Cement blocks — variable dimensions. Courtesy of Galleria Continua (San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins) / Photo: Oak Taylor-Smith.
The current top 100 of living artists by Artfacts gives us a great insight in todays most influential artists. This analytical research tool enables us to gain insight by offering a relevant section on the top tier artists, ranking artists based on the latest trends, shows and sales in the art world. While scrolling through this extensive list of names one sees an amalgam of disciplines, nationalities and generations. For this article, we will be focusing on the youngest artists of the list, born after 1970. Arguably, the age of fifty may seem very respectable in different context, however, in the art world, everything under fifty seems to be a youthful age.
Even more, artists under fifty are all artist whose career (mainly) takes place in the 21st century and is build upon their relevance in this day and age — unlike, for example, Joseph Kosuth (b. 1945, USA) who earned his place (no. 98) in this list due to his role and importance during the heyday of the historical period of Conceptual Art in the 1960s and 70s up to today. Therefore, this list is a sample of the most important contemporary art, hot off the press.
As the top hundred list of living artists consist of seven artists under fifty, this article discusses the top seven of the most influential contemporary artists, all born after 1970. Please note, this list is continuously subject to change as the art worlds never stands still, and new things happen every day as the next hundred artists who are up and coming are already knocking to replace their colleagues. This being said, without further ado, here come the seven most influential artists today, under fifty.
7. Ryan Gander (b. 1976, UK)
Artist Ryan Gander at Lisson Gallery. / Photo: Linda Brownlee.
Ryan Gander, born in 1976, lives and works in Suffolk and London, United Kingdom. The British artist has established an international reputation during the first two decades of the 21st century with his eclectic oeuvre that defies categorization. Most often, Gander is described as a conceptual artist, although he has refuted this term and claims to be rather a 'neo-conceptualist' with a 'no style'-style. The artist encompasses sculpture, film, writing, graphic design, installation, performance, architecture, public interventions and more. This complex body of work is characterized by a questioning of knowledge, language, the process and appearance of a work of art. His oeuvre can be seen as a giant puzzle, a network, a set of hidden clues and connections inviting the viewer to decipher and give meaning.
This type of artist has become more and more frequent in 21st century art. Being born in Belgium, names as Francis Alÿs (b. 1959, BE), Hans Op De Beeck (b. 1969, BE) or Kris Martin (b. 1972, BE) come to my mind. For several years now, the British artist's prolific presence in the art world has made him one of the most important artists of today, and, definitely one to follow for the coming years. At the moment, he is ranked as number ninety-four in the top hundred living artists and number seven of our list.
For further reading on Ryan Gander, I highly recommend Artists' cocktails edited and written by the artist himself, setting up an intriguing and refreshing compendium of contemporary artists.
An anthology of Gander's oeuvre:
Ryan Gander, Bit Part Player (Balthazar, Merchant of Venice; Act 3, Scene 4), 2019-2020. Graphite, fibreglass, resin, cotton t-shirt and joggers — 183 x 65 x 47 cm / 72 x 25 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Ryan Gander, The End, 2020. Animatronics Room — variable dimensions. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Ryan Gander, Conditions that will reshape you (Because you bequeath yourself redundant to conditions that will reshape you), 2018. Acrylic, LED panels — 252.5 x 175 x 85 cm / 99 3/8 x 68 7/8 x 33 1/2 in. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Ryan Gander, I is...(v), 2013. Marble — 136 x 91 x 195.4 cm / 196. 53 1/2 x 77 in. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
6. Laure Prouvost (b. 1978, FR)
Artist Laure Prouvost during her show at M HKA, Museum for Contemporary Art, Antwerp. / Photo: Siska Vandecasteele.
Laure Prouvost, born in 1978 in France, lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium, and London, United Kingdom. The Turner Prize-winning artist is known for her films and installations, creating an — often linguistic — interplay between image, language, lineair narratives and meaning. Prouvost states that in her work "fiction and reality get really tangled", in which the viewer, is involved directly.
"She combines existing and imagined personal memories with artistic and literary references to create complex film installations that muddy the distinction between fiction and reality. At once seductive and jarring, her approach to filmmaking employs layered storytelling, quick edits, montage and wordplay and is composed of a rich, tactile assortment of images, sounds, spoken and written phrases. The videos are often shown within immersive environments which comprise found objects, sculptures, painting and drawings, signs, furniture and architectural assemblages, that are rendered complicit within the overarching narrative of the installation."
For further reading on the works of Laure Prouvost, Laure Prouvost: Deep See Blue Surrounding You / Vois ce bleu profond te fondre was published with Prouvost's show in the French Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennial curated by Martha Kirszenbaum (b. 1983, FR). A landmark in her already stunning career, partly resulting in an eighty-ninth spot on the aforementioned Artfacts list of top hundred living artists, and a sixth spot in this article.
