Year In Visual Culture
2018
Artsy Editors
Dec 19, 2018 12:12 pm
If we were to bury a time capsule filled with vestiges of visual culture in 2018, we would include the work of the following photographers, designers, artists, directors, tech leaders, activists, and influencers. This list goes beyond the art world and into pop culture, internet vernacular, and the wider news cycle. It’s about who is contributing to a more diverse set of voices in art, film, fashion, and beyond. It’s about milestones: the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover; the youngest architect to design the Serpentine Pavilion; the first artist to have his work self-destruct mid-auction. And it’s about recognizing visionaries of the past, whose work is imbued with new meaning in our current social landscape, from an underrepresented Baroque painter to the designers of the European Union flag. Here, we highlight the 25 individuals and collaborators who shaped what our culture looks like in 2018.

Donald Glover and Hiro Murai

“This Is America”

A still from Donald Glover’s “This Is America” video. Courtesy of the artist.

A still from Donald Glover’s “This Is America” video. Courtesy of the artist.

A duo creating extraordinary narratives about black American life.
Donald Glover and Hiro Murai
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Donald Glover and Hiro Murai
This spring, when actor-comedian Donald Glover released the music video for his rapper alter-ego Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” it set the internet ablaze. Glover and filmmaker Hiro Murai, a longtime collaborator, had created an utterly engrossing and disturbing masterpiece. In four minutes, the duo summed up the troubling undercurrent in America’s racial climate in a beautiful but often-brutal spectacle: Violence erupts around Glover as he moves through the video, his gestures and choreography referencing Jim Crow, minstrel shows, and viral internet dances. Glover himself ruthlessly executes witnesses to his performance.
In 48 hours, the video racked up more than 30 million views (to date, it has been watched over 445 million times). Viewers, knowing there was a wealth of symbolism to unpack, were hungry for critical analysis; seemingly every major publication—from The New Yorker and NPR to Dazed and Complex—responded with its own take. When was the last time a music video required such meticulous dissection? Before, Glover had enjoyed a dedicated fanbase for his music, but after “This Is America,” he had everyone’s attention.
The “This Is America” video dovetailed with the end of the second season of the FX show Atlanta, created by and starring Glover, who plays Earn, a man trying to find himself as he manages his cousin’s rap career in the eponymous city. The comedy-drama, which is almost entirely directed by Murai, has solidified its barrier-breaking power.
Atlanta is about black life in America, but it also embraces the uncanny—particularly in this year’s season. In one episode, deep loss and existential dread color rapper Paper Boi’s disorienting journey through the woods; in another, Glover wears whiteface to play the bizarre, wealthy recluse Teddy Perkins, the episode leaning into the same mix of eeriness, humor, and acute racial symbolism that powered the 2017 hit film Get Out. (Someone, not Glover, dressed up as Perkins at the 2018 Emmys, continuing the character’s unsettling narrative.) It’s a world that only Glover and Murai could imagine—their collaboration has been one of the most potent forces in entertainment this year.

Amy Sherald

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama

Detail of Amy Sherald, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Detail of Amy Sherald, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Created the iconic official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama.
Amy Sherald
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Amy Sherald
“Let’s just start by saying ‘wow,’” said former first lady Michelle Obama, standing beside her just-unveiled official portrait, painted by artist . The February ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.—which also revealed ’s portrait of former president Barack Obama—was the star-making moment for the Baltimore-based painter, whose profile had been on the rise since 2016, following her first solo show at Monique Meloche and an award from Smithsonian.
Demand for Sherald’s boldly colorful, classically posed portraits of black subjects skyrocketed following the unveiling, and, in March, she signed with global mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth. Institutional recognition of Sherald has also been building: Her first major solo museum show is currently on view at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art after a debut at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in May.
“In her choice to paint black sitters, she firmly and declaratively adds to an art-historical lineage, expanding the notion of who gets to be seen and how,” said Lisa Melandri, who curated Sherald’s St. Louis show and also serves as the museum’s executive director.
But Sherald’s impact on 2018 went far beyond market forces and institutional support. Indeed, her Michelle Obama portrait proved so popular that it had to be moved to accommodate the crowds flocking to see it. One of the viewers, a two-year-old named Parker Curry, stood awestruck in front of the painting, and a photo of the moment went viral. Curry subsequently met the former first lady and dressed as Sherald’s portrait for Halloween, while another trick-or-treater went as Sherald herself at the National Portrait Gallery unveiling, giving credence to Obama’s own prescient speech about Sherald’s painting.
“I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color,” the former first lady said, “who in years ahead will come to this place, and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution—and I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

teamLab

Mori Building Digital Art Museum

Installation view of teamLab, “Borderless,” 2018, at Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Odaiba, Tokyo. © teamLab. Courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Installation view of teamLab, “Borderless,” 2018, at Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Odaiba, Tokyo. © teamLab. Courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Opened the world’s first digital art museum.
teamLab
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teamLab
In June, the interdisciplinary mega-collective unveiled its biggest project yet: a 10,000-square-meter digital art museum in Tokyo. Called the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, it’s the first museum in the world devoted to . It also completely defies the traditional art-viewing experience: No maps, guides, or artwork captions are provided, and visitors are encouraged to touch and interact with the art.
Imagine traversing a forest of lamps that change hues as you approach; jumping on a trampoline, creating planets and stars in your midst; or finding respite in a room full of crashing waves. All of this, and much more, is possible inside the exhibition, entitled “Borderless.” Powered by 520 computers and 470 projectors, more than 50 artworks are seamlessly connected, responding to one another and to visitors. Inside the museum, teamLab strives to erase the borders between individual artworks, between art and the audience, and between visitors as they partake in a collective artmaking experience.
TeamLab was founded in 2001 by engineer Toshiyuki Inoko and now consists of over 500 members, from artists and animators to programmers and mathematicians. Though initially shunned by the Tokyo art world, their transportative, technicolor exhibitions have since won popular and critical acclaim, and have been staged in arts venues around the world. But no major cultural institution had the resources to support their installations at a large scale, so they decided to create their own, with support from urban developer Mori Building (founded by the prominent Japanese real estate and art collecting family).
The museum has welcomed over a million visitors in the five months since it opened. Bella Hadid, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd), Sofia Richie, and Hailey Baldwin all paid visits, sharing selfies in the multicolor glow of the ever-evolving installations. But beyond its status as prime Instagram eye candy, “Borderless” also provides a glimpse of a future in which art, powered by technology, provides a totally immersive, collective experience. TeamLab’s ultimate goal? Turning entire cities into interactive works of art.

Nan Goldin

P.A.I.N.

Photo of Nan Goldin during a protest at the Harvard Art Museums. Photo by TW Collins. Courtesy of P.A.I.N. Sackler.

Photo of Nan Goldin during a protest at the Harvard Art Museums. Photo by TW Collins. Courtesy of P.A.I.N. Sackler.

Brought the fight against the opioid epidemic to the art world.
Nan Goldin
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Nan Goldin
In the 1970s and ’80s, made a name for herself with hedonistic, drug-fueled depictions of New York City street life. While the struggles of addiction play out in her gritty photographs—and have colored her own life—a near-death overdose in 2017 prompted Goldin’s secondary career as an activist.
A confessional essay published in the January 2018 issue of Artforum detailed Goldin’s harrowing, three-year addiction to OxyContin, and established her opposition to the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, as well as the company’s principal owners, the Sackler family, for their role in fostering and profiting from the opioid epidemic. Soon after the essay was published, Goldin organized Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or P.A.I.N., with the aim of creating legislation to restrict access to opioids, pressuring Purdue to redirect profits to fund treatment facilities, and, in a lateral move, persuading cultural institutions to stop accepting Sackler money.
The grassroots group meets regularly at Goldin’s Brooklyn apartment to coordinate protests at the many museums bearing the Sackler name. In an interview with Artsy, community organizer Jennifer Flynn Walker of the Center for Popular Democracy, who began working with Goldin and P.A.I.N. this year, said the artistic group’s visual sensibility is a crucial component to its success in an era when protests are increasingly recognized for their slick messaging.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in March, Goldin and her collaborators staged a news-making protest in the Sackler Wing, with participants tossing prescription pill bottles into the pool in front of the Temple of Dendur, while others passed out P.A.I.N.-branded pamphlets designed to mimic the museum’s printed maps. The affair ended with an old-school “die-in.”
“That action was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen—it was powerful, moving, emotional,” Flynn Walker recalled, adding that Goldin approached the action “like a cinematographer.” The resulting photographs of the event that circulated in newspapers and online are remarkably striking, making it impossible to ignore the art world’s complicity in real-world events.

D.W. Pine

Time Magazine Covers

Illustrations by Tim O’Brien for Time. Courtesy of Time.

Illustrations by Tim O’Brien for Time. Courtesy of Time.

Created the year’s most impactful magazine covers, commenting on school shootings, violence against journalists, and White House chaos.
D.W. Pine
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D.W. Pine
In the era of digital media, magazine covers rarely generate the amount of attention they garnered in decades past. Though Time has a long history of delivering powerful news succinctly within its iconic red frame, D.W. Pine, the magazine’s creative director since 2010, has had the unique challenge of keeping the magazine’s cover relevant when most readers don’t buy print subscriptions.
Pine has risen to that challenge. As Time’s director of multimedia, Katherine Pomerantz, has pointed out, his designs this year “have been so iconic that they too have become part of the story.” Consider the magazine’s April 2nd cover featuring the resolute Parkland student survivors behind the word “ENOUGH” in bold sans-serif; the composite portrait of presidents Trump and Putin on July 30th’s cover, their faces morphed together; the four-cover Person of the Year double issue, featuring journalists who have been jailed or murdered; and the three-issue series illustrating the Oval Office in progressively stormier chaos, which won Adweek’s Cover of the Year award. Pine collaborates with a roster of talented creatives to achieve his vision—for those covers, he worked with photographer Peter Hapak, photographer Moises Saman, artist , and illustrator Tim O’Brien, respectively.
“The current news cycle is so relentless, it is nearly impossible to keep up—this morning’s big story is stale by lunchtime,” Pomerantz explained. “Yet each week, D.W. masterminds a Time cover that makes sense of the chaos, turning complex topics into a visually arresting piece of art that not only informs, but also serves as a catalyst for further inquiry.”
Amplifying the impact of Pine’s Time covers is their ability to be consumed and shared in different forms online. Animated versions are disseminated on social media (in the aforementioned three-part series, Trump is pummeled with wind and rain until, finally, the Oval Office is flooded with water), and behind-the-scenes videos are posted for larger projects, such as the magazine’s drone issue on June 11th that utilized 958 Intel drones to form the image that eventually became the cover in the sky.

Virgil Abloh

Polymathic Cultural Output

Portrait of Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton headquarters © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Magnum Photos.

Portrait of Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton headquarters © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Magnum Photos.

Became the first black artistic director at Louis Vuitton.
Virgil Abloh
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Virgil Abloh
In 2002, Kanye West anointed then-22-year-old as an arbiter of taste when the rapper hired him as a collaborator, eventually becoming his creative director. This year, consecrated Abloh when the brand named him its new artistic director for menswear. He’s one of the few black men to helm a major luxury label, and the first at Louis Vuitton. His first collection for the brand debuted this past summer, featuring wallets with bright orange detailing, garments inspired by the Wizard of Oz, and sneakers with high, bright-white midsoles. In the intervening years, Abloh, who is also a music producer and DJ, has infiltrated the worlds of music, art, fashion, and sports with his multidisciplinary practice and ironic, laid-back style.
Abloh began his rise as a fashion icon in 2013, when the native Chicagoan established his label, Off-White. The brand, which also gained ubiquity this year, became famous for garments decorated with text in quotation marks. By printing “foam” on sneaker midsoles or “raincoat” on a raincoat, Abloh reminds his fans not to take themselves, his designs, or fashion too seriously. This summer, he created a series of rugs for Ikea that read “keep off,” “blue,” and “wet grass” in bold lettering. The collection followed collaborations with companies that range from Champion to Sunglass Hut and Heron Preston to Levi’s. Earlier this year, Abloh and Nike united to create a wardrobe for Her Lady of Tennis, Serena Williams.
Given Abloh’s engagement with pop culture and the vernacular, a collaboration with artist was a no-brainer. Earlier this year, Gagosian gallery opened an Abloh–Murakami exhibition in Los Angeles, for which the pair created bright, symbol-laden canvases and neons (the gallery also hosted joint exhibitions in its London and Paris spaces, and works by the pair have been a regular feature at art fairs this fall). Next June, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago will honor Abloh with a solo exhibition of his clothing, as well as collaborations with other artists, including and .

James Monsees and Adam Bowen

Juul

Photo by Giancarlo Revolledo.

Photo by Giancarlo Revolledo.

Designed the widely popular e-cigarette that achieved ubiquity in 2018.
For an object that resembles an elongated USB drive, the Juul captured an outsize slice of America’s public attention this year. The electronic cigarette, which offers interchangeable nicotine “pods” in flavors ranging from mango to mint and arrives in Apple-esque minimalist white packaging, arrived on the market in 2015, and topped U.S. e-cigarette sales by the end of 2017. But this year, Juul became a cultural phenomenon.
Stanford business school graduates James Monsees and Adam Bowen initially conceived of the Juul during a series of smoking breaks circa 2003, and launched their brand over 10 years later with an upbeat campaign. Filled with bright hues, geometric shapes, and photogenic young people, their ads turned a previously unsexy object into a lifestyle necessity. But Juul’s rapid growth—particularly among underage teen users—has brought regulatory scrutiny. In April, Juul Labs’s marketing efforts were scrutinized by both the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Congress, with one question at the center of their investigation: Did the company’s advertisements target minors?
Looking at the countless memes the Juul has spawned, it’s easy to understand why one might think so. Many exaggerate how crucial Juuls are to their owners: In one meme, losing a Juul ranks as more traumatic than “failing an exam,” “getting rejected,” and “your dog dying.” In May, writer Jia Tolentino published a buzzy article in The New Yorker that investigated the youth culture of Juuling (yes, the activity has become ubiquitous enough to become its own verb). It and other reports noted that high school students, in particular, are getting hooked on Juuls, personalizing them with stickers and smoking illicitly during class and bathroom breaks.
The company has maintained that its product is intended for adults who want to quit smoking cigarettes, not for underage or non-smokers. Nevertheless, it has already promised $30 million in smoking prevention efforts for the youth. In November, just after the FDA announced plans to enact explicit regulations against e-cigarette sales, Juul revealed that it would cease social media promotions and sales of flavored pods, such as mango and cucumber (excluding tobacco, mint, and menthol), in brick-and-mortar locations. Though the Juul’s regulatory future may appear tenuous, its cultural status isn’t likely to decline any time soon.

Tang Xiaoou and Xu Li

SenseTime

A demonstration of SenseTime surveillance software identifying details about people and vehicles. Image by REUTERS/Thomas Peter.

A demonstration of SenseTime surveillance software identifying details about people and vehicles. Image by REUTERS/Thomas Peter.

Helping machines see, in both consumer applications and government surveillance.
Three Chinese companies lead the race to perfect artificial intelligence image recognition: Megvii, Yitu, and SenseTime. But in 2018, SenseTime pulled ahead of the pack, raising $1.2 billion. (It was most recently valued at more than $4.5 billion, the most for any AI company.) Along with the wide range of consumer-facing products that the company’s tech enables, the Chinese government has significantly invested in its tech—which identifies images, objects, and people with startling accuracy—as it seeks novel methods to surveil and control its population.
SenseTime was launched in 2014 by Tang Xiaoou, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 2015, he appointed Xu Li, a Ph.D. candidate, as CEO of the research initiative–turned–company, igniting three straight years of 400 percent year-over-year growth. Now, SenseTime’s technologies power facial recognition–unlocking in many Chinese smartphone brands; Snapchat-like AR photo filters in the popular app SNOW; software that allows self-driving cars to “see” their surroundings; and real-time, customer-specific analytics for retailers, among many others.
Perhaps more notorious, however, are the surveillance implementations of SenseTime’s tech, as the Chinese government begins rolling out its social credit system, with the aim of giving a holistic rating of an individual’s personal and business reputation—like the infamous “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror. A growing number of local governments and security agencies, including those in Yunnan Province and the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, use SenseTime software to automatically identify faces passing security cameras and track the movements of groups and cars like a virtual panopticon, among other things.
Significant concerns have been raised about how such a system could be used for nefarious purposes; facial recognition and other technologies are already being used to track and control the Muslim Uighur population in the Xinjiang region. However, Tang and Xu are outwardly determined to see their technologies be used for good, having teamed up this February with MIT to launch the MIT-SenseTime Alliance on Artificial Intelligence, with the aim of addressing pressing issues related to the rise of AI that will soon face our world.

Becca McCharen-Tran

Chromat

Chromat’s “Pool Rules” campaign, 2018. Courtesy of Chromat.

Chromat’s “Pool Rules” campaign, 2018. Courtesy of Chromat.

Set a new benchmark for representation in fashion.
Becca McCharen-Tran
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Becca McCharen-Tran
For designer Becca McCharen-Tran, inclusivity isn’t a trend or marketing ploy, it’s an ethos. Since 2010, before mass-market brands like Aerie began showcasing models of diverse ages, sizes, and abilities, Chromat, the swimwear line that McCharen-Tran founded, championed a radically inclusive approach to fashion.
This summer, Chromat’s “Pool Rules” ad campaign laid out McCharen-Tran’s fashion philosophy in a playful but serious way. Instead of listing typical pool rules, such as “No Diving,” the rules included injunctions such as “Food-Shaming Not Permitted,” “All Abilities Accepted,” and “Respect Preferred Pronouns.” Dressed as stylish lifeguards in Chromat’s bright, techy suits, the models—which include activist and amputee Mama Cax, breast cancer survivor Ericka Hart, and trans model Geena Rocero—lounge by the pool and stride shoulder-to-shoulder towards the camera, like a team of superheroes who’ve assembled to fight fashion’s narrow standards of beauty. During New York’s fall fashion week, Chromat sent an equally diverse group of models down the runway, including MMA fighter Mia Kang and art-world influencer Kimberly Drew.
On and off the runway, Chromat continues to set the standard for inclusivity in fashion, offering sizes from XS to 4XL. Perhaps it’s no surprise that McCharen-Tran, who was trained as an architect and has often favored non-traditional fabrics and silhouettes, approaches both business and craft from an uncommon perspective. Yet fashion, however slowly, seems to be following suit.
When Ed Razek, CMO of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, declared in a November interview with Vogue that he didn’t think trans women should appear in the televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show, he came across as profoundly out of touch. In an essay written for Out, McCharen-Tran countered Razek’s remarks, refuting the male gaze in the design and marketing of lingerie. “Chromat has always designed for a wide range of sizes…and for all different bodies, ages, abilities and places on the gender spectrum,” she wrote. “As a queer woman, I do not focus on designing clothes to make the wearer more appealing to men.”

Artemisia Gentileschi

Judith Slaying Holofernes

Detail of Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1620. Courtesy of Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Detail of Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes, ca. 1620. Courtesy of Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Represented female empowerment for the #MeToo era.
In late September, after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that then–Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her as a young woman, the 17th-century paintings of began to circulate through Twitter and Instagram. Supporters of Dr. Ford showed their compassion and fury through disseminating the artist’s fierce Judith Slaying Holofernes—two paintings, both from around 1614–20, that have been read as depictions of Gentileschi herself avenging her rapist. (Gentileschi was raped at age 17 by her teacher, artist Agostino Tassi, who was convicted and exiled from Rome, but his sentence was never enforced.)
The Italian painter’s renewed relevance has been steady throughout 2018, penetrating popular culture and the art world. Her striking portraiture and depictions of biblical heroines have surfaced as emblems of female empowerment, resonating loudly in the #MeToo era. It’s a fitting resurgence as the artist was a trailblazing woman in her own day: Gentileschi was the first woman to attend Florence’s Accademia delle Arti del Disegno and the only female follower of ; she even earned commissions from such notable patrons as the Medicis and King Charles I of England.
“Artemisia Gentileschi’s reputation developed first as a victim of sexual assault and then as one of the most interesting painters of the early 17th century,” noted Judith W. Mann, a curator of European art at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the editor of a 2005 collection of essays on the artist. “Her best works are powerful reminders of the power of women, making her a perfect emblem for these times.”
As interest in the long under-recognized artist has grown, so too has her market. In July, London’s National Gallery acquired Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1615–17)—the museum’s first acquisition of a work by a female artist in 27 years. And this fall, her Lucretia (ca. 1630–45) sold at the Dorotheum auction house in Vienna for €1.8 million ($2.1 million), more than twice its presale estimate.
Though Gentileschi’s art has long been inseparable from her sexual assault, the present moment tells us that can change—that her legacy will be tied to her esteem as an artist, and as a force to be reckoned with.

Tyler Mitchell

Vogue’s September Issue

Tyler Mitchell’s portraits of Beyoncé on the September cover of Vogue, 2018. Styling by Kwasi Fordjur. Fashion editor Tonne Goodman. Courtesy of the artist.

Tyler Mitchell’s portraits of Beyoncé on the September cover of Vogue, 2018. Styling by Kwasi Fordjur. Fashion editor Tonne Goodman. Courtesy of the artist.

Became the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue.
Tyler Mitchell
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Tyler Mitchell
Sharing the spotlight with Beyoncé is no easy feat, but when Vogue’s September cover was revealed in August, 23-year-old found himself doing just that. Overnight, Mitchell went from an emerging photographer (Artsy featured him in The Artsy Vanguard, our annual survey of artists to watch, in May) to the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover in the magazine’s 126-year history, capturing Queen Bey herself in a supremely honest and raw light.
In one of his images of Beyoncé (which would become one of two covers), she sits against a draped sheet in the light of the golden hour, wearing a white ruffled dress, a cornucopia of flowers framing her face. She shifts between roles in the series, evoking a matriarch in front of a clothesline and a sun deity draped in gold. Artist and curator , who taught Mitchell at NYU, noted that the series nods to artists and models of 19th-century Parisian salons, but also “introduces a captivating narrative about beauty and desire.” Willis has been a champion of Mitchell’s, noting that she recognized early “how deeply Tyler was committed to changing existing visual narratives about being black, creative, and young.”
Mitchell’s other work in 2018 included fashion editorials for More or Less Magazine in May and Document Journal’s fall/winter issue. Earlier in the year, Mitchell had a much different assignment for Teen Vogue: taking portraits and video of nine young activists for gun reform, including students Emma González, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, and Nick Joseph, who had survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that garnered national attention in February. In Mitchell’s portraits and video, the students’ determination and vivacity is amplified—these are the young adults who will effect change in policy.
Mitchell was born into the same generation—one that is resolved to uproot the status quo. “There was a ladder for the people who came before me, and there’s a ladder now—it’s just a new ladder,” Mitchell told Vogue in a behind-the-scenes interview about the Beyoncé shoot. “I want to open the eyes of the kids younger than me; show them that they can do this, too.”

Colin Kaepernick

Nike Ad Campaign

Courtesy of Nike.

Courtesy of Nike.

Lent his likeness and activist message to the iconic “Just Do It” ad campaign.
When does a man become an icon? Possibly when he files for a copyright of his own profile. In October, Colin Kaepernick, whose name became synonymous with NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against police violence, filed to trademark a black-and-white image of his face and hair. According to the filing, the image could be used for commercial products, TV and film production, and for providing workshops in self-empowerment and how to safely interact with law enforcement.
A month prior, the former quarterback became the latest in a 30-year history of inspirational athletes who have lent their likenesses to Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” ad campaign. The ad shows a tightly cropped black-and-white portrait of Kaepernick, lips pressed together and eyes meeting the camera with a determined gaze. “Believe in something,” the ad copy reads. “Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
In the days that followed, the ad became a flashpoint for Twitter outrage (where some of Kaepernick’s critics recorded themselves setting their own Nikes on fire), and its format became a popular meme, often with a political bent. “Believe in something. Even if you just made it up,” one meme-maker inscribed across a frowning photograph of the 45th president’s face.
Some questioned the ultimate value of a corporate giant co-opting a social movement, and whether Nike’s progressivism was merely a strategy to engage the younger consumers who make up the majority of the brand’s customer base. Critics also pointed to the company’s own policies and labor practices, which they suggested were at odds with the ad’s progressive positioning. One meme memorably added the campaign’s inspirational copy to a photograph of a woman working in a Nike factory. “Just do it,” read the tagline, “for $0.23 per hour.”

Frida Escobedo

The Serpentine Pavilion

Frida Escobedo in the Serpentine Pavilion 2018. Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images.

Frida Escobedo in the Serpentine Pavilion 2018. Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images.

