It’s a daunting task to name the individuals who most profoundly shaped and inspired the global art world in 2017. Decades ago, creative scenes were relatively tiny and cliquish, but the ongoing explosion of interest in contemporary art has meant more of everything: more artists; more galleries and museums; more biennials, art fairs, and unconventional projects; more excitement and energy. Still, there remain artists whose vision and influence find them towering above the crowd. Here, Artsy’s editors offer up our take on the 20 who continue to have a pervasive, undeniable impact on artistic production and culture at large.
The single most ambitious work of contemporary art created in 2017 wasn’t in Venice’s Giardini but in a disused ice rink behind a Burger King in the German city of Münster. Enabled by the rink’s coming demolition, Huyghe (pronounced hweeg) was given carte blanche for After ALife Ahead: He excavated its floor and installed panels into the roof that opened and closed according to a musical score. The composition was based on the triangular patterns present on the shell of a venomous sea snail, placed in a tank on a central island of concrete left in the carved-out rink’s center. Human cancer cells multiplied in an incubator on the far side of the rink, while an augmented-reality app let viewers witness pyramid-like representations of those cells be spawned, most of which eventually fly out the rink’s roof openings. (For a deeper look at the mechanics of this complex piece, read Artsy’s coverage here.)
Huyghe, who this year won the Nasher Prize, has been a revered figure of the conceptual art movement known as Relational Aesthetics since the ’90s, though popular recognition of the 55-year-old artist has sometimes lagged behind that of peers like Philippe Parreno. After ALife Ahead marked the culmination of several experiments and preparatory works over recent years. And it continued the unique brand of environmental installation in which viewers themselves become actors within the work (each exhale of CO2 caused the cancer cells to multiply more quickly) that he used to acclaim at Documenta 13 in 2012. There, Huyghe’s contribution involved a surreal, living sculpture garden (complete with a pink-legged dog) hewn out of a compost heap in Kassel’s Karlsaue Park. Huyghe’s installations strike a canny balance between his viewers’ simultaneous participation in and subjection to the system that he creates—a system that, once set off, is also outside of his control. The results, with their infinitely intertwined elements and cascading effects, create environments that mirror the complexity of our own, a fact that has earned Huyghe his status as one of the most important artists of his generation………………….