MoMA boss tops art power list after gallery's relaunch

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
Photograph: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A $450m revamp and relaunch of the Museum of Modern Art in New York has propelled the gallery’s head to top spot in an annual contemporary art power list.

Glenn Lowry has been named the world’s most influential art figure in the 18th edition of the Power 100, produced annually by the magazine ArtReview. In second place is the photographer Nan Goldin, who has led protests against galleries taking money from the Mortimer and Raymond branches of the Sackler family. Banksy, meanwhile, appears on the list for the first time since 2008.

JJ Charlesworth, a senior editor at ArtReview, said MoMA’s extension and radical rethink of how it displayed its collection had led to the selection of Lowry. The gallery has often been criticised for being too focused on North American and European male artists. Charlesworth said the revamp had brought it more in line with a “pluralist and global vision of contemporary art production and modern art history”.

The changes at MoMA are huge, although there is an element of it catching up with organisations such as the Tate which has already gone down a similar path. Tate’s director, Maria Balshaw, is at number nine on the list, the highest-ranked Briton.

The panel deciding on the list said MoMA, as the world’s wealthiest museum, was now “leading the way in offering a more global representation of art’s histories and the diversity of artists working today and across the decades”.

Goldin is number two because of her campaign against museums and galleries taking money from some of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, one of the companies blamed for the US opioid drug crisis. The family members involved and the company deny any wrongdoing.

The campaign prompted widespread debate about the ethics of philanthropy and resulted in galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery and Tate declining to take Sackler money. Charlesworth said Goldin’s success showed that artists could be instrumental in change “rather than just protest on the sidelines”.

Banksy returns at number 14 after a year in which one of his paintings shredded itself at a Sotheby’s auction. In October his painting Devolved Parliament set a Banksy auction record when it sold for £9.9m.

Charlesworth said: “Banksy has gone from being a street art celebrity to being someone who, increasingly, very shrewdly manipulates the spectacle of contemporary art.”

One of the most striking new entries in the list is an Indonesian art collective called ruangrupa, a group that emphasises the importance of research and collaboration in the creation and presentation of art. It has been chosen as the next artistic director of documenta in Kassel, Germany, an important contemporary art exhibition held once every five years.

The list mixes some of the world’s biggest commercial gallerists with artists who are uncomfortable with the power of the market. For example Hito Steyerl, a German artist and theorist who battles against the commodification of art, is at number four, sandwiched by the mega-gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth at three and David Zwirner at five.

ArtReview said the list, compiled by a panel of 30 artists, curators and critics, “remains a reflection of power as it is rather than as it should be”.

ArtReview Power 100 top 10

1 Glenn Lowry 2 Nan Goldin 3 Iwan and Manuela Wirth 4 Hito Steyerl 5 David Zwirner 6 Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy 7 Thelma Golden 8 Yayoi Kusama 9 Maria Balshaw 10 ruangrupa