We are now a full century since the guns of August set in motion the carnage of the first World War, cleaving apart nations, introducing shocking new technologies, and spreading the aesthetic of Modernism as a reflection of the shattered continent. The figures leading this artistic charge included such visionaries as Picasso and Braque, Paul Klee, Giorgio de Chirico, Umberto Boccioni, and Egon Schiele. Today, with a world again fragmented by war and the upheavals of transformative technologies, who are the most significant artists shaping our ways of seeing?
Next month, Phaidon is providing a sweeping answer to this question with the release of The Twenty First Century Art Book, an up-to-date companion to the publisher's hugely popular historical survey, The Art Book. Containing more than 280 artists from 50 countries, the new volume provides an insightful gloss on the men and women who are using their wide-ranging respective mediums to advance beyond the artistic achievements of the 20th century—often in ways that reflect current attitudes about identity, politics, and the relationship between the real and the virtual.
To whet your appetite, here are 10 artists from the book you should know about.
Often working at immense, room-filling scale, the British artist Karla Black undercuts the imposing size of her installations by making them as light and sweet as can be—all cotton-candy pastels, diaphanous drapery, and powders, strewn with cosmetics and other diminutive objects seemingly sourced from her medicine cabinet. Having had a breakout solo debut at David Zwirner in the spring, Black has spent the summer on a tear, exhibiting her work across shows in Milan, Edinburgh, and St. Petersburg, where she is a highlight of the current Manifesta 10.
Capturing the complex identities and representations of her hometown of Tangier, a broken down yet cosmopolitan city on the tip of African (mere miles from Europe), Yto Barrada has gained international acclaim for her socially aware prints, photographs, films, and sculptures. A recent Peabody Fellow in Photography at Harvard and 2013 visiting scholar at NYU, she is currently featured in a group show at Pace Gallery in London and in the New Museum's acclaimed show "Here and Elsewhere," which surveys work by contemporary Arab artists.
The Jerusalem-born Tamy Ben-Tor is a shapeshifter of the highest order, adopting elaborate and finely observed cultural personae in her often-satirical films and performances to explore racial stereotypes—while simultaneously poking fun at the self-importance of fine art. Her hilariously frustrating caricatures include a "Middle East expert" who claims evidence of the Holocaust was created on Photoshop and a snobby American conceptual artist. Dubbed the “George Orwell of today’s video art" by the New York Times, Ben-Tor is collected by the Whitney, the Pérez Art Museum (formerly the Miami Art Museum), and other major institutions.
Awarded the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2011—an award given to a “French-based artist considered to be at the vanguard of contemporary art practice”—Mircea Cantor often earns comparisons to that master of the readymade for his thought-provoking and absurdist work, such as the Landscape Is Changing, an orchestration of protestors holding up mirrors instead of political placards. Having grown up in Eastern Europe during the Communist Era, the Paris-based artist draws upon the turbulent political environment of his childhood in his diverse multimedia works, positioning himself as an observer of overlapping cultures and societies. As described in The Twenty First Century Art Book, Cantor's “work routinely proposes a world where harmony and understanding arise from the tensions of opposing ideologies.”
Sculptor, essayist, poet, performer, and American Indian Movement activist, Jimmie Durham has been exhibiting work internationally as a means of political activism since the 1960s, but the Cherokee artist has been enjoying a widening influence in recent decades. With a solo exhibition this summer at London's Parasol Unit, Durham was also included in this year's Whitney Biennial (his third); he is also a veteran of an impressive five Venice Biennale appearances over the last 15 years, and was exhibited in dOCUMENTA (13).
Describing her photographs of interior spaces as self-portraits, the Italian artist Luisa Lambri gives a unique sense of place—even personality—to the sites she photographs, predominantly Modernist architectural landmarks by the likes of Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Richard Neutra. Her minimalist work, which earned her a Golden Lion at the 1999 Venice Biennale, is included in such prestigious collections as the Guggenheim (which she has photographed) and Rome's Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, and her photographs will be a central part of a group exhibition at Thomas Dane Gallery in London this fall.
Through epic projects like Analogue (1998-2009)—a series of photographs documenting trends, style, and cultures across different continents—and her transformation of a window into a giant camera obscura for the recent Whitney Biennial (for which she won the Bucksbaum Award), Zoe Leonard continually challenges the way we perceive the world through forms of documentation. Currently the subject of a yearlong installation at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa that runs through late December, her photographs, sculptures, and installations are her honest and plainspoken responses to the world around her.
Lucy McKenzie enjoys a massive international following for her wide range of work, which is all the more impressive considering that she first emerged in the art world as a young prodigy, being chosen by artists Peter Doig and Roy Arden as winner of EASTinternational's East Award in 1999 at the age of only 22. (Yes, prodigies often flame out, and, yes, she is a rock star.) Drawing influence from an eclectic grouping of sources ranging from Eastern European propaganda to 1980s pop music, the Scottish artist forges unlikely relationships in her painting, printmaking, drawing, design, poetry readings, and performances. Included in the 2003 Venice Biennale, she is currently a professor of painting at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
The multitalented Argentine artist Amalia Pica uses simple materials such as lightbulbs, projectors, drinking glasses, and cardboard to create aesthetically captivating work that is deeply concerned with the issues of communication and the importance of being heard. To say her work is layered is an understatement: her installation Venn Diagrams (Under the Spotlight), a well-known piece featured in the New Museum's "Ungovernables" triennial, consisted of a pink and turquoise circle projected on a blank wall to create a Venn diagram—a reference to the way such charts were banned from school curriculums under the former Argentine dictatorship because of their subversive promotion of collaboration. This summer, Pica is exhibiting her first solo show at France's La Criée Centre d’art Contemporian.
In his art, Gianni Motti critiques what be believes to be the absurdities and flaws of the contemporary news media—often in arresting ways. For one piece, he declared responsibility for the NASA Challenger explosion in 1986; for another, in 1997, he somehow managed to speak on behalf of an absent Indonesian delegate at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. When asked to create a retrospective of his work at Zürich's Migros Museum in 2004, he chose not to display any physical traces of his oeuvre and instead created an empty 200-foot-long corridor where guides orally explained Motti’s unconventional past interventions on society. Last year he had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris.