The Top 15 Emerging Artists of 2015
It took more than market momentum or critical acclaim to have a breakout year in 2015. As reflected by Eric N. Mack, Simon Denny, and Mira Dancy in the film above, tragedies like Charlie Hebdo and big shifts from Black Lives Matter to the legalization of gay marriage, have drawn artists to place renewed consideration into making work that resonates with not just the art world but the wider world, too. Here, we survey 15 of the most exciting practices this year, by artists who made great strides to cement themselves as part of the growing canon of contemporary art.
Twenty-eight-year-old Mack recently relocated his studio from a room within the Studio Museum in Harlem, which he occupied as part of a yearlong residency, to a sprawling space in the Bronx, scattered with paint, peg boards, packing blankets, umbrellas, and other sundry objects, all fodder for his visceral sculptures and wall-hangings. These tactile abstractions—which can resemble post-apocalyptic forts or patchwork throws—allude to the body, clothing, shelter, and the protective power of community. This fall, Mack mounted a solo show at L.A.’s Moran Bondaroff (formerly OHWOW) and installed work at MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York.” Curators and collectors alike have taken note. “Eric’s work playfully embraces and celebrates different modes of expression (art, fashion, design, architecture) and materials (fabric, paint, paper), while still retaining a coherent and consistent vision,” explained collector Bernard Lumpkin, who is one of New York’s preeminent patrons of art made by African-American artists. “His work is simultaneously familiar yet strange, old yet new, personal and universal.”
Like her fellow New Yorkers, artist-cum-alchemist Yi embraces germs. Following five years turning perishable substances (powdered milk, live snails) and, more recently, bacteria, into sculptures and installations, the conceptual artist made leaps and bounds this year. After her 2014–15 residency at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she worked with biologists to grow bacteria swabbed from 100 women in the art world (including artist Juliana Huxtable and gallerist Rachel Uffner), Yi debuted her cultures in a solo exhibition at Chelsea space The Kitchen in March.
But with June came the highlight of her year: Yi’s solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, “7,070,430K of Digital Spit,” an olfactory and sensory experience featuring the artist-made fragrance of “forgetting.” According to Elena Filipovic, director of the museum and the show’s curator, Yi’s choice of media—deep-fried flowers, bacteria, and ultrasound gel among them—is more than a sum of ingredients. It’s what they turn into when combined that matters: “charged, sensual things,” she says. “Sexy, covetable, fragile, entropic, smelly, ugly, and sublime at once.”
“At a moment when so many artists are looking to the so-called post-digital,” Filipovic continues, “Yi manages to reflect on our contemporary condition and how we are transformed by digital technologies without forgetting that, as beings, we live and love and die—and rot along the way.”
The actress Emma Watson made a big splash in the art world in 2015—and not as the latest celebrity collector. Statues of the Harry Potter-star-cum-feminist-activist were seen worldwide, the work of post-internet art’s fastest rising star, Scherer. “Closer,” his debut solo show at Berlin’s Guido W. Baudach, closed 10 days into the new year and launched Scherer on to exhibitions at Carl Kostyal in London, Salon Kennedy in Frankfurt, Exo Exo in Paris, and the Swiss Institute (SI) in New York. The mermaid Emma that anchored the SI show went on to Galerie Guido W. Baudach’s Art Basel in Miami Beach booth, another Emma statue having been included in the Parcours section of Art Basel’s hometown show during the summer (during which he also won the Swiss Art Award).
But the 28-year-old artist’s output ranges far beyond various likenesses of Watson. “Scherer is a fascinating artist exploring how contemporary desire and fantasy manifests in relation to celebrities in today’s climate of observation and publicity,” says SI director Simon Castets of the artist. Prolific across media, he creates paintings that include imitations of
The 29-year-old’s current Whitney Museum solo show plunges viewers into a kaleidoscopic swirl of outer space- and EDM-inspired footage, layered with the transcendent modulations of Aretha Franklin and the booming voice of a former astronaut. It makes for a hypnotizing meditation on the anxiety and anticipation that accompany innovation, a shape-shifting through-line in Rose’s video-based installations. In addition to winning the Frieze Artist Award, 2015 saw Rose receive solo exhibitions at the Castello di Rivoli and Serpentine Sackler Gallery. In the latter, Rose presented two videos that explored human perception through gauzy shots of modernist architecture (Moderna Museet slated for the coming months.
Cwynar scours eBay and junk stores for found vintage imagery and kitsch (like lo-fi gold watches or photographs of Brigitte Bardot) that she reworks in her studio in New Haven, CT. And she’s earned significant art-world recognition doing so, well before her Yale photography MFA graduation will roll around in 2016. Once a Literature major, Cwynar ultimately chose images over words and today—through scanning, re-photographing, and collaging—she creates tableaux and sculptural photographs from materials ranging from deconstructed darkroom manuals to a reproduction of
“The work is reaching out into the future of the media at a time when our dependency on it has never been bigger,” says legendary sculptor and photographer Fondazione Prada in Milan in March, 2016. This show will continue Cwynar’s streak of institutional recognition, following a breakout year in 2015. (She was a standout of MoMA PS1’s “Greater New York” and “Under Construction,” the group show that traveled from Amsterdam’s Foam Photography Museum to Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works in March). But of equal measure is her presence in galleries with edgy and respected programs; she shows with Foxy Production and Cooper Cole, and in September, her seductive images of presidential busts (a series of Avon cologne bottles, scored on eBay) brought New Yorkers upstate for her solo exhibition at the popular Hudson outpost of Zach Feuer and Joel Mesler, Retrospective Gallery.
