Singapore's National Gallery director and China's Ai Weiwei on ArtReview Power 100 list

Singapore's National Art Gallery director Eugene Tan took 99th spot on ArtReview's list.
Singapore's National Art Gallery director Eugene Tan took 99th spot on ArtReview's list.PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (Reuters) - Swiss husband-and-wife art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, who offer clients a lush English country lifestyle along with their big-tag purchases, were named the most influential people in the contemporary art world on Thursday by ArtReview magazine.

Chinese dissident artist and free-speech activist Ai Weiwei, who has previously topped the list, took the No.2 spot, while German gallery owner David Zwirner was ranked third in the British-based magazine's Power 100 of contemporary art.

Singapore's National Gallery director Eugene Tan took the No.99 spot. He had been ranked 95th in 2013.

The magazine said: "The National Gallery's name and remit have been tweaked, but this month it opens as the largest public collection of modern art from Singapore and the Southeast Asian region. When it was founded, Singapore's prime minister proudly announced that the arts didn't factor as a priority in the nation-building exercise. Now it moves centre stage (the National Gallery occupies the prominent former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings at the heart of the city) in terms of Singapore's attempts to assert its influence over the region."

The Wirths, who have been in the magazine's top 10 for some years, claimed the top spot for the impact of a cultural centre- cum-gallery they have opened in Somerset, southwest England, where they renovated a 15th-century farmhouse and landscaped and installed sculptures on the grounds around it. "It's partly about breaking away from the conventional gallery model which is sort of a slightly oppressive white-cube space that could be in any place almost at any time and moving towards a series of galleries that are specific to their content," Mark Rappolt, ArtReview's editor, said. "It's a departure from the sort of very forbidding gallery that we're used to," he said in a telephone interview in advance of publication of the list on Thursday in the magazine, which says the rankings are compiled by a 16-member international jury.

Rappolt said that Ai, who was able to leave China this year when the Chinese authorities returned his passport they had confiscated four years ago, "combines activism and art making in a way that makes him quite influential".

"He shows that art can be something more than just pretty," Rappolt said of Ai's works, which frequently take jabs at the Chinese authorities.

Rappolt said several museum directors, including Nicholas Serota of the Tate museums in London, Glenn Lowry of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Julia Peyton-Jones of the Serpentine Galleries in London, had made the top 10 because museum shows of an artist's work remain influential, despite the boom in art dealers and galleries. "I think there's still the sense that a museum exhibition validates an artist ... and these kinds of shows tend to be more important than maybe a conventional gallery show," he said.

The top 10 list is as follows:

1. Iwan & Manuela Wirth

2. Ai Weiwei

3. David Zwirner

4. Hans Ulrich Obrist & Julia Peyton-Jones

5. Nicholas Serota

6. Larry Gagosian

7. Glenn D. Lowry

8. Marina Abramovic

9. Adam D. Weinberg

10. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev