The Top 14 Living Artists of 2014

New Yorkers got a mouthful of Ed Ruscha last spring as his word paintings were unveiled at Gagosian on Madison Avenue, lined the gallery’s booth at Frieze New York, and a giant mural version appeared on the High Line, which appropriately pronounces, Honey I twisted through more damn traffic today

Yayoi Kusama made pumpkins relevant all year long in 2014 with her giant fiberglass gourd sculptures at international art fairs—Frieze New York, FIAC, and Art Basel in Miami Beach, to name a few—and in the garden at London’s Victoria Miro. This year she’s also been featured in solo shows at museums and galleries in Tokyo, Seoul, Brasília, and Mexico City.

Multidisciplinary Brooklyn- and Rio-based artist Vik Muniz did not disappoint in 2014. He worked with scientists to present innovative new series including microscopic drawings on grains of sand and images made from bacterial cells. Muniz also had solo exhibitions at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Santander Cultura in Porto, and Long Museum in Shanghai, and presented new photographic works in “Album” at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York and Galeria Nara Roesler in Rio de Janeiro.

Richard Serra’s monumental steel sculptures made the Gagosian rounds this year—a pair of New York shows in the winter and one in London this fall—and traveled to Qatar. In addition to a major solo exhibition at Alriwaq Doha Exhibition Space, including his tallest public installation yet, Serra installed “East-West/West-East”—four standing steel plates—in the Qatari desert.

From the comprehensive Fondation Beyeler solo exhibition spanning his career from 1966 to the present—which a large population of the art world witnessed due to its timely coincidence with Art Basel—to his extremely well-received self-curated show at Marian Goodman in London, Richter continues to be a major force in contemporary art.

With screenings of his feature-length film Jellyfish Eyes and a music video with Pharrell, Murakami continued his multimedia streak in 2014. Recently he set the art world abuzz with his sprawling Gagosian exhibition in New York, where, among other things, he placed a replica of an ancient Buddhist gate into the Chelsea gallery and surrounded it with technicolor canvases and grotesque metallic totems. 


Banksy’s 2014 began with the momentum left over from his 2013 residency in New York—which was recently revisited in a HBO documentary. Rumors continued to surround the anonymous street artist’s identity, including a hoax around an arrest and an article in The Atlantic that proposes he could be a she. Banksy produced some stellar and incisive new works in the UK this year, including a mural near Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters and Mobile Lovers in Bristol.

In 2014, Damien Hirst proved that he doesn’t need to reinvent himself; returning to past investigations into narcotics, he produced a new series of prints and editions with London’s Paul Stolper Gallery, featuring giant pastel-colored pills. He also debuted new cityscapes made from scalpels and razor blades, which made international art fair appearances before featuring in a show at White Cube in São Paulo. Hirst also announced an autobiography, admitted to having little recollection of his YBA youth, and revealed plans to build his own seaside town in England. 

Forever in the spotlight and under the microscope, Marina Abramović took to spreading her gifts to others this year, with her “512 Hours” workshop at Serpentine in London, a similarly interactive and unplugged exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York this fall, and began to develop her institute, prompting some scathing reviews along the way. Just this month we couldn’t escape her reach in Miami, where fairgoers found respite in Abramovic’s bed-filled booth at Art Basel and counted rice with her at Design Miami/.

Still passport-less and undeterred, Ai Weiwei started the year with new iterations of his traveling exhibition “According to What?” at Pérez Art Museum Miami—where a museum-goer destroyed one of his vases, fittingly, out of protest—and the Brooklyn Museum. For a monumental installation at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Ai sent 6,000 stools to Berlin, and in September he opened (albeit from afar) a majorly hyped exhibition on San Francisco’s Alcatraz, sending tourists and fans to the famous former prison in droves.

Acclaimed painter of human flesh—and all its imperfections—Jenny Saville received her first solo show in London this year at Gagosian, and the psychological underpinnings of her works were highlighted in an intriguing duo show at Kunsthaus Zürich, where she was paired with the innovative modern figure painter Egon Schiele.

In 2014 Cindy Sherman’s iconic “Untitled Film Stills” found renewed interest; James Franco riffed on them (to unanimous criticism), and 21 of the works went to auction at Christie’s this fall. Sherman also received her own app this year, one of her society portraits was featured in the national Art Everywhere US campaign, and she was featured in a solo exhibition at Kunsthaus Zürich.

The acclaimed creator of the most expensive photograph ever sold, who is known for shooting from “God’s eye-view,” showed continued momentum in 2014 with back-to-back shows at leading galleries in London—White Cube and Sprüth Magers—a solo presentation at The National Museum of Art, Osaka, and works featured in The Armory Show, Frieze New York, and Gagosian L.A.’s group show, “Clear.”

We could list the 25 things that Jeff Koons did this year (and every year for that matter), but let’s focus on his retrospective, which incited Koonsmania in New York, bid farewell to the Whitney’s historic Breuer building, and kept the museum open for 36 straight hours in its final days. It has since moved on to the Centre Pompidou in Paris—where balloon animals will soon occupy the Louvre—and sets off to the Guggenheim Bilbao in the spring.

Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Lead Editor, Contemporary Art and Creativity.