Denny is fast becoming internationally celebrated for his fascination with modes of communication within society’s gatekeeper organizations: the National Security Agency (NSA), Apple, and British intelligence organization Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). His displays shine a light on key historical moments in new-media history through conceptual art installations that incorporate product design. This year saw him represent New Zealand at the Venice Biennale (mining the visual culture of the NSA), enjoy his first significant U.S. museum show at MoMA PS1 in New York (transforming the space into an absurdist tech trade show), and install a highly praised solo show at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery (exploring corporate and government use of hacking).
“Simon Denny is relatively young, but he has been really booming over the past couple of years,” says Serpentine curator Amira Gad. Denny’s 2014 show “New Management” at Portikus, Frankfurt, explored the business practices of technology giant Samsung; the show “really brought him forward,” Gad explains. “We decided to take the investigations he’d done for Venice a step further.”
At just 28 years old, Ghanaian Mahama was the youngest artist included in this year’s Venice Biennale. Far from playing the role of timid newcomer, he mounted Out of Bounds (2015), a thin path around the Arsenale flanked by two towering walls lined with sewn-together jute sacks—objects emblematic of the unseen labor involved in transporting goods (cocoa, coal, and even charcoal) throughout the world. Part of Mahama’s “Occupation” series, the work was one of the most ambitious in “All the World’s Futures” and underscored the artist’s commitment to addressing issues of capital and labor through objects characterized by their tattered and bruised materiality.
Though art has long engaged with systems of commerce, Mahama offers his critiques from a welcome perspective—that is, from a country and continent that are deeply entwined in the global economy but whose voices are frequently ignored. Along with the Biennale, fairs including the expanding 1:54 (which added a New York edition this year) and the forthcoming edition of the Armory Show are paying increased attention to artists hailing from Africa and the Diaspora.
You’ve likely spotted one of Dancy’s languid, muscular female nudes around the art world this year. In myriad forms, including murals, drawings in neon, paintings, and shower curtains, Dancy’s nudes have cropped up at Frieze, FIAC, Art Basel in Miami Beach (in Artsy Projects: Nautilus), L.A.’s Night Gallery, and across from feminist pioneer
The echoes of Dancy told Artsy in October. “
Cartoons, devotional Tibetan painting, and Russian literature are among the inspirations for Kantarovsky, the 33-year-old artist beloved for his sinewy, seemingly playful subjects (think whimsical composers conducting for an audience of none), which are often embedded with dark, socio-political commentary. Kantarovsky’s stellar year has included group exhibitions with Gavin Brown’s enterprise, White Cube, a commission for the Ljubljana Biennial, and solo shows at Marc Foxx and London’s Studio Voltaire—the latter marking his first major exhibition in the U.K. and largest commission to date. And in a quick sashay from artist to curator, he brought together the work of fellow artists in a summer exhibition at Tanya Leighton Gallery, where he’ll have a solo in February 2016.
But his pièce de résistance was Happy Soul (2014), the artist’s first-ever animation, screened at Art Basel in Basel’s Unlimited sector, in which a single canvas painted with a lone, nude, blushing figure becomes the backdrop for projected animations and the sound of acapella Motown tunes. “I had the pleasure to work with him, and I discovered that his practice is manifold,” notes the exhibition’s curator, Gianni Jetzer, who, after meeting Kantarovsky at a performance festival and discovering his paintings on Google, was delighted to discover the multifaceted depths of his practice. “The result is mesmerizing and it makes you want to see more,” he adds. And we certainly plan to.
Artist Guan crafts mysteries for a digital age—not that one should approach her cryptic, mixed-media work with a metaphorical magnifying glass in hand, looking to discover a singular meaning. The ability of her practice to provoke enthralling questions has helped make this something of a banner year for Guan. Following solo presentations at Antenna Space (both in the gallery and at Frieze London, where Anita Zabludowicz bought her entire showing), as well as a double presentation with
“Guan Xiao has this unique quality to her work, she references the past but communicates a forward-thinking notion, it almost feels spiritual,” says Adrian Cheng, founder of the K11 Art Foundation and a collector of Guan’s work. This sentiment is echoed by Antenna Space director Simon Wang, who notes that Guan’s works “study the internal equivalence between the object and the subject, the old and the new, and the self and the other in a viewpoint that appears to be counterintuitive.” Just one example of this is The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture (2012), which made an appearance at this year’s New Museum Triennial. It features artifacts like a miniature Easter Island head, as well as webcams, gesturing hands, camera tripods, and handmade columns, all positioned against brightly patterned backdrops. Her cross-temporal technique echoes the all-encompassing archive of the internet from which she often sources the digital images and videos found in her art. Unraveling these connections, and finding new ones, lends her work a nearly inexhaustible depth.
