The Art Review Power 100

Curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev tops the list.

This morning ArtReview announced the 2012 Power 100, their annual list of the contemporary art world’s most influential people. The rankings are decided according to “a combination of influence over the production of art internationally, sheer financial clout (although in these times that’s no longer such a big factor) and activity in the previous 12 months”, and can include collectors, scholars and curators, as well as artists.

This year the magazine are claiming the list represents a “fragmenting scene” in which the desire for political engagement and social inclusion rubs up against the traditional practices of the art world’s ruling class. A statement accompanying the list reads: “beyond Big Money, there are Big Ideas to be fought over, about who art is for, as much as what it is for. At a time of constant muttering about the 1% and the other 99%, the artworld might be living proof that art really does imitate life.”

The list is topped by Carolyn Christov-Bakergiev, an Italy- and US-based curator responsible for this summer’s highly successful Documenta 13 exhibition based in Kassel, Germany. This is the first time the top spot has been awarded to a curator (Gerhart Richter is the highest-ranked “pure” artist at number 6), a decision made not only due to the astonishing scale of Documenta 13 (it touched down everywhere from battlements and quantum physics labs in Kassel to the cities of Kabul, Banff and Cairo, expanding thematically far beyond the boundaries of art to bolster its inclusiveness), but also due of the timeliness of the statement it makes about and to the rest of the names on the list.

“Documenta 13 allowed artists to speak for themselves through their work, and to make their own sets of rules,” ArtReview says. “And by pitting artists with and against quantum physicists, military historians, biologists, economists and activist, Christov-Bakargiev and her team treated art as strong enough to hold its own in furthering debates, building meaning and extending thought, addressing the world not from an ivory tower, but from being in the world.”

New Statesman guest editor Ai Weiwei topped the list in 2011, an artist for whom making art and “being in the world” have become virtually indistinguishable. His recognition by a major international art magazine provoked criticism from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lui Weimin last year, who told a news briefing in Beijing: “China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine”. ArtReview however, had this to say: “Ai, who was arrested and imprisoned for 81 days earlier [last] year, was ranked number one as a result of his activism as much as his art practice – both articulating a move away from the idea that artists work within a priveleged zone limited by the walls of a gallery or museum”.

The 2012 edition of the ArtReview Power 100 will be published in the November issue of the magazine and will carry full profiles, features and photography portfolios. The list, in full, runs as follows:

1. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
2. Larry Gagosian
3. Ai Weiwei
4. Iwan Wirth
5. David Zwirner
6. Gerhard Richter
7. Beatrix Ruf
8. Nicholas Serota
9. Glenn D. Lowry
10. Hans Ulrich Obrist & Julia Peyton-Jones
11. Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani
12. Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda & Brian Kuan Wood (e-flux)
13. Cindy Sherman
14. Alain Seban & Alfred Pacquement
15. Adam D. Weinberg
16. Annette Schönholzer, Marc Spiegler & Magnus Renfrew
17. Marc Glimcher
18. Marian Goodman
19. Massimiliano Gioni
20. Jay Jopling
21. François Pinault
22. Klaus Biesenbach
23. Matthew Slotover & Amanda Sharp
24. Barbara Gladstone
25. RoseLee Goldberg
26. Eli & Edythe Broad
27. Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
28. Bernard Arnault
29. Nicholas Logsdail
30. Liam Gillick
31. Ann Philbin
32. Victor Pinchuk
33. Maja Hoffmann
34. Tim Blum & Jeff Poe
35. Marina Abramović
36. Dakis Joannou
37. Udo Kittelmann
38. Monika Sprüth & Philomene Magers
39. Matthew Marks
40. Gavin Brown
41. Damien Hirst
42. Rosemarie Trockel
43. Wolfgang Tillmans
44. Agnes Gund
45. Chus Martínez
46. Isa Genzken
47. Iwona Blazwick
48. Anne Pasternak
49. Sadie Coles
50. Daniel Buchholz
51. Toby Webster
52. Adam Szymczyk
53. James Lingwood & Michael Morris
54. William Wells & Yasser Gerab
55. Michael Ringier
56. Theaster Gates
57. Pussy Riot
58. Jeff Koons
59. Steve McQueen
60. Takashi Murakami
61. Boris Groys
62. Emmanuel Perrotin
63. Richard Chang
64. Tim Neuger & Burkhard Riemschneider
65. Slavoj Zizek
66. Thaddaeus Ropac
67. Chang Tsong-zung
68. Elena Filipovic
69. Tino Sehgal
70. Christian Boros & Karen Lohmann
71. Luisa Strina
72. Claire Hsu
73. José Kuri & Mónica Manzutto
74. Brett Gorvy & Amy Cappellazzo
75. Tobias Meyer & Cheyenne Westphal
76. Budi Tek
77. Walid Raad
78. Cuauhtémoc Medina
79. Massimo De Carlo
80. Bernardo Paz
81. Christine Tohme
82. Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi & Maurizio Rigillo
83. John Baldessari
84. Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi
85. Dasha Zhukova
86. Vasif Kortun
87. Anita & Poju Zabludowicz
88. Candida Gertler
89. Gisela Capitain
90. Carol Greene
91. Franco Noero & Pierpaolo Falone
92. Jacques Rancière
93. Miuccia Prada
94. Maureen Paley
95. Don, Mera, Jason & Jennifer Rubell
96. Paul Chan
97. Victoria Miro
98. Adriano Pedrosa
99. Johann König
100. Gregor Podnar

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Photo: Getty Images.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Poo jokes and pessimism – the scatological legacy of British humour

Is it simply a testament to our good nature, or a sign of a darker kind of cynicism?

