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Who Will Shape the Art World in 2021?: ARTnews Presents ‘The Deciders’

Installation view of Berlin Biennale, 2018.
Installation view of Berlin Biennale, 2018, showing work by Belkis Ayon. Timo Ohler

Yvette Mutumba

“Decolonization has to hurt,” curator Yvette Mutumba wrote in the catalogue for the 2018 Berlin Biennale. The declaration has continued to resonate since—and over the summer, in a widely read interview in Frieze, Mutumba expanded on it when asked what she meant: “Decolonization means that I will not do the job of those sitting inside institutions and organizations that are predominantly white.”

Portrait of Yvette Mutumba.
Yvette Mutumba. Photo: Benjamin Renter

Signs that institutions are heeding her words have mounted. In June, Mutumba was appointed a curator-at-large at the Stedelijk Museum, a key contemporary art institution in Amsterdam. But Mutumba, who is based in Berlin, won’t be focused for the most part on organizing shows. Instead, she’s offering behind-the-scenes guidance on how the museum—and others like it—can change. “I’m hoping through this moment—more urgent than ever—that institutions can really look at the changes that have been needed for a long time,” Mutumba said. “And it’s important to call institutions out.”

Mutumba has worked within institutions before: she recently served as a curator at the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt. But her influence took root on the outside, owing in large part to an online journal she founded in 2013 with Julia Grosse called Contemporary And. Along with its sister publication, Contemporary And América Latina, the journal aspires to turn new audiences on to African, Latin American, Latinx, and African diasporic artists whose work has long been largely ignored in the United States and Europe. The publications feature text that is comprehensible and largely free of the artspeak that often hinders other writing of its kind—Contemporary And in English and French, and Contemporary And América Latina in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Among the notable artists who received some of their earliest English-language coverage through Contemporary And are Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Kiluanji Kia Henda, and Zina Saro-Wiwa.

Gabi Ngcobo, who oversaw the Berlin Biennale curatorial team that included Mutumba, said that her work helps create a more complicated understanding of how artists outside the predominantly white Western canon are placed within art history. Together, they worked to subvert certain pressures and expectations in the service of achieving a larger goal that Ngcobo continues to see as key to Mutumba’s practice: “how to maintain our curatorial freedom.” Alex Greenberger

Lydia Ourahmane, The Third Choir, 2014.
Lydia Ourahmane, The Third Choir, 2014. Photo: Wolfgang Traeger; Courtesy Manifesta 12, Palermo


Portrait of Mai Abu ElDahab.
Mai Abu ElDahab. Photo: Bill Georgoussis

When explosions in the port of Beirut killed at least 200 people and injured countless others in August, artists and arts organizations already imperiled by Lebanon’s currency crisis and the global pandemic were dealt a further devastating blow. To try to limit the damage, the Brussels-based nonprofit Mophradat—a transliteration of the Arabic word for “vocabulary”—launched one of the most visible fundraising initiatives in the tragedy’s wake. Led by artist Walid Raad and director Mai Abu ElDahab, the organization played a critical role early on in increasing the visibility of curators and artists from the Arab world through commissions, consortiums, and group actions.

As of October, its artist grants had provided assistance to hundreds of beneficiaries across Southwest Asia and North Africa and served as a springboard for Arab artists onto international stages—with grant recipients including Algerian multidisciplinary artist Lydia Ourahmane (who has featured in editions of the New Museum Triennial, Manifesta, and the Bienal de São Paulo) and Egyptian installation artist and filmmaker Marianne Fahmy (whose work has featured in Manifesta and the Havana Biennial). Tessa Solomon

Conrad Egyir, Paragons of Rest. The Steadfast and Luxuriate, 2019.
Conrad Egyir, Paragons of Rest. The Steadfast and Luxuriate, 2019. Courtesy Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Tina Knowles-Lawson

Portrait of Tina Knowles-Lawson.
Tina Knowles-Lawson. Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA/PA Images

Tina Knowles-Lawson’s avid art collecting is no family secret or minor hobby: Beyoncé and Solange have both publicly cited their mother’s collection—which includes works by Genevieve Gaignard, Elizabeth Catlett, and Romare Bearden—as impactful on their respective star-studded careers. “When my kids were growing up, it was really important to me that they saw images of African Americans,” Knowles-Lawson told Vanity Fair in 2018.