Proved that age, gender, and flash need not dictate the future of architecture.
Frida Escobedo
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Frida Escobedo
This year, at 39 years old, became the youngest architect to ever design the prestigious Serpentine Pavilion in London. The annual commission to design a temporary structure that sits beside the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens has been bestowed upon legends like , , Peter Zumthor, and . Of the 18 pavilions created since 2000, this was only the second to be designed solely by a woman (Hadid being the first). But Escobedo’s work stands in elegant contrast to the flash and bang of starchitecture.
With her Mexico City–based firm and expertise in both architecture and public art, Escobedo has made her name through thoughtful designs for esteemed cultural centers like the art space La Tallera in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and a renovation of the Octavio Paz Library in Guadalajara. She has consistently exhibited a reverence for everyday materials, as well as a flair for respecting both local and global sensibilities. Her Serpentine Pavilion, a meditative structure, was made up of straightforward building materials: simple grey roof tiles, like those typical of British houses. The humble cement rectangles were stacked to form walls that allowed sunlight to filter through their perforations, and were situated around a central courtyard—a key feature of domestic architecture in Escobedo’s native Mexico. The tranquil interior featured a triangular pool, which reflected light brilliantly against the mirrored finish of a curved steel roof.
Serpentine Galleries CEO Yana Peel described the structure as “an exquisite intimate public space in the park—a mix of communion and quiet contemplation,” which felt “both local and placeless,” she said. “Frida has said that her buildings are never finished, and this summer, we witnessed the power of performance, discussion, and visitors in their hundreds of thousands complete what she had started.”

Arsène Heitz and Paul M. G. Lévy

The EU Flag

The Peoples Vote March For The Future, October 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. Photo by Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images.

The Peoples Vote March For The Future, October 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. Photo by Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images.

Designed the flag that has become a calling card against Brexit and Euroscepticism.
Arsène Heitz and Paul M. G. Lévy
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Arsène Heitz and Paul M. G. Lévy
During October’s People’s Vote march in London, nearly 700,000 people took to the streets to demand a second vote on Brexit. The massive crowds, which gridlocked parts of the city, was a sea of blue with points of yellow stars. The EU flag was waved in the air, draped around shoulders, and printed onto T-shirts, protest signs, and banners. Like the pink pussy hat at the 2017 Women’s March, it was the single visual that most clearly unified the crowd.
“Against the blue sky of the Western world, the stars represent the peoples of Europe in a circle, a symbol of unity,” wrote the Council of Europe when adopting EU flag as its symbol in 1955. (The thorny phrase “Western world” was later removed.) “Their number shall be invariably set at twelve, the symbol of completeness and perfection.” The flag’s design was the result of the combined efforts of Arsène Heitz, an employee of the Council’s postal service, and Paul M. G. Lévy, the Council’s director of press and information services at the time.
The EU flag’s continued power lies in its inclusivity. While most flags represent a distinct national identity, the EU flag is a symbol of cooperation between nations. Unlike the American flag’s stars and stripes, the EU’s 12 stars do not signify particular governments (the number of countries in the EU is currently 28), but rather a more abstract notion of unity—a dozen smaller shapes aligning to form a perfectly balanced circle. The flag’s graphic strength has made it both a powerful rallying point and a catnip for streetwear designers. Following the Brexit vote in 2016, streetwear brand Souvenir released the EUNify hoodie, a sweatshirt upon which the flag’s circle of stars is rendered with one star missing—its absence upsetting the balance of the design’s powerful symmetry.

Banksy

Love is in the Bin

Banksy, Love is in the Bin, 2018. Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

Banksy, Love is in the Bin, 2018. Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.

Self-destructed an artwork, hijacking the global news cycle.
is an anomaly: undoubtedly the world’s most-famous street artist, despite the fact that no one is quite sure who he is. And despite the anti-establishment spirit of Banksy’s favored motifs—kissing cops, giant rats, and protestors tossing Molotov cocktails of flowers—art collectors have continuously shown rabid interest in his work. In October, a small-scale version of his 2006 mural Girl with Balloon, which last year was voted the U.K.’s “best-loved work of art,” sold at Sotheby’s for $1.3 million.
But as soon as the auctioneer’s hammer fell, something very odd happened. Banksy had rigged the frame of Girl with Balloon with a remotely triggered device that caused the work to pass through it like a paper shredder, slowly being cut into ribbons. The shredder stopped midway through the process, in what the artist said was a technical error.
Audiences at Sotheby’s and around the world were alternately stunned and bemused as the story jumped to the top of several major news outlets’ most-read sections. The auction house’s European head of contemporary art, Alex Branczik, quashed rumors that Sotheby’s had advance knowledge of what was to come: “We got Banksy’d,” he said.
Rather than an actual act of self-vandalism, the shredding of Girl with Balloon was recast as a creative act, with Banksy positioning the damaged piece as an entirely new work, which he dubbed Love is in the Bin (2018). And Banksy’s own sales market seems to have gotten an injection of enthusiasm, with an exhibition by Phillips auction house in Hong Kong and an ongoing, somewhat controversial touring show, “The Art of Banksy,” which landed in Miami just in time for Art Basel in Miami Beach. Meanwhile, the shredding itself became a popular meme, swiftly co-opted for ad campaigns by the likes of McDonald’s and Perrier.

Robin Hammond

National Geographic Race Issue

Robin Hammond’s photo for the cover of National Geographic’s Race Issue, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Robin Hammond’s photo for the cover of National Geographic’s Race Issue, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Illustrated National Geographic’s critical special issue on race.
Robin Hammond
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Robin Hammond
This year, New Zealand–born photographer was assigned the groundbreaking April cover story of National Geographic’s Race Issue. It was an especially important edition, as the editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, apologized for the 130-year-old publication’s past coverage, which often promoted stereotypes of marginalized people.
The Race Issue also had a declaration—that race has no scientific basis. Skin color “is not a binary trait,” as geneticist Alicia Martin is quoted in the cover story. “The 21st-century understanding of human genetics tells us that the whole idea of race is a human invention,” writer Patricia Edmond concludes.
Shooting the historic issue fit neatly into Hammond’s larger career, which has been marked by his dedication to social issues. He spent much of this year photographing for the ongoing campaign Where Love is Illegal, launched in 2015 by his own nonprofit, Witness Change. The campaign features photographs and testimonies of LGBTQI+ people in countries where they are oppressed; many of the subjects are pictured hiding their faces.
For The Race Issue, Hammond photographed two powerful stories. For the cover, he featured British fraternal twins Marcia and Millie Biggs, who do not share the same skin tone: Millie is black, and Marcia is white. Likewise, his second shoot, documenting the incredible diversity of various distinct communities in Africa, reinforced the idea that race is not a biological dividing line. In fact, as the writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, stresses, among humans, “the deepest splits” aren’t between people who are black, white, Asian, or Native American. They’re within African populations, “who spent tens of thousands of years separated from one another even before humans left Africa,” she writes.
Hammond’s images of African people of all ages are stripped-down, classical portraits taken against a white backdrop, with soft lighting. Unlike the magazine’s older coverage, which Goldberg acknowledged “pictured ‘natives’ elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché,” Hammond focuses on their beauty and individuality, letting their features shine.

The Women of Time’s Up

#WhyWeWearBlack

Meryl Streep, Ai-jen Poo, Natalie Portman, Tarana Burke, Michelle Williams, America Ferrera, Jessica Chastain, Amy Poehler, and activist Saru Jayaraman attend 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party, 2018. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Meryl Streep, Ai-jen Poo, Natalie Portman, Tarana Burke, Michelle Williams, America Ferrera, Jessica Chastain, Amy Poehler, and activist Saru Jayaraman attend 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party, 2018. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Organized all-black dress codes at major red-carpet events in a show of solidarity.
The Women of Time’s Up
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The Women of Time’s Up
Leading up to the 75th Golden Globe Awards this January, stylists were tasked with a last-minute dress code: Actresses were opting to wear black, and black alone. Time’s Up, a volunteer-run movement founded by women in Hollywood to fight sexual harassment in the wake of #MeToo, organized a red-carpet blackout.
Actresses, and a handful of actors, took to social media to spread the word with the hashtag #WhyWeWearBlack. “We wear black to symbolize solidarity—that the death knell has struck on abusive power, and that it’s time to celebrate each other, not just the nominees on our film and television screens, but our storytellers who have bravely come forward and courageously shared their personal stories, which have liberated so many of us,” actress Rosario Dawson shared in an Instagram post. A few brands that dressed the stars also acknowledged their support, no doubt recognizing the power of “woke” marketing in 2018.
The visual impact of the protest was amplified by the presence of prominent activists like Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo, who, among others, were invited by actresses as their guests. Whereas red-carpet conversations usually begin by asking stars what designer they’re wearing, this year, the conversation largely centered around women’s empowerment. “We feel emboldened in this particular moment to stand together in a thick black line dividing then from now,” actress Meryl Streep told reporters.
As with any convergence of fashion and politics, the blackout wasn’t without controversy, with some questioning the efficacy of a sartorial gesture organized by privileged women. But the goal of the night was to use the spotlight of the Golden Globes—and the platforms of famous women—to send a message of collective power. Time’s Up, launched by 300 volunteers, has since continued to stage red-carpet blackouts at other award shows, like the BAFTAs and the CDGAs, while working toward effecting real change. These efforts include a legal defense fund providing assistance to working-class women—which has since become the most successful GoFundMe campaign in history—and a “50/50 by 2020” project to reach a gender balance among entertainment leadership roles in the next two years.

Jason Ballard, Alex Le Roux, and Evan Loomis

Icon

Icon's 3-D Home and Vulcan Printer. Courtesy of New Story.

Icon's 3-D Home and Vulcan Printer. Courtesy of New Story.

Developed a 3D-printed home that could help solve global homelessness.
It’s hard to get a sense of how many people in our world do not have a roof over their heads. The most recent global survey by the UN estimated that 100 million people were homeless in 2005; this century, the number of people living in slums passed 1 billion. Solving global homelessness is a weighty task, but the founders of Austin, Texas–based startup Icon are making every effort to usher in an era of 3D-printed dwellings as the solution.
All three founders had co-founded companies before forming Icon—Jason Ballard and Evan Loomis started the sustainable home-improvement company TreeHouse in 2010, while Alex Le Roux co-launched Vesta Printers, a manufacturer of 3D printers for construction projects, in 2016. Together, they designed the Vulcan, a mobile printer that will be used by San Francisco nonprofit New Story to print homes in Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia, where the organization is currently active.
The team at New Story had already begun building homes in developing countries, but it took several months and thousands of dollars to construct each one. With the Vulcan, it will be monumentally faster and cheaper: In March, a prototype, running at just a quarter of its projected power, printed a 350-square-foot home in Austin in just 48 hours. (As with most 3D-printed homes, roofs, windows, doors, and plumbing require additional installation.) Armed with the real Vulcan running at full speed, Icon says it will be able to print a 600- to 800-square-foot home in a single day, each costing around $4,000. That will be put to the test in early 2019, when the company plans to print 100 homes with New Story.
With the Vulcan ready to begin printing, Ballard, Loomis, and Le Roux are looking to the future. Their investors include U.S. homebuilder D.R. Horton and leading Middle Eastern developer Emaar, and they secured $9 million in funding this year. If things go according to plan, we may be seeing first examples of the small, technology-powered homes that could replace the slums of the world.

Ruth E. Carter

Black Panther

Still from Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, featuring M’Baku (Winston Duke). Photo by Film Frame. Courtesy of and ©Marvel Studios 2018.

Still from Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, featuring M’Baku (Winston Duke). Photo by Film Frame. Courtesy of and ©Marvel Studios 2018.

Merged African history with Afrofuturism in her costumes for the billion-dollar box-office blockbuster.
Ruth E. Carter
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Ruth E. Carter
In a career spanning more than 40 films, costume designer Ruth E. Carter has established a reputation for foregrounding clothing as a vital marker of black identity. The effort is especially evident in her collaborations with director Spike Lee, from the statement-making slogan T-shirts in Do the Right Thing (1989) to the title activist’s iconic suit in Malcolm X (1992). In her work for period dramas like Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997) and Ava DuVernay’s Selma (2014), Carter artfully brought real events of the past into the present.
But it’s her designs for the billion-dollar box-office blockbuster Black Panther (2018), directed by Ryan Coogler, that catapulted Carter to superstar status—a rare feat for a costume designer. Tasked with imagining the garments of fictional Wakanda—a diverse, technologically advanced nation untouched by European colonization—Carter drew upon traditional tribal garb alongside current fashion trends. Indeed, clothing plays an outsize role in shaping the film’s world, and the characters’ dramatic costumes impart important messages of both individual and community identity.
Modern updates of indigenous tribal designs and materials abound: W’Kabi, leader of the Border Tribe, dons the Wakandan version of a Lesotho blanket; Queen Ramonda’s magisterial headgear is inspired by a traditional hat worn by married Zulu women; and the Dora Milaje warriors’ costumes borrow from the beadwork of the Turkana and Maasai tribes. But Carter also wanted to represent the modern, cosmopolitan spirit of the fashion of Africa and its diaspora; to that end, she looked to the sartorial elegance of Congolese sapeurs and the transgressive Afropunk festival, even collaborating with vanguard fashion designers like Ozwald Boateng, , and Duro Olowu.
In advance of the film’s release, “What are you wearing to the Black Panther premiere?” became a trending topic on social media, with enthusiastic black Twitter users sharing memes and outfit inspiration. The influence of the film’s costumes have inspired a traveling exhibition, and this February, the Costume Designers Guild Awards will honor Carter with the Career Achievement Award. Such accolades recognize the uncharted territory she entered with Black Panther by bringing the political power of black fashion to the mainstream.

