A version of this list first appeared in the fall 2020 Artnet Intelligence Report, which you can download in full for free here. Profiles of the innovators in each category will be published in the coming days.
For much of the world, the term “innovator” might conjure an image of a hoodie-clad twentysomething frantically coding inside a computer-packed Silicon Valley garage, or a wizened researcher hunched over a high-powered laboratory microscope. But in the art world, innovators look a lot more like the rest of us: spending their days glued to the phone, clicking away at images on their laptops, and mired in an endless stream of Zoom meetings.
Fortunately for the art business, there’s a bit of magic happening behind those familiar screens—and, at a moment when every assumption that governed the industry for decades is breaking down at astonishing speed, magic is more valuable than ever.
That’s why, for our inaugural Innovators issue, we set out to identify the most forward-thinking people working in the art market today. To find them, we reached out to around 85 industry leaders, from Art Basel Global Director Marc Spiegler to Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar to the artist collective teamLab, to find out who they look to for next-generation ideas. We whittled the long list of 300 candidates they suggested down to 51 figures who are pioneering actionable ways of tackling old and new challenges alike in every sector of the industry.
These innovators span five continents and three generations (the youngest person on the list is 25; the oldest, 69). They include the son of a bus driver who is helping the world’s leading museums adapt to the smartphone era; an obsessive curator developing new standards for buying and selling performance art; a millennial auction-house specialist challenging the traditional rules about what belongs in a contemporary-art sale; and a group of scrappy gallerists from around the world sharing a single modest storefront in Brussels.
Many of these innovators espouse a common set of principles that point the way toward a more compelling, more sustainable, and more just arts ecosystem. Do they have all the answers? By no means—a fact that the members of this class readily admit.
Still, their choices spark signal flares that are illuminating new possibilities as many in the arts are struggling to find any source of light. In exploring these possibilities, they might not only expand the art business into undreamt-of realms but become the industry leaders of tomorrow.
Whether developing new software or constructing novel platforms for exchange, these six innovators remind us that you can’t build the future with outmoded tools.
Tyler Woolcott, 38, Director of StudioVisit, London
Sean Green, 38, Founder of Arternal, Los Angeles
Daniel Birnbaum, 57, Curator and Artistic Director of Acute Art, London
Balazs Farago, 44, Founder and CEO of Walter’s Cube, New York
Annika Erikson, 39, CEO of Articheck, London
Brendan Ciecko, 32, Founder of Cuseum, Boston
The art you acquire reflects your social and ethical agenda, and the members of this group are using their collections to push the conversation in valuable new directions.
Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, 41, Cofounder of the Dean Collection, Los Angeles and Englewood, New Jersey
Rob and Eric Thomas-Suwall, Collectors, Minot, North Dakota
Pulane Kingston, Executive Chairperson of Mirai Rail Corporation, Johannesburg
Patrick Sun, 65, Founder and Executive Director of the Sunpride Foundation Hong Kong, Taipei, and Bangkok
Lonti Ebers, Founder of Amant, New York and Toronto
Du Yan, 39, Founder of the Asymmetry Art Foundation, Hong Kong and London
The Institutional Change Agents
It’s said that real change comes from within—and these innovators are proving that maxim true as they bring established institutions into the future.
Arthur Lewis, 52, Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts & UTA Artist Space, Los Angeles
David Galperin, 28, Head of Contemporary Art Evening Auctions at Sotheby’s New York, New York
Sam Orlofsky, 44, Director at Gagosian, New York
Thao Nguyen, Agent and Curator at Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles
Loring Randolph, 39, Director of Frieze New York, New York
Touria El Glaoui, 45, Founder and Director of 1-54: Contemporary African Art Fair, London
Vanessa Carlos, 37, Founder of Condo, London
Elena Soboleva, 34, Online Director at David Zwirner, New York
The Community Builders
By uniting disparate stakeholders in various art scenes around new priorities, these people have created movements that are reshaping the landscape for the better.
Kimberly Drew, 30, Author, Curator, and Social Activist, New York
Antonia Carver, 48, Director of Art Jameel, Dubai
Larry Ossei-Mensah, 40, Cofounder of ArtNoir, New York
Rose Lejeune, 39, Founder of Performance Exchange, London
Melissa Cowley Wolf, 40, Founder of MCW Projects LLC, New York
The Disruption Artists
Why wait for dealers and collectors to evolve the business model for creating art when you can do it yourself in your studio?
Ryotaro Muramatsu, 49, Artist, CEO of Naked, Inc., Tokyo
Solange Knowles, 34, Artist, Musician, and Choreographer, Los Angeles
Lauren Halsey, 33, Artist and Founder of Summaeverythang, Los Angeles
Emeka Ogboh, 43, Artist, Berlin
Tyler Mitchell, 25, Photographer and Filmmaker, New York
Leah Clements, Alice Hattrick, and Lizzy Rose, Cocreators of Access Docs for Artists, Margate and London
The Next-Gen Dealers
From their programs to their business practices, each of these art sellers offers a compelling vision of what a 21st-century gallery can be.
LaTiesha Fazakas, 48, Founder of Fazakas Gallery, Vancouver
Johann König, 39, Owner of Galerie König, Berlin
Sunny Rahbar, 42, Cofounder and Director of The Third Line, Dubai
La Maison de Rendez-Vous, Time-Shared Gallery Space, Brussels
Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, 41, Founder of We Buy Gold, New York
Jaqueline Martins, 42, Founder of Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo
Jun Tirtadji, 31, Founding Director of ROH Projects, Jakarta
Kelani Nichole, 38, Founder of Transfer, Los Angeles
Esther Kim Varet, Cofounder of Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul
These veteran gallerists blazed a trail that the rest of the industry is only now catching on to.
Pearl Lam, 50, Founder of Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong
Karen Jenkins-Johnson, 60, Founder of Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
Magda Sawon, 64, & Tamas Banovich, 69, Cofounders of Postmasters, New York
Lisa Panting, 48, & Malin Ståhl, 44, Cofounders of Hollybush Gardens, London
Penny Pilkington, 63, & Wendy Olsoff, 63, Cofounders of P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York
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