The most influential people in art

This list is a diverse compilation of some of the most influential figures in the art world today; the museum directors, the art market supremos and the artists themselves. Art has a public profile like never before and is consumed globally. Our tastes are changing, becoming less elitist, more similar, and possibly more banal. Money is ubiquitous, and plays as large a role as ever in deciding the direction of the wider art world. These figures are having a major influence on the tastes and fashions of the present.



Serota has been the director of the Tate group of art museums since 1988, an extensive stretch of time for such an influential job in the art world and British public sphere. Serota masterminded the inception of the Tate Modern, now the sixth most visited museum in the world. He was a major driving force, and chairman for many years, of the Turner Prize.

(Photograph: Hugo Glendinning)



Described as the ‘grandmother of performance art’, Abramovi? was born in old Yugoslavia in the 1940s and has gained prominence through extreme performances where she often cuts or burns herself, in a Freudian exploration of ideas of consciousness. In 2010 she performed a 736-hour static performance at MoMA in New York, and has since been working with Lady Gaga on her third album.

(Photograph: Greg Norman)


A hugely successful hedge fund manager, Loeb is the founder of Third Point LLC, a fund with a portfolio of $14billion, which is known for buying into troubled companies, replacing inefficient management and then selling after the companies return to profitability. Loeb has long been a major collector of contemporary art, but has only come to public prominence in the art world since his recent attempts to buy into Sotheby’s and following his criticism of their long-standing chief executive William Ruprecht.



Regarded by many as the most powerful art dealer in the world, Gagosian has had a major impact on the post-war and contemporary art market since setting up his gallery in 1979. Gagosian now has 11 galleries worldwide and the company has held exhibitions of contemporary or near contemporary artists including of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and, more recently, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.

(Photograph: Nick Harvey)


Co-founder and now chairman of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, Leon Black has bought many of the most important and valuable paintings and drawings on the market in the last decade. Black’s mother was an artist and he has diverted much of his self-made fortune into creating one of the finest private collections in the world. He is reported to have purchased the fourth version of Munch’s The Scream for $120million and Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle for c.$50 million, for his estimated $750million collection, which includes drawings by Vincent van Gogh, watercolors by J.M.W. Turner, cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and ancient Chinese bronzes.



Sister of the Emir of Qatar, and part of the ruling dynasty of the small Arab peninsula that has become the world’s richest country per capita due to its enormous reserves of natural gas, Mayassa chairs the Qatar Museum Authorities, with a reported budget of $1billion to spend on art annually, and has been described as the leading current art buyer in the world. She is said to have purchased Cézanne’s The Card Players for $250million, which, if true, is the largest amount ever paid for an artwork in history.



One of the most successful and famous living artists, Koons reproduces commonplace objects in stainless steel, often on a huge scale. Purposefully kitsch, Koons’ art has been regularly attacked for being superficial and tacky, and was described by Robert Hughes as ‘an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he’s Michelangelo and is not shy to say so.’ His works repeatedly sell for enormous prices, and at Christie’s in 2013 his Balloon Dog (Orange) made $58.4million, becoming the most expensive work ever sold by a living artist at auction.

(Photograph: Chris Fanning)



Pinault is one of the largest collectors of contemporary art in the world. A billionaire many times over, Pinault has a well-documented passion for art and surrounds himself with artists and advisors, regularly visiting museums and galleries. In recent years he has founded two museums in Venice to display his personal collection. He has owned Christie’s since 1998, overseeing its transformation into a dominant position in the ever-growing contemporary art market and new beginnings in China and India.

(Photograph: Matteo De Fina)


Mugrabi owns the largest collection of art by Andy Warhol in the world, regularly estimated at between 800 and 1,000 works. Born in Jerusalem, Mugrabi was sent to Colombia aged 16 to live with his uncle, and at 22 started a wholesale fabric business that was the basis for the making of his fortune. Jose now works with his sons David and Alberto, and the trio are principally art dealers, largely controlling the market for both Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works.


A rare collector of both contemporary abstract art and old master sculpture, Tom Hill is hoped by many in the ‘old’ art market to be a pioneering figure for future collectors. A triumphant exhibition of his superb collection of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes was shown at the Frick Collection in New York last year. Vice chairman of the Blackstone Group, one of the leading private equity firms in America, Hill began collecting in the 1990s. They have accumulated old masters by the likes of Rubens, Algardi, Andrea Riccio, and one of the finest collections of bronzes by Giambologna and his assistant Antonio Susini ever assembled, together with fine post-war works by Warhol, Twombly, Francis Bacon and de Kooning, in a much-acclaimed juxtaposition in his New York apartment.



As head of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary department, Gorvy has helped fuel enormous growth in the market, which culminated in the record-breaking $852.9million two-hour sale in November in New York last year. Gorvy has developed close relationships with many of the richest collectors in the world, and several prominent artists who collaborate with the auction house.



Considered by many to be the greatest painter alive today, the German visual artist has changed course a number of times throughout his career; a versatility that has only furthered his reputation. As with Lucian Freud, Richter’s standing in part comes from his ability to explore and expand on the medium of painting at a time when many were heralding its death. As of today, Richter’s work has sold at auction for $1million or more over 250 times.



Known primarily in the West for his political activism and status as a dissident of the Chinese Government, Ai Weiwei’s acclaim as an artist has grown as his global public status has spiralled. Weiwei’s most celebrated work is in the visual arts and is largely sculptural, although he also helped design the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics, before distancing himself from the project. His open criticism of his government’s stance on democracy and human rights has garnered huge worldwide publicity, and in 2011 he was arrested while trying to leave the country for alleged economic crimes and was held for 81 days without charge.

(Photograph: Gao Yuan)

By Milo Dickinson

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