The Most Influential Artists of 2020

At the start of 2020, it was impossible to predict that this year would transform the art world as we knew it. By March, the COVID-19 pandemic began to throw entire years of museum, gallery, and biennial exhibitions into the balance, and it may have forever rocked the international art fair circuit. In June, the Black Lives Matter movement swept through the art world and ushered in a long overdue reckoning with the inequity and systemic racism of the art industry.

The artists below were at the forefront of these waves of change. They created fresh work to live up to this moment and launched fundraisers and initiatives to aid victims of COVID-19, promote BIPOC organizations, and lift up fellow artists. Some managed to set head-spinning auction records and opened spectacular museum shows; others set career milestones and earned due recognition for their longstanding, influential practices. They represent a small fraction of the artists who inspired us this year, though they stand out as leaders who will surely guide us through the next one and whatever it may bring.

Amoako Boafo

B. 1984, Accra, Ghana. Lives and works in Vienna, Austria.

If Amoako Baofo’s sell-out booth with Mariane Ibrahim Gallery at 2019’s Art Basel in Miami Beach marked him as one to watch, the painter’s 2020 auction performance shows collectors were paying attention.

In February, he made his stunning auction debut at Phillips in London, when The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019), a stylized portrait showcasing the bold brushwork and bright colors he’s become known for, sold for £675,000 ($875,000)—more than 13 times its high estimate. This would become a pattern of his for the rest of the year, with underestimated paintings regularly shattering expectations and selling for hundreds of thousands. Institutions have taken notice, too: The Guggenheim Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Vienna’s Albertina Museum have all acquired Boafo’s work.

Amoako Boafo, installation view of “I Stand By Me” at Mariane Ibrahim, 2020. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim.

Sibi, 2018.
Amoako Boafo
TRESART

Jean-Jacques Ndjola, 2020.
Amoako Boafo
Roberts Projects

Royal Blue Vest, 2020.
Amoako Boafo
Carmichael Gallery

Untitled, 2018.
Amoako Boafo
Visioner

Baby Blue Suit, 2020.
Amoako Boafo
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Neurke, 2019.
Amoako Boafo
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Brick Red, 2020.
Amoako Boafo
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Amid the buying frenzy, Baofo has continued to develop and diversify his practice, collaborating with Dior menswear designer Kim Jones on the brand’s summer 2021 collection, and opening a show of new portraits, “I Stand By Me,” at Mariane Ibrahim’s Chicago gallery in September. His most ambitious project? An upcoming gallery and studio complex, complete with an artist residency program, in his native Accra.

—Allyssia Alleyne

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Banksy

B. 1974, Yate, England. Lives and works in England.

Every year is a busy one in the Banksy-verse, but in 2020, the agit-prop prankster made his influence felt far and wide. As the U.K. weathered the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring, he gifted a painting to a British hospital, with funds from its anticipated sale to benefit the National Health Service. Over the summer he again offered up his work to fundraise for health care, pledging proceeds from Sotheby’s sale of Mediterranean sea view 2017 (2017)—a grim commentary on the European migrant crisis—to a hospital in Bethlehem. The work provided a major windfall for the hospital, exceeding its pre-sale high estimate of £1.2 million ($1.5 million) to fetch £2.2 million ($2.8 million), becoming Banksy’s second-highest auction result at the time.

The rescue ship Louise Michel. Courtesy of Louise Michel.

Banksy, Show me the Monet, 2005. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Banksy, detail of Mediterranean sea view 2017, 2017. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A member of staff has their photograph taken in front of a new artwork painted by Banksy that has gone on display to staff and patients on Level C of Southampton General Hospital. Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images.

Later in the summer, Banksy’s attention returned to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, and in a much more direct manner: He helped fund the work of a refugee rescue ship he’d adorned with an eye-catching paint job. The ship ran into some trouble during one of its missions, though, and had to be rescued itself. Meanwhile, the runner-up auction record set by Mediterranean sea view didn’t stand long. Banksy’s spin on Claude Monet’s Giverny paintings, Show Me the Monet (2005), exceeded its high estimate by more than half at a Sotheby’s auction in October, ultimately selling for £7.5 million ($9.7 million)—still well short of his $12.1-million record.

—Benjamin Sutton

Betye Saar

B. 1926, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

In 2020, we witnessed a flurry of firsts for the long-overlooked artist Betye Saar. Bookending the year was the landmark exhibition “Betye Saar: Call and Response,” which debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before traveling to its current venue, the Morgan Library in New York. The show, which includes both finished works alongside sketchbooks and drawings, is the first to span the now-94-year-old artist’s entire career. Meanwhile, the beginning of this year saw the tail end of “Betye Saar: The Legends of Black Girls Window” at the Museum of Modern Art, the first dedicated examination of Saar’s work as a printmaker.

Installation view of “Betye Saar: Call and Response” at The Morgan Library & Museum, 2020. Artworks © Betye Saar. Photo © The Morgan Library & Museum. Photo by Graham S Haber, 2020. Courtesy of the artist; Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California; and The Morgan Library & Museum.

