ArtReview’s Mark Rappolt On How the Power 100 Comes Together

Unsurprisingly, there's a certain amount of debate when it comes to figuring out which artists and art world insiders are doing the most to challenge the status quo.

A few weeks ago, ArtReview dropped its Power 100, the annual ranking closely watched by the denizens of the art world, if only so they can Apple+F search their names. This year, Nan Goldin took the top spot for her activism focused on the American opioid epidemic, beating out even Larry Gagosian (#12) and David Zwirner (#19). Observer had a chance to talk to Mark Rappolt, editor-in-chief of ArtReview, about how this year’s list came together and what we can all take away from it.

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The cover of ArtReview's Power 100 for 2023
‘Resistome’ by Feifei Zhou and Maria Saeki for field reports in Feral Atlas, 2021–ongoing, digital project by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Zhou. Courtesy the collective

What can you tell us about the process and how the list comes together? How many people worked on it? Do you vote?

The core group comprises around forty individuals from different geographical locations around the world. They each propose individuals who are shaping the kind of art that is being produced and made visible where they are today. The hard part is, say, to judge how the people shaping art in, say, New York compare to those who are shaping art in, say, Dhaka. That’s where a certain amount of debate comes in and where we often have to defer to another set of experts who will make comparison a little easier. These days it’s very rare that everyone agrees on a number one. But we try at all times to look to where influence is, rather than where we might want it to lie.

Naturally, I can vote, but I don’t always. Sometimes it’s more interesting to be a spectator. And fundamentally that’s what art critics are.

What is your personal definition of power as it relates to the art world?

There are many ways of defining that, and everyone will have their own bias, be it as it relates to financial influence, social influence or aesthetic influence. To name just a few. All of these are always in play. For the purposes of the list, we accept that contemporary art relies in some ways on challenging the status quo or suggesting new possibilities for how we might live in the world. Ideally, art exists in a free space in which different points of view can be expressed without anyone getting hurt.

Of course, we know that that freedom is not present everywhere. But we also know that that space needs to be defended, and so that defense also comes into play. Most of all, we try to look at people who are shaping the kind of art that’s being produced today and the kind of art that gets shown. And accept the fact that this is not always the same thing.

Nan Goldin sits at the top spot this year for her activism focused on the Sackler family. Do you see the art world as becoming more amenable to protest?

I think that it has always been a site of protest. Perhaps what we are seeing now is the defense of art as a free space, and the higher profile of artists and others who actively defend that freedom, or who practice that freedom rather than simply preaching it. And that freedom (of art) is constantly under threat.

With respect to Nan Goldin, her defense of that space against its corporatization or dominance by particular interests with particular hypocrisies has gone far beyond what we might conventionally think of as the art world.

The first eleven spots on this year’s list are held by artists and an artist collective. Do you think artists are growing more powerful?

I think they continue to push the way we think about, organize, understand and live in or with the world in new directions. Good art opens up new potential. Ultimately without artists, there is no art. The rest simply influence where the spotlight shines. Which at times can be just as important.

Your introduction notes a resurgence of familiar faces—the “persistent if somewhat more wrinkled faces, like the Rolling Stones of art.” Why do you think power is so entrenched in the art world?

Not every year produces a revolution and influence spreads at different speeds around the world. For a long time, Western contemporary art has been promoted as the model of contemporary art (helped by those invested in it both financially and ideologically – look to the CIA as one example of the last). That persists, however much we begin, slowly, to recognize that different places might have different models, different traditions and different languages.

You have both Hito Steyerl and Cao Fei in your top ten. Does this mean we’re finally moving past the metaverse?

I think it means we are watching and thinking about that more closely.

How often do people lobby you for a spot on the list? Jokingly or otherwise?

If you mean personally (for themselves to have a spot), more often than I’d like. But we live in an age when lobbying is a profession, and the professionals lobby for clients all the time.

ArtReview’s Mark Rappolt On How the Power 100 Comes Together