Many Brits will have amused themselves this summer by packing a tent, stashing their narcotics and heading over to a muddy field in the middle of nowhere to brave the torrential rain at a music festival.

Wallowing in the mud and other more faecal byproducts to the soundtrack of up-and-coming bands is considered the peak of hedonism for many in the UK, and there is something quintessentially British about the way we willfully embrace the general state of depravity that most of our festivals inevitably collapse into.

One internet meme that perfectly epitomises the difference between British and American festival culture shows an image of a woman at a US event pulling a sad face as she reveals the worst thing she’s seen: “Spitting on the ground.” On her right, a British man slumped in a camping chair holds up his sign, reading: “A man covered in his own shit sniffing ketamine off his mate’s unwashed scrotum.”

There’s a cheerful pride with which Brits embrace bodily dysfunction as a part of our comic culture, and a common trope of British humour involves undermining the stiff upper lip attitude associated with English people, often with an act of complete depravity that dispels any illusion of class and respectability. Britons have always been partial to a good old-fashioned dose of scatological humour, from Chaucer’s bawdy fabliaux that celebrate obscenity, to Shakespeare’s Falstaff, or Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Swift’s "Scatological Cycle".

Much of the comic effect that these writers create derives from undermining high-brow intellect or spirituality with the low-brow of the rear end – for example the part in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale, where the division of an old man’s fart into 12 serves as a parody of the descent of the holy ghost at Pentecost.

Faeces has long since been ingrained in our past literary and historical culture – after all, as the great Shakespeare was writing some of the western world’s most seminal pieces of English literature, his chamber-maid was most likely throwing pieces of his own faeces out of the window next to him.

In English literature, scatological humour can be juvenile, but it has also been used to represent wider social anxieties. In turning bottoms up and exposing the rear end, "shiterature" is often about breaking taboos, and exposing the dirty underbelly of society. Part of the "civilising" process that societies perform to reach a high level of sophistication involves distancing oneself from one’s own excrement, and scatology reverses this by shedding a light on our dirtiest natural habits. Swift’s excremental vision asked us to peel back the mask of genteel individuals, revealing their true and disgusting selves.

Scatology can also represent collective self-disgust, and has been used to question the integrity of a British national identity that has in the past denied its colonial wrongdoings. In Tristram Shandy, the protagonist's porous and leaking diseased body has been interpreted as a metaphor for the British Empire, and indeed the whole being of the Shandean gentleman is sub-textually supported by British colonialism, being as they are descended from merchants who profited from eastern goods sold to the European bourgeois and aristocrats.

Scatology has been used to represent hypochondria, the crisis of the aristocracy, self-disgust and sexual disgust – incidentally all things that we might find at an English festival.

The onslaught of the modern era hasn’t managed to dispel our fondness for injecting sophisticated comedy with snippets of scatological humour. In Peep Show for example, a show largely appreciated for its dry wit and irony, a hilarious scene involves Mark suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea as his boss watches on in disgust. Another brilliant scene is where Jeremy’s employer at the gym confronts him with a plastic bag filled with a human stool, which Jez had used to frame another employee for pooing in the pool.

In a similar vein, one of the most famous scenes in The Inbetweeners is where the uptight Will manages to poo himself during one of his A-level exams. In the second movie, there is another disgusting poo in the pool scene.

In the dark comedy series The Mighty Boosh, characters reference "taking a shit" on objects ranging from a salad, to a swan, to even "your mum". Almost all of these characters (Mark from Peep Show, Will from The Inbetweeners and The Mighty Boosh's Howard Moon) see themselves in some way as representative of a modern British gentleman – prudish, well educated and well spoken. Each of them at points embarrasses themselves and their image with reference to their bowel movements.

It’s a cliché that British humour is about losers, and that we are more prone to self-deprecation than our friends across the pond – a cliché that is not without some truth. 

Admittedly nowadays, much American humour similarly relies on self-deprecation and laughing at the sorry fate of "losers", but cynicism and irony are more fundamental to British comedy. On commenting on the difference between the American and British versions of The Office, Ricky Gervais once said that in the UK: "Failure and disappointment lurk around every corner… We use (irony) as liberally as prepositions in every day speech. We tease our friends. We use sarcasm as a shield and weapon." 

It is certainly true that in Britain, we are particularly pre-occupied with laughing at the failures of the self, and this can manifest itself potently through deprecation of the body.

Maybe the general sense of pessimism that is alluded to so much in the UK is due to our dismal weather, and maybe our ability to laugh at ourselves and our dysfunctions is a simply a testament to our good nature, and something to be applauded. Perhaps it is just something in the air rising from our manure-ploughed green and pleasant lands that inspires in our British comedians the desire to return time and time again to the scatological trope. Or perhaps, if we dig a bit deeper into our dung-fertilised lands, we might find that an anxiety about the foundations of British identity is behind the relentless desire to represent the permeability of the personal and national body.

Should we be embracing our tendency towards self-deprecation, or does it lead to a more problematic kind of cynicism that is restrictive, making us resistant to the idea of radical change? Perhaps we are destined to remain stuck in the mud forever, grumbling about the bad weather as we desperately shelter from the rain under a gazebo, sipping on the dregs of warm beer, pretending we’re having a good time – and who knows? Maybe this is what a good time looks like. Swift once told us to bless the "gaudy tulips raised from dung" – British comedy continues to do so quite literally.