Forget Me Not, 1977.
Betye Saar
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Magnolia Flower, 2000.
Betye Saar
Dolan/Maxwell

Betye Saar, Objects, Obsessions, Obligations, 2013. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California.

The Trickster, 1994.
Betye Saar
Roberts Projects

Woke Up This Morning, the Blues was in My Bed, 2019.
Betye Saar
Roberts Projects

Legends in Blue, 2020.
Betye Saar
Roberts Projects

Along with her major museum shows, Saar was also named the recipient of the 2020 Wolfgang Hahn Prize and was the subject of a documentary short, Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business. Directed by Christine Turner, the eight-minute film was featured at this year’s Sundance and was selected as a New York Times op-doc. In November, Saar’s ABCD Education (2001) achieved a new auction record for the artist at a Sotheby’s day sale, selling for $81,900.

—Shannon Lee

Christine Sun Kim

B. 1980, Orange County, California. Lives and works in Berlin.

At Super Bowl LIV in February 2020, sound artist and performer Christine Sun Kim made a strong impression. At the 40-yard line, she performed the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” in American Sign Language. Known for her pointed explorations of sound’s role in society, Kim saw it as an opportunity to extend her work drawing attention to issues facing the greater deaf community to an audience of over 100 million viewers. Yet Fox Sports hardly aired the performance, leading the artist to pen an op-ed for the New York Times. “I had hoped to provide a public service for deaf viewers, and believed that my appearance might raise awareness of the systemic barriers and the stigmas attached to our deafness—and move some people to action,” Kim wrote. “I hope that despite the failure of Fox to make the performance accessible to all, it did do that.”

Christine Sun Kim performing the national anthem in American Sign Language at the Super Bowl. Photo by AJ Mast. Courtesy of The New York Times.

Why My Hearing Parents Sign, 2019.
Christine Sun Kim
François Ghebaly

Arp Forum, 2019.
Christine Sun Kim
François Ghebaly

Let’s See, See See, 2018.
Christine Sun Kim
François Ghebaly

Christine Sun Kim, The Sound of Frequencies Attempting to be Heavy, 2019. Photo by Stefan Korte. Courtesy of the artist, PS120 Berlin, and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles.

Christine Sun Kim, Degrees of Deaf Rage While Traveling 2018. Photo by Yang Hao. Courtesy of the artist, White Space, Beijing, and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles.

Christine Sun Kim, The Sound of Temperature Rising Non Stop Forever, 2020, Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Courtesy of the artist, Ted Countdown, Fine Acts, and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles.

Kim’s work has continued to receive major mainstream visibility this fall. In September, her 2018 work One Week of Lullabies for Roux became the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s first-ever sound installation. The following month, Kim was named one of the Ford Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s inaugural Disability Futures Fellows. This year, she also held solo exhibitions at her L.A. gallery François Ghebaly, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo Shibuya Koen-dori Gallery. Most recently, Kim’s work was featured as part of New York magazine’s initiative that commissioned artists to create their own versions of the United States’s iconic “I Voted” stickers.

—Shannon Lee

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Deana Lawson

B. 1979, Rochester, New York. Lives and works in New York.

In October, Deana Lawson became the first photographer to win the prestigious Hugo Boss Prize for contemporary art, with the judges commending her “indelible” contributions to her medium, and to the cultural landscape more broadly.

Over the last 15 years, Lawson has established herself as one of the world’s foremost contemporary photographers. Her thoughtful tableaux of Black people, often in domestic settings, teeter between the conceptual and the documentary, the stylized and naturalistic. As well regarded in the commercial world as she is in the art world, she opened her biggest institutional exhibition to date, “Centropy,” at the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland in June, and photographed the activist Angela Davis for the digital cover of Vanity Fair’s September 2020 issue.

Coulson Family, 2008.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Chief, 2019.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Vera, 2020.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Axis, 2018.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Jouvert, Flatbush, Brooklyn, 2013.
Deana Lawson
Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Shirley, 2005.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Shadonna, 2018.
Deana Lawson
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Next year, as part of her Hugo Boss win, Lawson will have a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in spring 2021. “Centropy,” which was intended to be a part of the program of 2020 Bienal de São Paulo before it was postponed due to coronavirus, will travel to Brazil when the event opens in September 2021, and the ICA Boston will present a career-spanning retrospective in October 2021.

—Allyssia Alleyne

Frank Bowling

B. 1934, Guyana. Lives and works in London and New York.

Few artists had a more eventful 2020 than the 86-year-old abstract painter Frank Bowling. In early October, it was announced that he would be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and, that same day, news broke that he would be signing with mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. These major milestones speak to Bowling’s great contributions to British abstract art. Earlier this year, the artist brought a contentious, nearly $40 million legal battle against one of his former galleries.