And the matriarch of one of the most influential families in entertainment has continued to use her platform to spotlight emerging and overlooked Black artists, to wit, her work as curator on “Mood 4 Eva” as credited on Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King, replete with sculptures by Woodrow Nash and paintings from Derrick Adams’s 2019 barbershop-inspired series “Beauty World,” as well as works by Houstonian Robert Pruitt and Ghanaian painter Conrad Egyir. Tessa Solomon

The spring 2019 auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, where a KAWS painting sold for $14.8 million.
The spring 2019 auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, where a KAWS painting sold for $14.8 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Yuki Terase

Portrait of Yuki Terase.
Yuki Terase. Courtesy Sotheby's.

The art market in Asia has made major strides in recent years, and Yuki Terase has left her mark on it. She became head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auctions in Hong Kong in 2018 and, in spring of the next year, helped the category bring in $102 million, a record high for a contemporary sale in Asia. Demand continues its rapid rise, said Terase, who further drives buyers to the salesroom by challenging the traditional auction format. In 2016, she led one sale in collaboration with Japanese fashion designer NIGO, an early collector of KAWS, and another guest-curated by K-pop star and art collector T.O.P (tagged with a social-media-savvy title #TTTOP) that realized $17.4 million. Through a curated approach and close attention to pop culture, Terase is drawing a new generation of collectors. “We want to stay relevant,” she said regarding her strategy. “We want to keep that momentum.”

The contemporary art department at Sotheby’s Hong Kong began introducing works by Western artists in regional sales only in 2017. Now, Terase has expanded sales offerings to comprise an equal number of Asian and Western artists—a move that helped bring their October contemporary art evening sale up to $88 million. That sale also saw Ronald O. Perelman’s Gerhard Richter painting Abstraktes Bild (649-2), 1987, sell for $28 million—a record for a Western artist at auction in Asia. Last season, a David Hockney floral still life sold for $14.7 million, then the second-highest price for a Western artist in the Hong Kong auctions. And growing global attention on the sales is moving prices up for high-caliber lots. “It’s significant, rapid growth—probably only possible in a place like Asia,” Terase said.

Xu Zhen’s Xuzhen Supermarket, for sale by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018.
Xu Zhen’s Xuzhen Supermarket, for sale by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018. Courtesy Sotheby's.

For Western auction houses, works by Chinese postwar painters from the late 1990s are the primary offerings in Asia-based sales. But there is far more room to expand, said Terase. “It’s almost as if we have a bit of an educational role, where people look to us wanting to understand the art and which artists to collect,” she said. “We have been playing that role more than other countries in the world because of this young, new, emerging market. I’ve been very fortunate for that demand and eagerness to learn.”

A driving factor for Terase in her role is expanding audience familiarity with contemporary Asian art and bringing underrepresented artists to the market. In 2018, she brought to the house’s evening sale Xuzhen Supermarket, an installation by Xu Zhen that replicates a Chinese convenience store. The work sold for $255,680, more than twice its low estimate. Prior to that, such conceptual installation work had never been auctioned in Asia. “One of the things I wanted to display was a different aspect of Chinese contemporary art,” Terase said.

She also wants to correct what she sees as a misconception that Asian art collectors buy according to commercial trends around blue-chip names. Bringing a conceptual art piece to the secondary market in the region, something Terase explains is outside the typical auction wheelhouse, was a challenge to the market’s norms. “In the conventional art world eye, it is seen as noncommercial and very difficult to collect,” she said. But Terase is listening to demand. “There are a lot of young collectors who are very serious about these kinds of works.” Angelica Villa

A detail of Thomas. J. Price's bronze sculpture Reaching Out, 2020.
A detail of Thomas. J. Price’s bronze sculpture Reaching Out, 2020. Photo: Vassilis Skopelitis

Thomas J. Price

Artist Thomas. J. Price with his bronze sculpture Reaching Out, 2020.
Artist Thomas. J. Price with Reaching Out, 2020. Photo: Jeff Moore