A figurehead of a millennial, internet-savvy generation whose search for gender and identity nonconformism took them online, multimedia artist, DJ, poet, and member of queer artist collective House of Ladosha, Huxtable made her name in the downtown Manhattan nightlife scene, co-founding SHOCK VALUE, a weekly club night. Since then, she has caught the attention of several fashion labels and has become something of an icon for the LGBTQ community. The year 2015 has seen her rapidly grow her already-devout following, as well as bringing her widespread art-world recognition, most notably with her inclusion in the New Museum Triennial, of which she was dubbed “the star.” The post-internet-heavy exhibition featured Huxtable’s own self-portraits (featuring the artist in head-to-toe body paint and set against surrealist Teletubby landscapes in shades of pastel) and performance from Huxtable, a characteristically genre-defying, spoken-word journey through history and the slippery archive of the internet.
Brazilian artist Arruda’s abstract paintings have long transfixed the São Paulo art scene. Since 2009, when he held his first solo exhibition in the city, the artist has inspired a rapid collector base. (His waiting list was at one point rumored to be 100 names long.) Arruda had a strong 2015, curating a show at Herald St, London and receiving solo exhibitions at Lulu in Mexico City, and PIVÔ in São Paulo, among other highlights.
His compositions are as much lightscapes as landscapes; the artist forgoes scale for subtlety, exploring the luminous cadences of beaches, forests, and sunsets in relatively diminutive works that sometimes harken back to
Long before May 2015, when her solo show at MoMA PS1 coincided judiciously with Frieze New York, Bass was producing works—from videos to concrete casts of blue jeans—that embody the artist’s enigmatic vocabulary. “One of the most compelling aspects of Math’s work is the tension it evokes between directness and illegibility, how it reminds us about the power and the pleasure in that vacillation or irresolution,” remarks former MoMA PS1 curator Mia Locks. Tapping into a universal preoccupation with understanding art, Bass’s works prompt audiences to oggle and linger, aching to decipher. In 2012, for example, a year out from finishing her MFA at UCLA, the artist debuted an incantatory performance at the Hammer Museum’s inaugural “Made in L.A.” biennial, where she, plus nine other performers, sang and traversed a sculptural obstacle course, ultimately climbing a ladder and hurling a potted plant at the floor.
For the last three years, Bass has been honing her “Newz!” paintings: beigy canvases filled with crisp graphic motifs (snappy alligators, sharp zig-zags, cigarettes) that playfully pick apart classic optical-illusion drawings, and which sometimes resemble smiling clowns from afar. These, in addition to singular sculptures—sleek, bendy sheets of steel resembling gymnasts or minimal playground equipment—were shown at L.A.’s Overduin & Co. in 2014 and spurred the string of shows that Bass saw in 2015, including a three-person exhibition at Chapter NY and the Sanya Kantarovsky-curated summer show at Tanya Leighton.
Two thousand fifteen has arguably been Rafman’s year. The 34-year-old Canadian artist, long revered for his Google Street View screengrabs (circa 2009–ongoing), has explored darker themes in his latest videos and installations—and the art world has taken notice. In May, Rafman, alongside Feuer/Mesler’s Lower East Side gallery with his new series depicting computer workstations in disarray, amongst backdrops of appropriated landscape paintings. In June, he opened his first solo museum exhibition in Canada at Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal. The real coup, though, was his most significant solo exhibition to date in the U.K. at the Zabludowicz Collection—an uncontested highlight of Frieze Week, for which he turned the collection into a participatory playground, complete with an Oculus Rift centerpiece.
“What’s fascinating about Rafman’s work is the way he uses the very familiar visual language of the internet, social media, and computer games to create immersive narratives that reveal the anxieties and desires of contemporary life,” says Maitreyi Maheshwari, program director at Zabludowicz Collection and curator of the exhibition, which also offered up a waterbed, ball pit, massage chair, and filing cabinets streaming video games in first-person shooter. Maheshwari adds, “Playful, melancholy, and at times shocking, his works re-sensitize us to the everyday violence of images and reflect the fictions of memory and identity that we construct as we increasingly slip between screen worlds and the real world.”
He’s been responsible for a smiley face hovering over Lake Constance, a flock of rainbow-painted pigeons taking flight in Venice, and a car crash at the centerpoint of Germany. In 2015, von Bismarck made his biggest splash yet, getting picked up by Marlborough Chelsea for a May solo show and setting himself up on a concrete flying saucer at the entrance of Art Basel in Basel’s Unlimited section. Egocentric system (2015), as the piece is called, saw von Bismarck spin at harrowing speed whether sitting, working at a desk, or napping on a nearby bed, for a significant duration of the fair. (It plays on the inner ear’s vestibular system, which insulates us from the motion of a system when it remains constant—for von Bismarck in Basel, the saucer, for the rest of us always, Earth.)
A star of