Frank Bowling, Blue 4 Lindylou, 2020. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Frank Bowling, Cover Girl, 1966. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

S.O.M. VI, 2014.
Frank Bowling
Bode Projects

Pouring Over 2 Morrison Boys & 2 Maps I, 2019.
Frank Bowling
Galerie Maximillian

Flying Footy, 2018.
Frank Bowling
Barbara Mathes Gallery

Frank Bowling, Night Journey, 1968–69. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and The Metropolitan Museum.

Frank Bowling, Mirror, 1964–66. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Tate.

Frank Bowling, Oriented Light, 2020. © Frank Bowling. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Bowling’s knighthood, which came not long after his first major retrospective at Tate Britain in 2019, makes him one of the small handful of Black British artists to receive such recognition. It is the crowning achievement to date of the octogenarian artist’s long overdue ascent. “He has shown dedication and dogged persistence in the face of obstacles throughout his life of painting, including having to deal with stereotypical associations made between his work and origins,” Bowling’s sons and studio directors Ben and Sacha Bowling said in a statement. “It requires exceptional dedication to follow one’s own unique vision for decades, for much of the time with little reward.” Bowling will open solo exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth in London and the Arnolfini in Bristol in 2021.

—Shannon Lee

Grayson Perry

B. 1960, Chelmsford, England. Lives and works in London.

When much of the world went into lockdown in the first half of 2020, most artists turned to Instagram and other digital channels to share their work. Grayson Perry took to Channel 4. The prolific and irreverent artist—well known for intricate works adopting historic iconography and craft materials to lampoon British culture, and his habit of cross-dressing to the nines—launched Grayson’s Art Club in April with his wife Philippa Perry. The ongoing series provided just what quarantining Britons needed, with Perry leading viewers through the process of making a particular type of work each week amid guest appearances by David Shrigley, Antony Gormley, Maggi Hambling, and others.

Grayson Perry, installation view of “The MOST Specialest Relationship” at Victoria Miro, 2020. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

Warhead, 2020.
Grayson Perry
Victoria Miro

Don’t Look Down, 2019.
Grayson Perry
Victoria Miro

03 from Six Snapshots of Julie, 2015.
Grayson Perry
Paragon

Marriage Flag, 2018.
Grayson Perry
RAW Editions

Grayson Perry, installation view of “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” at the British Museum, 2020. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist, British Museum, and Victoria Miro

Grayson Perry, Chris Whitty’s Cat, 2020. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

Grayson Perry, Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting, 2020. © Grayson Perry. Courtesy of the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd, and Victoria Miro.

Perry also kept up his breakneck pace of exhibitions and projects, despite the pandemic. In August, his intricate nautical sculpture The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (2011) went on long-term view at the British Museum. And in September, Victoria Miro launched a virtual exhibition focused on his monumental tapestry Very Large Very Expensive Abstract Painting (2020). It wasn’t all TV shows and tapestries for Perry this year, though; in November, he came under fire for saying in an interview with Arts Society Magazine that job losses in the arts due to COVID-19 amounted to “a bit of dead wood” and “fat that needs trimming.” He subsequently said the comments were taken out of context, adding: “In times of hardship we need the arts more than ever.”

—Benjamin Sutton

Haegue Yang

B. 1971, Seoul. Lives and works in Seoul and Berlin.

Haegue Yang’s deeply researched multimedia installations felt both remarkably prescient and tragically remote in this year of extended isolation. Her omnivorous practice wrangles far-ranging sources and disparate mediums with intellectual glee, resulting in immersive installations like “In the Cone of Uncertainty,” her late 2019 exhibition at The Bass that combined climate gentrification data and historical texts with new and old kinetic sculptural works, plant-laden chandeliers, and wall graphics to tell a story specific to the museum’s home in Miami. Around the same time, Yang unveiled her site-specific commision Handles (2019), which is on view at the newly revamped MoMA in New York through February 2021. The presentation features wall pieces and floor sculptures that can be intermittently rearranged by performers.

Haegue Yang, installation view of “Haegue Yang: When The Year 2000 Comes,” at Kukje Gallery. Photo by Chunho An. Courtesy of Kukje Gallery.

Haegue Yang, installation view of “Haegue Yang: Handles” at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2019. Photo by Denis Doorly. Courtesy of Kukje Gallery.

Folded in Ray – Trustworthy Off Horizon #116A, B, 2011.
Haegue Yang
Attika Fine Arts

Sonic Sphere – Diagonally-ornamented Copper and Nickel, 2015.
Haegue Yang
Galerie Chantal Crousel

Non-Folding–Geometric Tipping #41, 2013.
Haegue Yang
kurimanzutto

Sonic Obscuring Hairy Hug, 2020.
Haegue Yang
Kukje Gallery

Haegue Yang, installation view of “Haegue Yang: The Cone of Concern” at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) Manila, the Philippines, 2020. Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) Manila and Kukje Gallery.

Haegue Yang, The Intermediate – Ikebana Dragon Ball, 2016. Photo by Keith Park. Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery.

Haegue Yang, installation view of “Haegue Yang: Emergence” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, 2020. © AGO Image 2020. Photo by Craig Boyko. Courtesy of Kukje Gallery.