An anthology of Prouvost's oeuvre:
Laura Prouvost, THE PERSON BEHIND WANTS TO TALK TO YOU, 2019. Acrylic and varnish on board — 57.1 x 37.2 x 1.8 cm / 22 3/8 x 14 5/8 x 5/8 in. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Laure Prouvost, Deep See Blue Surrounding You, 2019. Installation view — variable dimensions (French Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019). Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Laure Prouvost, Feu que, I was born to be here..., 2019. Tapestry, wool, sea weed, sea shells, metal, plastic, egg shells, aluminium foil, led lights, wood, resin, earth, dried grass, mirror and video projection — 250 x 945 cm, 98 3/8 x 372 in, ed. of 3 + 1 ap. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
5. Otobong Nkanga (b. 1974, BE/NG)
Otobong Nkanga winning the Young Belgian Art Prize at the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR). / Photo: Flanders Today.
The artist Otobong Nkanga, born in 1974 in Nigeria, lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Nkanga is known for her drawings, installations, sculptures, photography and performances, in which she analyzes the social and topographical relationship with our everyday environment. Doing so, she provokes narratives and stories connected to land, environment, our memory and the postcolonial history of her home country, Nigeria. "Land" as a notion is a pivotal aspect of her oeuvre and often a starting point from which she builds up her works. Therefore, Nkanga succeeds in challenging complex topics such as politics, colonialist economies, geographies, material culture and the historical structure carrying these topics, physically as a place and metaphysically as an embedded idea, raising questions about cultural inheritance, use, appropriation and identity.
Recently, two monographic publications on Otobong Nkanga have been released in short succession. In 2017, the intense and breakthrough period for Nkanga from 2013 up to 2016 was rewarded and documented with her first ever monograph, titled Otobong Nkanga: Luster and Lucre. In 2018, Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole that Collapses Again followed, celebrating her thought-provoking oeuvre.
In my humble opinion, the approach towards identity politics and postcolonial debates has never before been this refined, subtle and powerful. My first encounter with Obotong Nkanga's work was in 2017, when Nkanga won the Young Belgian Art Prize at the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels (see image above). Before, I had never heard or seen her work. Yet ever since, today, she seems to be ubiquitously present in the art world. Therefore it did not come as a surprise to find her name in the top hundred list by Artfacts, ranking as number eighty-six, and number five on this list one of the most important artists born since 1970.
An anthology of Nkanga's oeuvre:
Otobong Nkanga, Solid maneuvers, 2015. Various metals, Forex, acrylic, tar, salt, make-up, vermiculite — variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist. / Photo: M HKA Ensembles.
Otobong Nkanga, Alterscape Playground (E ) , 2005-2015. C -print on aluminium — 50 × 67 cm / 19 7/10 × 26 2/5 in. Edition of 7 + 1AP. Courtesy of the artist and Lumen Travo, Amsterdam.
Otobong Nkanga, Currency Affair: Okpoho and King Manilla, 2011-2016. Lambda print — 47 × 62 × 4 cm / 18 1/2 × 24 2/5 × 1 3/5 in. Edition 4/5 + 1AP. Courtesy of In Situ - Fabienne Leclerc.
4. Danh Vō (b. 1975, DK/VN)
Danh Vō at South London Gallery. Film still from Danh Vo: untitled at the South London Gallery | Artist interview (2019). Filming and editing by Gordon Beswick.
Danh Vō, born in 1975 in Vietnam, raised in Denmark, lives and works in Mexico City, Mexico, and Berlin, Germany. As a performance art inspired conceptual artist, the works by Vō emerge from his biography, his own life and path, personal relationships and encounters. His works are objects as the final form of his project, images that have accrued shifting layers of meaning and touching specific events or universal icons.
Using his own life as a guideline, the artist explores historical, socio-political themes, in particular topics related to the Vietnam War. Doing so, Vō uses photographs, documents and found objects with an emotional or historical significance, postmodern appropriation of works by other artists — often in an eclectic manner — questioning issues concerning identity, authorial status, ownership and the function or role of personal relationships. The artist explores fragmentation, the discrepancy of reality, fiction and memory.
Vō has been one of the world's leading artists for a decade now, in particular since winning the Hugo Boss Prize in 2012. For further reading on the oeuvre of Danh Vō, I highly recommend the recently published (2018) comprehensive and illustrated overview Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away, discussing his works from the past fifteen years. Vō ends up on the seventieth place on the Artfacts top hundred list and a fourth spot in this article.
An anthology on Danh Vō's oeuvre:
Dahn Vō, She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene, 2009. Variable objects on flag — 96.5 × 54.5 cm / 38 × 21 1/2 in. Courtesy of Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Dahn Vō, Oma Totem, 2009. (Installation view: Last Fuck, 01 Milano, 2009). Courtesy of Punta della Dogana, Venice.
Dahn Vō, We The People (Detail), 2011. Hammered copper — 202.5 × 234 × 137 cm / 79 7/10 × 92 1/10 × 53 9/10 in. Courtesy of Attika Fine Arts, London.
3. Alicja Kwade (b. 1979, DE/PL)
Portrait of Alicja Kwade in her studio. / Photo: Olivier Mark / Kunstmagazin Parnass.
