Paddy Johnson, Mary von Aue, Juliet Helmke, Sissi Cao and Helen Holmes for The Observer - 1 April 2019
The art industry changes fast. Spurred on by artists who are bringing forward new ideas and radical aesthetics into the discourse, this is an industry where those who promote, represent, exhibit, sell, critique and generally support art have to stay nimble. For this reason, Observer takes a moment each year to consider the power players impacting the arts. This industry is a complicated ecosystem, but we look to the changemakers both behind the scenes and in the spotlight to see who is building the future zeitgeist.
Here, in our second edition of this list, we bring you a group of individuals each working to strengthen the impact, reach, social responsibility or financial stability of a field that is seemingly in a constant state of flux. These are the people you’ll be talking about this year. They are artists and curators, museum directors and gallery owners, auctioneers and government officials, creative thinkers and truly hard workers. Each has been building something new in 2019, from reimaging the most prestigious art fairs to establishing a new norm for how artists are paid. The Arts Power 50 is Observer’s list of the people who are taking action to bring the art world into a new paradigm.
Hank Willis Thomas
Over the course of his more than 15-year career, Hank Willis Thomas has employed the languages of photography, marketing and advertising to illustrate how pop culture messaging impacts our understanding of race.
That perspective will receive much attention this year. The first major survey show of Thomas’ work will launch at the Portland Art Museum this October, as will an exhibition of his visual and archival research on the photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks at the Gordon Parks Foundation.
The shows follow the 2018 launch of the For Freedoms 50 State Initiative (currently on display at ICP), a collaborative project founded with Eric Gottesman that aims to fuse art and politics through public programming. Billed as the most significant creative collaboration in U.S. history, the project included specially commissioned billboards, events and exhibitions. This year, Thomas and Gottesman will be gearing up for For Freedoms 2.0—the second iteration of the project, slated to appear around the looming 2020 presidential election.
But Thomas has so much going on that it would be impossible to list it all. “I don’t know what free time is,” he conceded over Instagram before adding, “but my baby does have me watching the clock more closely.” Family comes first.