Haegue Yang, Non-Linear and Non-Periodic Dynamics, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery.

Yang maintained a steady clip of presentations into 2020, with shows at Tate St. Ives, the MCAD in Manila, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, all of which exhibited the same level of intellectual rigor and variation in craft. In a year marked by the impossibility of connection, Yang’s rabbit-hole specificity and engagements with interactivity are reminders of the expansive possibilities of installation, and what is lost when art is confined to a viewing on a screen.

—Justin Kamp

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Matthew Wong

B. 1984, Toronto. D. 2019, Edmonton, Canada.

Just as Matthew Wong’s career was taking off, we lost him. The Canadian painter had long struggled with mental health issues and died by suicide in October 2019 at age 35. At the time, he was preparing a solo exhibition, “Blue,” his second with New York gallery Karma, which opened the following month and continued into the first week of 2020. It was tempting to read intimations of his suffering into the paintings of moonlit landscapes and serene interiors, yet more than that, the exhibition showcased Wong’s mastery of color and composition, versatile brushwork (all the more impressive considering his MFA was in photography), and knack for balancing intense beauty and understated melancholy.

Matthew Wong, installation view of “Day by Night” at Massimo De Carlo Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo.

Matthew Wong, Autumn Nocturne, 2018. Courtesy of the Matthew Wong Estate and Karma.

Matthew Wong, River at Dusk, 2018. Courtesy of Phillips.

Matthew Wong, Blue Smoke, 2018. Courtesy of the Matthew Wong Estate and Karma.

Matthew Wong, installation view of “Day by Night” at Massimo De Carlo Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo.

Matthew Wong, Solitude, 2018. Courtesy of the Matthew Wong Estate and Karma.

Matthew Wong, Fireplace, 2018. Courtesy of the Matthew Wong Estate and Karma.

A problematic side effect of Wong’s tragic genius is that his paintings have attracted the attention of speculators and flippers. His work first appeared at auction in May 2020, when an untitled watercolor from 2018 sold for $62,500—more than four times its high estimate—at Sotheby’s. The following month, at another Sotheby’s sale, his 2018 canvas The Realm of Appearances sold for a mind-boggling $1.8 million—about 22 times its high estimate. That record has since been eclipsed twice, most recently in early December, when his 2018 painting River at Dusk surpassed its high estimate of HK$10 million (US$1.2 million) to sell for HK$37.7 million (US$4.8 million) at a Phillips and Poly Auction sale. But while Wong’s market may be volatile, his legacy is secure now, with works in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and others.

—Benjamin Sutton

Patrisse Cullors

B. 1983, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Los Angeles.

“My art practice is an extension of my political values,” the artist and activist Patrisse Cullors told Artsy earlier this year. “What we value is human life, each other, our ancestors, and the ending of caging human beings.” Cullors, who is perhaps best known as one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, was speaking of the Crenshaw Dairy Mart, an art space in Inglewood, Los Angeles, that she developed with fellow artists Alexandre Dorriz and noé olivas over the past two years. However, the values she described could be seen and heard in cities across the country this summer as furor over racist police violence boiled over into protests and demands for systemic change.

Patrisse Cullors, Fuck White Supremacy, Let’s Get Free (2019) at Frieze LA 2020. Photo by Giovanni Solis. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrisse Cullors, Malcolm Revisited, October 2020. Photo by Slow Blink Productions. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrisse Cullors, Respite, Reprieve, and Healing: An Evening of Cleansing, 2019. Photo by Giovanni Solis. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrisse Cullors, Malcolm Revisited, October 2020. Photo by Slow Blink Productions. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrisse Cullors, Prayer to the Iyami for “Allegories of Flight” at The Broad, 2020. Image by Giovanni Solis. Courtesy of the artist.

Patrisse Cullors, Respite, Reprieve, and Healing: An Evening of Cleansing, 2019. Photo by Giovanni Solis. Courtesy of the artist.

Crenshaw Dairy Mart, which opened just weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown, is an extension of Cullors’s focus on racial justice, and has featured anti-gentrification and prison abolitionist programming as well as mutual aid efforts during the pandemic and protests. In a year that tore open our institutions and revealed the rotting, racist structures that were still at their core, Cullors’s ongoing commitment to reimagining art spaces as sites of care and community is more than influential—it’s revolutionary.

—Justin Kamp

Sandra Gamarra

B. 1973, Lima. Lives and works in Madrid.

Sandra Gamarra’s practice is built on challenging the supremacy of the museum, an outlook that seemed suddenly everywhere in 2020 as the ground buckled beneath institutions and complaints of systemic racism and drastic inequality echoed throughout the art world. Though Gamarra has been a steady source of institutional critiques for more than two decades, 2020 saw her stance drift closer toward orthodoxy.

In March, Gamarra opened a solo show, “Still Life-Showcase-Museum-Showcase-Still Life,” at Lima’s 80m2 Livia Benavides, and in September, her fabulations were featured in a presentation at the Gropius Bau as part of the 11th Berlin Biennale, in a section titled “The Inverted Museum.” The exhibitions, which featured painted reconstructions of museum holdings and two-dimensional cut-outs of artifacts suspended in glass displays, respectively, are representative of Gamarra’s conceptual work on the whole, investigating the colonialist and capitalist hierarchies that museums serve to uphold and reinforce.

Exhibition view of the 11th Berlin Biennnale at Gropius Bau. Courtesy of 80m2 Livia Benavides Gallery.

Exhibition view of the 11th Berlin Biennnale at Gropius Bau. Courtesy of 80m2 Livia Benavides Gallery.

Escritura sobre Naturaleza Muerta VI, 2019.
Sandra Gamarra
80M2 Livia Benavides

Museo del Ostracismo, 2018.
Sandra Gamarra
80M2 Livia Benavides

Lıńea histórica, 2019-2020.
Sandra Gamarra
80M2 Livia Benavides

Naturaleza muerta sobre realidad peruana VIII, 2019.
Sandra Gamarra
80M2 Livia Benavides

Sandra Gamarra, Cryptomnesia (or in some museums the sun never shines), 2020. Courtesy of 80m2 Livia Benavides Gallery.

Sandra Gamarra, Cryptomnesia V (or in some museums the sun never shines), 2020. Courtesy of 80m2 Livia Benavides Gallery.

Sandra Gamarra, Cryptomnesia VI (or in some museums the sun never shines), 2020. Courtesy of 80m2 Livia Benavides Gallery.

In the spring, her installation Vitrina V was acquired by the Community of Madrid as part of an artist-focused COVID-19 relief effort, which will place her art in the CA2M Dos de Mayo Art Center. Over the summer, she was shortlisted for the inaugural Julius Baer Prize for Latin American artists, which was presented in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art of Bogotá and focuses on Latin American women who have contributed significantly to the development of contemporary art on the continent.

—Justin Kamp

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Toyin Ojih Odutola

B. 1985, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Lives and works in New York.

In March, London went into lockdown just weeks before Toyin Ojih Odutola’s “A Countervailing Theory,” an ambitious exhibition of graphic storytelling, was set to open at London’s Barbican. But the pandemic only slowed, rather than stunted, the artist’s remarkable year.

In June, she exhibited “Tell Me A Story, I Don’t Care If It’s True,” a series of emotional, small-scale drawings produced in early lockdown, in Jack Shainman’s online viewing room. One month later, her portrait of author Zadie Smith—arms confidently folded, legs casually crossed—was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Installation view, “Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory” at the Barbican Centre, London, 2020. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Installation view, “Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory” at the Barbican Centre, London, 2020. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Reiteration, 2020. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, As He Watched Him Walk Away, 2020. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Summons; To Witness One’s Own, 2019–20. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Semblance of Certainty, 2019. © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

In August, “A Countervailing Theory” opened, finally, to critical acclaim; “Tell Me a Story” made the leap from the screen to the gallery space in September; and a group show, “i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times,” opened at the ICA Boston in November.

If all goes to plan, Ojih Odutola’s unpredictable 2020 arc will soon come full circle: Almost a year after its intended debut, “A Countervailing Theory” is set to open at the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark, in February 2021.

—Allyssia Alleyne

Wendy Red Star

B. 1981, Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation, Montana. Lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

Following the first mid-career retrospective for Wendy Red Star at the Newark Museum in 2019, the multimedia artist and member of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe conceived of a publication that could be foundational to young Indigenous photographers. Imagining the impact that such a publication would have had on herself during her undergraduate studies, Red Star curated, edited, and featured a wide range of Indigenous artists for the fall 2020 issue of Aperture. Titled “Native America,” the widely celebrated issue paired artists—from photographer Martine Gutierrez to multidisciplinary artist Duane Linklater—with Indigenous writers and writers of color.

Wendy Red Star, Catalogue Number 1947.110, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Outtake: Red Star (The Breaker), 2012.
Wendy Red Star
Light Work

Wendy Red Star, Catalogue Number 1948.102, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Mountain Lion Attack, 2020.
Wendy Red Star
Sargent’s Daughters

Wendy Red Star, 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, Peelatchiwaaxpáash / Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Wendy Red Star, 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, Peelatchiwaaxpáash / Medicine Crow (Raven), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Portrait of Wendy Red Star. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Wendy Red Star, Catalogue Number 1950.76, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Sargent’s Daughters.

Earlier this year, Red Star exhibited in the two-person show “Two Generations: Joe Feddersen & Wendy Red Star” at the Schneider Museum of Art, responding to historic and contemporary misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples with biting humor. While the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired her 2014 piece 1880 Crow Peace Delegation: Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven), another edition of the work was included in Red Star’s current solo show at MASS MoCA, titled “Children of the Large-Beaked Bird.” In the exhibition, Red Star addresses the U.S. education system, in which stories of her tribe and ancestors are absent. Reflecting on Native land rights and broken treaties, the show auspiciously coincides with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that recognized much of Oklahoma as the sovereign tribal land of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

—Harley Wong

Ruth Asawa

B. 1926, Norwalk, California. D. 2013, San Francisco.

In August 2020, the United States Postal Service released a new set of postage stamps honoring the late trailblazing artist Ruth Asawa. While picturing her iconic wire sculptures, the stamps also celebrate the artist’s lifelong contribution to the arts, which included co-founding an arts education program that was implemented in as many as 50 public schools in San Francisco.

Born to two first-generation Japanese immigrants in 1920s California, Asawa spent her childhood balancing school, work on her parent’s farm, and a burgeoning passion for art. The family’s life was upended in 1942, when they were sent to internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Asawa spent 18 months in the camp until her admittance into college offered her an early release. She began her higher education in art and eventually landed at North Carolina’s legendary Black Mountain College. There, she met her most influential mentor Josef Albers, and began creating the woven wire sculptures she is known for today. A new show, “Ruth Asawa: Drawing in Space,” now online and at David Zwirner in New York, delves into her virtuosic work, including the prints and drawings inspired by the natural world that she made throughout her five-decade career.

Installation view, “Ruth Asawa: A Line Can Go Anywhere,” David Zwirner, London, 2020. © The Estate of Ruth Asawa. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

Ruth Asawa, 1956. Photo by Imogen Cunningham. © The Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved. Artwork © The Estate of Ruth Asawa / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

Ruth Asawa Forever ® stamps. © 2020 U.S. Postal Service. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.353, Hanging Single-Section, Open-Window Form with Four Flutes), c. 1960–1969. © The Estate of Ruth Asawa / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

Ruth Asawa, Poppy (TAM.1479), 1965. © The Estate of Ruth Asawa / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner

Installation view, “Ruth Asawa: A Line Can Go Anywhere,” David Zwirner, London, 2020. © The Estate of Ruth Asawa. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

The market for Asawa’s work has grown significantly in recent years, so much so that 5 of the top 10 auction records for her work have been set in 2020. This summer, Asawa’s cascading sculpture Untitled (S.401, Hanging Seven-Lobed, Continuous Interlocking Form, with Spheres within Two Lobes) (ca. 1953–54) sold for $5.38 million, breaking her previous auction record of $4.1 million.

—Sarah Dotson

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Liu Ye

B. 1964, Beijing. Lives and works in Beijing.

After joining David Zwirner last year as the first Chinese artist represented by the gallery, Liu Ye has continued to exhibit around the world. “Storytelling,” the Beijing-based artist’s solo show at Fondazione Prada in Milan, on view through January 2021, charts Liu’s artistic production from 1992 to the present. In his debut solo exhibition with David Zwirner in New York, Liu presents new works from his “Flower,” “Book Painting,” and “Banned Book” series. While the latter two bodies of work meditate on the formal and cultural qualities of books, “Flower” evokes European still-life painting and traditional Chinese paintings of flowers.

Installation view, Storytelling, 2020, Fondazione Prada, Milano. Photo by Roberto Marossi, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada, Milano.

Installation view, Storytelling, 2020, Fondazione Prada, Milano. Photo by Roberto Marossi, Courtesy of Fondazione Prada, Milano.

Killing Me Softly , 2004.
Liu Ye 刘野
Curator Style

Choir 2001, 2001.
Liu Ye 刘野
@Whatever Artspace

A Composition for Mondrian, 2001.
Liu Ye 刘野
@Whatever Artspace

Liu Ye, Book Painting No. 6, 2014–2015. © Liu Ye. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner.

Liu Ye, Banned Book No. 5 (Balthus Variation), 2019–2020. © Liu Ye. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner.

Over the summer, Liu dominated the secondary market for contemporary art, demonstrating sustained interest in the 56-year-old’s oeuvre. At Christie’s, Mondrian in London (2001) sold for HK$22.9 million (US$3 million) and Wie Germalt (1993) sold for HK$13.3 million (US$1.7 million). Meanwhile, at Phillips, Liu’s Choir of Angels (Red) (1999) sold for HK$27.7 million (US$3.6 million). Yet perhaps most noteworthy was Leave Me in the Dark (2009)—depicting a lone female traveler at a monumental scale that’s rarely seen in Liu’s practice—which sold for HK$45.4 million (US$5.8 million) at Sotheby’s, eclipsing its high estimate of HK$35 million (US$4.5 million).

—Harley Wong

Titus Kaphar

B. 1976, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

Perhaps best known for his work deconstructing biased narratives in European history paintings, Titus Kaphar has been cementing his status as a major force in contemporary art. This year, he unveiled a new series of paintings to further demonstrate the breadth of his artistic vision.

After joining Gagosian’s roster in April, Kaphar opened his debut solo show with the gallery in New York this fall. Whereas his previous work saw canvases crumpled or peeled away to question how we choose to remember history, this new body of work in “From a Tropical Space” lingers on the tender hands hovering over toddler-shaped cut-outs. One of the exhibited works, Analogous Colors (2020), was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s June issue in the wake of nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd, speaking to the collective feelings of loss experienced by Black mothers.

Titus Kaphar, Analogous Colors, 2020. © Titus Kaphar. Photo by Christopher Gardener. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

Titus Kaphar, Twins, 2020. © Titus Kaphar. Photo by Alexander Harding. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

Eve, 2010.
Titus Kaphar
MARUANI MERCIER GALLERY

State number one, Marcus Bullock, 2019.
Titus Kaphar
MARUANI MERCIER GALLERY

Titus Kaphar, The distance between what we have and what we want, 2019. © Titus Kaphar. Photo by Alexander Harding. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

Titus Kaphar, From a Tropical Space, 2019. © Titus Kaphar. Photo by Christopher Gardener. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian.

At Gesù Church in Brussels, Maruani Mercier Gallery presented recent works in which Kaphar incorporated Renaissance-era religious iconography. Displayed on the flaky and at times graffitied walls of the deconsecrated church, a painted deposition scene shows Jesus’s body shrouded in black tar, and a portrait of a Black man is duct-taped onto a painting of a white-washed Christ.

This year also saw heightened interest on the secondary market for works by Kaphar, whom WSJ. Magazine named a “2020 Art Innovator.” At Sotheby’s, Page 4 of Jefferson’s “Farm Book” (2018) set an auction record for the artist at $854,900, nearly triple its high estimate of $300,000. Shortly after, at Phillips, Alternate Endings (2016) smashed its high estimate of £80,000 ($103,000), selling for £466,200 ($604,000).

—Harley Wong

Nicolas Party

B. 1980, Lausanne, Switzerland. Lives and works in New York and Brussels.

The inspirations behind Swiss artist Nicolas Party’s vibrant landscapes, androgynous portraits, and larger-than-life murals and sculptures range from graffiti to the words of Barack Obama. Party’s work, often mounted on walls doused in vivid hues, has gained major momentum over the past couple of years, particularly after joining Hauser & Wirth’s roster in the summer of 2019. In the months since, Party saw an influx of works go to auction, and mounted solo shows with longtime dealer Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, FLAG Art Foundation in New York, and Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles.

In 2020, we’ve witnessed voracious demand for Party’s work at auctions in New York and London, and even higher prices fetched in Hong Kong. This year, over 50 of his works went under the hammer, with six achieving results that placed them within Party’s top 10 sales. Party’s previous auction record, set in 2019, was broken in early December when Still Life (2014) sold for $1.3 million.

Installation view of “Sottobosco” at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2020. © Nicolas Party. Photo by Joshua White / JWPictures. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Installation view of “Sottobosco” at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2020. © Nicolas Party. Photo by Joshua White / JWPictures. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Installation view of “Sottobosco” at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2020. © Nicolas Party. Photo by Joshua White / JWPictures. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Nicolas Party, installation view of “Dinner for 24 animals,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Xavier Hufkens.

Nicolas Party, Landscape, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Nicolas Party, Portrait with Snakes, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Portraits, 2017.
Nicolas Party
John Wolf Art Advisory & Brokerage

Rocks II, 2016.
Nicolas Party
Oliver Clatworthy

Portrait for RXArt Children’s Hospital Commission, 2019.
Nicolas Party
Hauser & Wirth

For his debut show with Hauser & Wirth last February, Party mined inspiration from 17th-century Flemish artist Otto Marseus van Schrieck, who painted brilliantly lush depictions of the forest floor. Party’s works—dark, jewel-toned forests and portraits featuring snakes and mushrooms—evidenced a new direction for his practice. In 2021, he will have solo shows at both MASI Lugano and Kestner Gesellschaft.

—Sarah Dotson

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

Brook Andrew

B. 1970, Sydney. Lives and works in Melbourne.

The Wiradjuri/Celtic artist Brook Andrew made history this year at the helm of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. The first Indigenous person to become the artistic director of the historic show, Andrew rose to the occasion, using his position to challenge the Western-centric, colonialist traditions of biennial exhibitions and place particular emphasis on fellow First Nations artists. “Biennales have a very dark history, so for me it was about: how can this system change? It was a way in which to hand that power and that legacy over to the artists and redefine it,” Andrew told GQ Australia. From the roster of artists and their work, to the title—“NIRIN,” a Wiradjuri word that roughly translates to “edge”—website, and text, the show places great emphasis on Indigenous peoples and their land. Andrew seamlessly engaged with salient, global discussions of decolonization, representation, racism, and equity, and set forth an important new precedent for future biennials—all to great acclaim.

Installation view of “Brook Andrew: Horizon Line II,” 2020 at the Musée de Quai Branly. Photo by Vincent Mercier. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Installation view of works by Emily Karaka (painting on the far left) and Karim Bleus (sculpture on left) at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, 2020, intervention into the Art Gallery of New South Wales old court galleries. Photo by Zan Wimberley. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

This year, future leaving…, 2020.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

This year, of change…, 2020.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

This year, missing witness…, 2020.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Vallis, 2016.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Peace-pipe (green), 2018.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

This year, with Blak girl magic…, 2020.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

This year, activist listening…, 2020.
Brook Andrew
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Colonialism, Eurocentrism, and race relations are central themes of Andrew’s work more broadly (he is also a poet, writer, and Ph.D. student at Oxford). His recent solo show at Sydney gallery Roslyn Oxley9, titled “This Year,” features incisive new collage works that reflect on the social, environmental, and political crises of 2020, while foregrounding how history is constantly repeating itself. This year, Andrew’s work was also featured in exhibitions at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, NEST in The Hague, and Artspace in Sydney, among several others.

—Casey Lesser

Zanele Muholi

B. Umlazi, Durban, South Africa. Lives and works in Johannesburg.

Following the prominence of their photographs at the Venice Biennale’s central exhibition in 2019, Zanele Muholi made an impact across continents in 2020. In November, they opened their first mid-career retrospective at Tate Modern, showcasing their visual activism of the past two decades. The exhibition, on view through June 6, 2021, shows how the artist has used photography to document and disseminate the personal, traumatic experiences that the LGBTQIA+ community faces in South Africa. Also on view is the unflinching series “Somnyama Ngonyama,” self-portraits through which Muholi addresses contemporary politics and social issues including racism and Eurocentrism, among others.

Zanele Muholi, Julie I, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2016. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Ngwane II, Oslo, 2018.
Zanele Muholi
Yancey Richardson Gallery

Nomalendi II, Parktown (Triptych), 2016.
Zanele Muholi
Yancey Richardson Gallery

Tanji II, Oslo, 2018.
Zanele Muholi
Yancey Richardson Gallery

Zanele Muholi, Qiniso, The Sails, Durban, 2019. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Zanele Muholi, Qhamukile, Mauritius, 2019. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Labo II, Torino, Italy, 2019.
Zanele Muholi
Yancey Richardson Gallery

Zanele Muholi, Lungile Cleo Dladla, KwaThema, Community Hall, Springs, Johannesburg, 2011. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Zanele Muholi, Miss D’vine II, 2007. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

Zanele Muholi, Yaya Mavundla, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2014. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy of the Artist and Stevenson, Cape Town/Johannesburg and Yancey Richardson, New York.

In 2020, Muholi also mounted solo exhibitions at Cape Town’s Norval Foundation and Harvard University’s Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art. Their work was also featured in the acclaimed 22nd Biennale of Sydney, “NIRIN,” as well as group exhibitions at the 18th FotoFest Biennial in Houston, Texas, and the Ringling Museum of Art in Florida.

—Casey Lesser

Tarek Atoui

B. 1980, Beirut. Lives and works in Paris.

In August, the Lebanese artist and composer Tarek Atoui was announced as the 2022 winner of the prestigious Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize by The Contemporary Austin. The award—which bestows the artist with a solo exhibition, publication, and $200,000 (one of the largest cash prizes of its kind in the U.S.)—recognized Atoui’s inspiring, interactive work that investigates how we perceive sound. He is renowned for thoughtful, research-intensive projects that involve engaging with communities to create sound works and performances, while drawing on musical traditions.

Installation view of Waters’ Witness. © Tarek Atoui and Fridericianum. Photo by Andrea Rossetti.

Installation view of Waters’ Witness. © Tarek Atoui and Fridericianum. Photo by Andrea Rossetti.

Installation view of Tarek Atoui’s “Cycles in 11,” 2020. Photo by Omar Rasheed. Courtesy of the artist.

Installation view of Tarek Atoui’s “Cycles in 11,” 2020. Photo by Omar Rasheed. Courtesy of the artist.

Installation view of Tarek Atoui’s “Cycles in 11,” 2020. Photo by Omar Rasheed. Courtesy of the artist.

Installation view of Tarek Atoui’s “Cycles in 11,” 2020. Photo by Omar Rasheed. Courtesy of the artist.

Installation view of Tarek Atoui’s “Cycles in 11,” 2020. Photo by Omar Rasheed. Courtesy of the artist.

The following month, Atoui opened his largest solo show yet, “Cycles in 11,” at the Sharjah Art Foundation, which is on view through early April 2021. The exhibition is the culmination of 11 years of collaboration with the foundation and the surrounding community. It builds upon his previous project “WITHIN,” for which he worked with members of the deaf community to create instruments that produce sounds that elicit physical or visual effects. Atoui’s show at Sharjah continues to reconsider how we think about listening and live music performances in relation to deafness.

In October, he opened “Waters’ Witness” at Fridericianum, Kassel, his first solo show in Germany. The exhibition brings together the disparate parts of his “I/E” series, which explores the sounds of city ports around the world. In 2021, Atoui will continue to share his work on a global stage as one of the featured artists of the Gwangju Biennale.

—Casey Lesser

Browse available works by the most influential artists of 2020.

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