British sculptor Thomas J. Price creates figurative works that function as intimate examinations of personhood, with notable offerings that include Reaching Out, a nine-foot-tall statue of a Black woman glancing down at her cell phone that went on view this summer as part of London’s outdoor public art walk program known as the Line. He has also been a vocal presence in the ongoing conversation about public monuments: After a statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol in June and replaced by a sculpture of a protester by white artist Marc Quinn, Price addressed Quinn’s work in an essay in the Art Newspaper, writing that “a genuine example of allyship could have been to give the financial support and production facilities required for a young, local, Black artist to make the temporary replacement.”

With past credits including shows at the National Gallery and Hales Gallery in London, one of Price’s forthcoming public projects for next year is a large-scale bronze sculpture commissioned by the Hackney Council as part of a celebration of immigrants from Caribbean countries to the U.K. Claire Selvin

Installation view of Tishan Hsu’s exhibition 'Liquid Circuit,' 2020, at SculptureCenter.
Installation view of Tishan Hsu’s exhibition “Liquid Circuit,” 2020, at SculptureCenter. Photo; Kyle Knodell

Sohrab Mohebbi

Portrait of Sohrab Mohebbi.
Sohrab Mohebbi. Photo: Sabrina Santiago

Tapped this summer to curate the 2022 edition of the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh—the oldest biennial-style show in the United States, dating back to 1896—Sohrab Mohebbi made his name at SculptureCenter in New York and, before that, at the experimental REDCAT art space and the Hammer Museum, both in Los Angeles, and the Queens Museum. At SculptureCenter, he helped introduce major international talents to America. Banu Cennetoglu, for example, had garnered a reputation in Europe through showings at the Venice Biennale, the Berlin Biennale, and Documenta, but she’d never exhibited in the U.S. before Mohebbi took her in. And Tishan Hsu, a pioneering sculptor whose work has meditated on the ways that machines have altered the human body since the 1980s, never had an American museum survey until Mohebbi organized one for SculptureCenter that traveled as well to the Hammer Museum.

But for Mohebbi, it’s less important to focus on borders than to think fully about the value of art that has meaningful valences wherever it is shown. “We really need to follow artists’ work,” he said. “One of the things artists do is bring together concepts we don’t see as connected.” As for the upcoming Carnegie International, Mohebbi said he is working with a focus on keywords such as “reconstitution” and “decentralization”—and with the notion that, for some people, “the apocalypse has already happened.” Alex Greenberger

Blessing Ngobeni, Politic of Being Black I, 2020.
Blessing Ngobeni, Politic of Being Black I, 2020. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco and New York

Karen Jenkins-Johnson

Portrait of Karen Jenkins-Johnson.
Karen Jenkins-Johnson. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco and New York

When Karen Jenkins-Johnson opened her namesake gallery in San Francisco in 1996, she had paid witness for too long to what she called “the systemic racism that was implicit in interactions and inaction” in the art world. She entered the cultural sector with a background in business and finance, and it didn’t take long for a mission to present itself. “The more I was exposed to the art world,” she said, “the more I realized that artists of color—women in particular and Black American artists—were not well-represented and were grossly undervalued.” Ben Aronson and Scott Fraser were among the first artists to join her roster, and Jenkins Johnson Gallery now represents the likes of Ming Smith, Gordon Parks, Jae Jarrell, and Lisa Corinne Davis, as well as emerging talents like Blessing Ngobeni, Alex Jackson, and Cameron Welch.

The gallery’s reach broadened to Brooklyn in 2017 with the opening of Jenkins Johnson Projects, which, through exhibitions organized by guest curators, talks, and other programming, serves to “encourage collaboration and provide a space for dialogue,” Jenkins-Johnson said. “It’s a space that’s Black-owned, and people feel very comfortable coming and speaking their mind without feeling judged.” Some of Jenkins-Johnson’s future objectives include organizing public installations in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and, by 2022, launching an artist residency program spanning California, Oregon, and New York, all intended to present artists experimenting with “new modes to communicate and present their work.” Claire Selvin

A version of this article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “Deciders 2021.”