John Moore

Undocumented

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Photographed the front lines of the U.S. immigration crisis.
John Moore
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John Moore
It was nighttime in June, and photojournalist John Moore watched as a U.S. Border Patrol unit apprehended women and children on the banks of the Rio Grande. One Honduran woman, who was breastfeeding her two-year-old in the headlights of the patrol vehicles, told Moore that she and her daughter had been traveling for a month. The next day, one of the photographs that Moore took of them—an image of the daughter crying as her mother was searched by the agents—went viral. Moore’s image came at a time when tensions over immigration in the U.S. were at a breaking point, following the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, enacted in April, which had separated thousands of children from their parents after they crossed the border. Though it was later confirmed that this young girl was not taken from her mother, the image of her fear seemed to encapsulate the feelings of horror that the policy elicited from many across the political spectrum.
The image spread like wildfire on social media and made the front page of the New York Times, while an edited version graced the cover of Time magazine. It’s just one of the thousands of images Moore has taken that communicate the human side of immigration policy. Now based in New York, Moore has spent nearly a decade traveling to the border and to immigrant communities. In March, he released a book, Undocumented, that shows a more complete picture of his ongoing coverage.
It would be hard to find an immigration story this year that didn’t feature Moore’s images. While spending six days with ICE in New York, he captured the fear that undocumented immigrants live with daily. He captured the joy and relief of nine Guatemalan children who were reunited with their parents after months of detainment. He has also photographed both of the recent caravans of migrants making their way to the border after arduous weeks-long journeys on foot.
Though many photographers are covering the immigration crisis, Moore has set the benchmark, and our news is better for it.

Jon M. Chu

Crazy Rich Asians

Film still from Crazy Rich Asians. © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Kimmel Distribution, LLC. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Film still from Crazy Rich Asians. © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Kimmel Distribution, LLC. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Directed the first Hollywood film to feature an all-Asian leading cast in 25 years.
Jon M. Chu
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Jon M. Chu
When #OscarsSoWhite went viral in 2016, Jon M. Chu had a moment of reckoning. Asian-Americans were increasingly demanding greater on-screen representation, and Chu realized he needed to play a part in the cause. Directing Crazy Rich Asians (2018)—an adaption of the best-selling 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan—presented the perfect opportunity.
Crazy Rich Asians was not only the first Hollywood film in 25 years to feature an all-Asian leading cast, it also became the top-grossing romantic comedy in the U.S. in a decade. It represented a breakthrough moment in an industry that has historically either stereotyped Asian characters or cast white actors in their roles. “To see them play all the roles…not just the villains or the side characters—and to see them in such glorious complexities: that’s a huge contribution to Hollywood’s representation of Asians and Asian-Americans,” said sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen, the author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism.
Many of the themes addressed in the film—feeling caught between cultures; the struggle between love and familial duty—are topics that struck a chord with Asian-American viewers, and with Chu. Chu was born in California, the son of first-generation immigrants who own and operate a popular Chinese restaurant in Los Altos, California. The director has been candid in interviews about his previous reluctance to explore his Asian heritage in film. “I didn’t want to be seen as this ‘other’ thing,” he has said. “I didn’t realize that came from a place from what society was telling me and that I had a responsibility to the people who’d carried me to this place.”
The success of Crazy Rich Asians, as with any project, of course, can’t be attributed to one person alone. Fans of the film have followed the cast—from Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame and Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu to cinema newcomer Henry Golding—as they’ve become a family of sorts, and a collective force in the fight for diversity in Hollywood. Together, they are inspiring a new generation of Asian creatives to make their voices heard.

Caroline Criado-Perez and Gillian Wearing

Millicent Fawcett Sculpture

Millicent Fawcett, 2018. Photo by Garry Knight, via Flickr.

Millicent Fawcett, 2018. Photo by Garry Knight, via Flickr.

Created the first statue of a woman in London’s Parliament Square.
Only five public sculptures in New York City depict real, historical women, according to a recent NPR report. Not 50 percent, nor even 5 percent—just five in total. (Imaginary women such as Greek goddesses, towering symbols of liberty, and dancing nymphs don’t count.) This absence ignores vital contributions made by women to history, social progress, and civic life.
But this missing history is not unique to New York, and municipal governments are finally beginning to take action. The initiative She Built NYC will begin commissioning public monuments that honor historical New York women, beginning with a statue of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress. San Francisco also announced a new ordinance this year, mandating that at least 30 percent of public statues of historical figures must be women.
In London, Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist activist who helmed the successful campaign to add Jane Austen’s portrait to the £10 British banknote, led the charge to have a statue of British suffragist Millicent Fawcett added to the all-male array of figures in Parliament Square. Criado-Perez’s petition to include Fawcett, who fought for votes and higher education access for women, was endorsed by Mayor Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Theresa May. Both leaders were present at the statue’s unveiling in April.
Created by Turner Prize–winning artist , the Fawcett statue is both the first sculpture of a woman and the first sculpture by a woman to grace London’s Parliament Square, where it joins the figures Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi, among others, in an exclusive coterie that overlooks the houses of British government. Depicted at age 50, the bronze figure of Fawcett has a gravitas equal to that of her male neighbors. She has a lined brow, a determined gaze, and holds a banner that reads what might be viewed as a rallying cry for communities everywhere to bravely address the underrepresentation of women in civic art: “Courage calls to courage everywhere.”

Sean Combs

Past Times

Portrait of Sean Combs by Kevin Mazur/WireImage.

Portrait of Sean Combs by Kevin Mazur/WireImage.

Set a significant, new high mark for black artists’ markets when he purchased the Kerry James Marshall painting.
Sean Combs
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Sean Combs
On May 16th, ’s Past Times (1997) sold at Sotheby’s for $21.1 million, with fees. The result nearly doubled the previous record for an artwork by a living African-American artist, itself only set months before at Phillips’s March sale in London, when ’s Helter Skelter I (2007) sold for £8.6 million (nearly $12 million). The Marshall’s new owner? None other than Sean “Diddy” Combs, the Grammy-winning music producer and entrepreneur.
The increase in prices for black artists’ work has been one of the most significant art market narratives of 2018. In the same May auction where Combs purchased Past Times, records for the late portraitist and the 35-year-old painter were also set. And record-setting works by 60-year-old , the late modernist painter , and , who passed away in January, were among the November auctions’ best performers. This market momentum has been brought on by increasing institutional recognition of work that was often overlooked by those same institutions when it was originally produced, as well as a steady influx of black collectors like Combs into the very white art world.
“We are going through a moment where there is a rewriting of art history to include women and black artists, as well as the peers of other critically acclaimed and celebrated artists,” and collectors are following in tow, said Jacqueline Wachter, vice president of private sales at Sotheby’s, who bid on behalf of Combs in the sale. “Black collectors are a big part of this shift in focus and expansion of the market. As a broader variety of collectors enter the game, the market is starting to expand our definitions of ‘great,’ ‘important,’ and ‘masterpiece.’”
The Marshall record may only be less than a quarter of that set for a living artist by in November, when his Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) (1972) sold at Christie’s for $90.3 million. But it’s clear that this is just the beginning of a sea-change for the art world—and contemporary art as we know it.

Emily Heyward, JB Osborne, and Simon Endres

Red Antler

Red Antler's branding designs for Burrow on the New York subway. Courtesy of Red Antler.

Red Antler's branding designs for Burrow on the New York subway. Courtesy of Red Antler.

Created branding that’s helping fuel the direct-to-consumer retail revolution.
Emily Heyward, JB Osborne, and Simon Endres
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Emily Heyward, JB Osborne, and Simon Endres
In 2018, direct-to-consumer brands continued to chip away at the market share of their legacy competitors. With consumers tending to make more purchases online and on mobile, these new brands are responding to the move from the shelf to the feed. Gone is the loud, cluttered visual landscape of products promising “New and Improved Formula!” or “30% More Free!” compared to their competitors sitting inches away—it’s since been replaced by a more minimalist aesthetic that emphasizes a sense of the brand’s narrative in a way that content-hungry millennial and Gen-Z consumers crave.
The creative agency Red Antler, founded in 2007 by Emily Heyward, JB Osborne, and Simon Endres, has, along with equally formidable competitor Gin Lane, helped craft this transformation, creating the top-to-bottom brand strategy of some of the most iconic direct-to-consumer brands, such as Casper, Allbirds, and Birchbox. “People used to view a brand as a logo, font, and colors. Red Antler knows that a brand is literally everything you do,” said Ben Lerer, a partner at the venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau, a number of whose portfolio companies have tapped Red Antler early on to help craft a compelling brand for today’s marketplace.
He explained that these companies are often pre-launch—they’re a seed of an idea with a small, highly capable team, but none of the wrapping that will initially draw customers in. “From positioning and naming these businesses to creating the storytelling, visuals, and the full consumer-facing experience, Red Antler brought these companies to market in a magical way, which allowed them to grow massively out of the starting gate,” Lerer said.
While not part of Lerer’s portfolio, one such company is Brandless, the consumer packaged-goods company known for each of its 400 products only costing $3. Red Antler developed the brand’s minimalist and fact-forward packaging to respond to health-conscious millennial consumers wary of traditional marketing messaging. In April, Brandless was named startup of the year by Ad Age, and in July, the company announced that it had landed $240 million in fresh funding from the SoftBank Vision Fund—a significant vote of confidence that the honest, no-nonsense branding Red Antler developed could go head-to-head with Amazon and win.

Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman

For Freedoms

Make America Great Again with Spider Martin in Pearl, MS, 2016. Courtesy of Wyatt Gallery/For Freedoms.

Make America Great Again with Spider Martin in Pearl, MS, 2016. Courtesy of Wyatt Gallery/For Freedoms.

Mounted the largest collaborative creative project in U.S. history.
Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman
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Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman
For Freedoms began in early 2016 as a super PAC aimed at increasing civic engagement. The organization, founded by artists and , mounted billboards in 10 states, as well as an exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery for Super Tuesday that year. The efforts garnered attention in the art world, but were overshadowed in wider conversation by the theatrics of the presidential campaign. Thomas and Gottesman redoubled their efforts ahead of the 2018 midterms, launching the 50 State Initiative, which For Freedoms claims is not only the largest public art project, but also the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history.
The group has organized talks, panel discussions, exhibitions, and town halls in locations across the country, with at least one event in every U.S. state, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. They mounted billboards in all 50 states with messaging and imagery designed by a diverse set of artists like , , , Stuart Sheldon, , , and . And they released a series of 82 images, created by Thomas and photographers Emily Shur and , that reimagined ’s iconic 1943 series “Four Freedoms”—which gave the group its name—in a more inclusive light, reflective of America in 2018. Just after the midterms, Time picked up one of the images for its cover.
In the divisive and polarized environment that is American politics today, For Freedoms’s emphasis on breaking down entrenched political dichotomies is refreshing. “We’re not non-partisan—we’re anti-partisan,” said Gottesman. “We’re trying to challenge these binaries of left and right, red and blue, black and white.” Thomas said the goal isn’t to form some kind of consensus, but to instead celebrate the fact that American history has been built upon honoring different viewpoints. “If there’s no tension, then we become stagnant and dead as a society,” he said. “We may not agree with each other, but we need to recognize our differences—that there is as much value in conserving some things as there is in progress elsewhere.”
To achieve that, the pair intentionally involved collaborators from both sides of the aisle. “We don’t agree with all of the artists we work with,” he said. “That’s the fundamental root of the project.” As Gottesman put it, fundamentally, their goal is to push forward the idea that creativity—and the gray areas that art allows us to inhabit——can help bridge the gap.
Visual design by Wax Studios.