Artist Alicja Kwade, born in 1979 in Poland, lives and works in Berlin, Germany. The Polish-German contemporary visual artist is know for her mixed-media sculptures and installations, investigating the structures of our reality and society, reflecting on the perception of time and how the physical body experiences and inhabits space and time. Her artistic practice is based around the concept of space, time, science and philosophy, establishing sculptural objects, video and photography. Recurring motives throughout her oeuvre are the use of found objects, imperfect doubling, mirror images and repetition in general.
Although Kwade is the youngest artist on our list, the Polish-German artist has a strong amount of monographic publications, illustrating her ubiquitous presence in the art world. Examples of books for further reading are Alicja Kwade (2014) by Sylvia Martin, Alicja Kwade (2015) by Donation Grau or her more recent monographs Alicja Kwade: LinienLand (2019) and Alicja Kwade: In Aporie (2019).
As stated above, Alicja Kwade is the youngest artist on our list, however, she is our first artist taking a spot in the top three of this article and ranking as number fifty one on the Artfacts list, surpassing names such as Anish Kapoor (b. 1954, IN) and Jeff Koons (b. 1955, US).
An anthology of Alicja Kwade's oeuvre:
Alicja Kwade, TrialTurn, 2019. Stainless steel, bricks — 230 x 450 x 430 cm / 90 1/2 x 177 1/8 x 169 1/4 inches. Courtesy of 303 Gallery / Photo: Todora Photography LLC.
Alicja Kwade, Installation view: Trans-For-Men, EMMA — Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Helsinki, 2018. Courtesy of 303 Gallery. / Photo: Ari Karttunen / EMMA.
Alicja Kwade, DrehMoment, 2018. Installation view: Out of Ousia, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, 2018. Courtesy of 303 Gallery. / Photo: Roman März.
2. Anri Sala (b. 1974, AL)
Portrait of Anri Sala. Photo: Marc Domage / The New York Times.
Anri Sala, born in 1974 in Albania, lives and works in Berlin, Germany. The contemporary visual artist is primary known for working in film and also works with photography, performance and installation. Sala engages the viewer to take part in his world of cultural observation, in which, often, socio-political settings are used in relation to personal experiences as backdrops.
"Sala’s transformative, time-based works are constructed through multiple relationships between image, architecture and sound, utilizing these as elements to fold, capsize and question experience. His works investigate ruptures in language, syntax, and music in order to validate or invalidate narrative and composition, inviting creative dislocations which generate new interpretations of history, supplanting old fictions with new, less explicit, and less duplicitous ones."
For further reading on Anri Sala on the works of Anri Sala, in 2006, Phaidon has included Anri Sala in their renowned Contemporary artist series. More recently, a monographic overview has been published in 2016, titled Anri Sala: Answer Me, presenting an illustrated and comprehensive overview of his already illustrious career up to date. On the Artfacts list, Sala ranks as number forty most influential living artist of the moment, resulting in a second place in this article.
An anthology of Anri Sala's oeuvre:
Anri Sala, As you go, 2019. 13-Channel HD video and 22-channel discrete sound installation — variable dimensions. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth. / Photo: Antonio Maniscalco.
Anri Sala, Light pushing #2, 2002. Black and white photograph on baryta paper — 49.5 × 60.5 cm / 19 1/2 × 23 4/5 in. Courtesy of Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.
Anri Sala, The Last Resort, 2017. 2-channel sound installation including 38 altered snare drums, loudspeaker parts, snare stands, drumsticks, soundtrack and 4 speakers; 58 min. 28 sec. — 850 cm diameter / 334 3/5 in diameter. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery.
1. Kader Attia (b. 1970, FR)
Portrait of Kader Attia. Photo: Michael Danner.
Artist Kader Attia, born in 1970 in France, lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Initially, the French-Algerian artist began his artistic practice with photography before taking on sculpture, installation and collage. His work is characterized by a multidisciplinary and intercultural approach of research. Central in his work is the notion of 'repair':
"His socio-cultural research has led Kader Attia to the notion of Repair, a concept he has been developing philosophically in his writings and symbolically in his oeuvre as a visual artist. With the principle of Repair being a constant in nature — thus also in humanity — any system, social institution or cultural tradition can be considered as an infinite process of Repair, which is closely linked to loss and wounds, to recuperation and re-appropriation. Repair reaches far beyond the subject and connects the individual to gender, philosophy, science, and architecture, and also involves it in evolutionary processes in nature, culture, myth and history."
This notion of 'repair' resulted in the much-lauded piece The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, at dOCUMENTA XIII in Kassel, accompanied by the eponymous book published in 2016. For a more comprehensive overview and further reading on the works of Ader Kattia, in 2015 the monograph Kader Attia was published including an extensive disquisition on the works and concepts within Attia's work. Our number one of this article, Kader Attia, is ranked as the twenty-first most influential living artist at this moment.
An anthology of Kader Attia's oeuvre: