Among the more pervasive art-world narratives of 2016 was the downturn in the market for works by emerging artists. Market contractions may have limited the sheer number of new names bubbling up to surface this year in comparison to the last few. But this tempered pace also allowed for greater attention to be placed on the emerging artists of true quality and depth who gained traction in 2016—and it allowed a number of artists who have been working actively and slowly gaining recognition over several years to step up and strongly stake their claim as among those defining contemporary art today. Surveying this landscape, Artsy’s editors consulted a number of data sources, including UBS’s art news app Planet Art, and the insight of influential individuals to see who among these new and newly essential names proved a cut above the rest. Here, in no particular order, are the top emerging artists of this year.
Portrait of Tschabalala Self in her New Haven, Connecticut, studio by Alex John Beck for Artsy.
In the year and a half since finishing her MFA at Yale, 26-year-old Self has garnered a wide audience for her dynamic representations of the black female body. In addition to solo shows at galleries in New York, Berlin, Naples, and L.A., she’s participated in nearly 30 group exhibitions (among them, showings at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice). While foregrounding the way we perceive black female bodies within contemporary culture, Self draws on personal experiences to address issues pertaining to race, sex, and gender.
Self has become best known for canvases sewn with textiles—from denim pockets to fabrics printed with cheetah spots or sunflowers—and filled with vibrant colors (yellows, pinks, turquoise). They picture strong female protagonists who exude power and command the viewer’s attention. In recent works, she furthers these narratives through depictions of couples entwined in sexual acts, which see women in positions of dominance. “Self has that rare and remarkable ability to hit the desired balance between understanding of her subjects, her own spontaneous and confident handling of them, as well as her use of unexpected technique and materials,” says Ziba Ardalan, founder of London’s Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, where Self kicks off 2017 with a solo show.
Portrait of Cheng Ran in Shanghai by Samuel Croskery for Artsy.
This year, Chinese video artist Cheng’s inaugural trip to the U.S. marked a groundbreaking moment in his career: the first solo museum show of his work outside of China, at the New Museum in New York. On view through mid-January, “Cheng Ran: Diary of a Madman” follows Cheng’s three-month-long residency at the museum as part of a new collaboration with the K11 Art Foundation. It brings to light the hypnotizing effects of Cheng’s films, which fuse aspects of contemporary everyday life with elements of myth and mystery—and have grabbed the attention of curators, critics, and collectors alike this past year. Case in point: In Cheng’s March solo exhibition at the K11 Art Foundation’s Hong Kong outpost, chi art space, he unveiled an epic nine-hour film, In Course of the Miraculous (2016), which visualized the stories behind unsolved mysteries, like the disappearances of British mountaineer George Mallory and conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader.
“Not only is his work remarkable—In Course of the Miraculous has already attained a kind of cult status—but he is a great catalyst and an enthusiast, someone who can spend three months in New York and not only make great work, but also really absorb and engage with the art scenes here,” says New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni. For the 15 videos currently on view in “Diary of a Madman,” Cheng layers footage of both the mundane (city streets) and the mysterious (an abandoned asylum) taken around New York, piecing together a dreamlike vision of an outsider’s experience. “I think his work preserves the immediacy of the tradition of independent cinema coupled with a sense of wonder and spectacle that we usually expect from more mainstream cinema,” adds Gioni.
Founded in 2013. Nanu Al-Hamad (b. 1987, Kuwait City; lives in New York), Khalid Al Gharaballi (b. 1981, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Abdullah Al-Mutairi (b. 1990, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Fatima Al Qadiri (b. 1981, Dakar; lives in Berlin), Monira Al Qadiri (b. 1983, Dakar; lives in Amsterdam), Aziz Al Qatami (b. 1979, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Barrak Alzaid (b. 1985, Kuwait City; lives in Kuwait City), Amal Khalaf (b. 1982, Singapore; lives in London)
Portrait of GCC by Jason Nocito. Courtesy of Project Native Informant.
A collective formalized in Art Dubai’s VIP lounge in 2013, GCC is comprised of eight so-called “delegates”: Nanu Al-Hamad, Khalid Al Gharaballi, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, and Amal Khalaf. Named after the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional economic and cultural union, GCC is an internationally dispersed bunch, spread from New York to Berlin, London to Kuwait City. They communicate mainly via WhatsApp to create their work, which focuses on the rapid development of the Gulf—and the proliferation of its citizens around the globe.
Over the past 12 months, they’ve brought a circuitous running track, Positive Pathways (+) (2016), to the European School of Management and Technology (a location for fellow collective DIS’s Berlin Biennale) and to New York’s Mitchell-Innes and Nash (which newly represents GCC) in a commentary on the growing pervasiveness of wellness culture among Gulf elites; they’ve digitally renovated an oil sheik’s Paris manse, now complete with a hidden elevator for his perfunctory Lamborghini, in a video work at London’s Project Native Informant, which looks critically on the racially- and culturally-charged attacks on oil-rich Gulf expats who have bought up some of the West’s best addresses over recent decades; and they’ve launched a branding agency for an undisclosed nation from the region, the services of which it has then licensed to citizens via an app for a solo booth last year at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
The work’s über-slick visual identity—and the very global and mostly digitally connected nature of GCC’s delegates—has placed GCC among the post-internet art movement’s greatest stars. “GCC keeps knocking it out of the park,” says the Whitney’s Christopher Y. Lew of the collective, who he’s tapped for a new commission for the 2017 Whitney Biennial he’s curating along with Mia Locks. Referencing Positive Pathways (+), he adds, “As mindfulness and new age belief has been adopted by both individuals and corporations, GCC brings to light how the Gulf nations have brought these ideas into government. Their look at the theater and substance of nationhood is pressing now more than ever.”
Portrait of Marguerite Humeau in her London studio by Kate Berry for Artsy.
Humeau is filled with existential questions: What is life; what does it mean to exist? But rather than just lie awake at night, the young French artist collaborates with scientists and specialists on rigorous, research-based projects—not to solve these enigmas, but to revel in them. Humeau has been on our radar since her standout solo exhibition at DUVE Berlin in 2015. But this year—with a powerful presentation at Manifesta 11, her first solo museum exhibition at Palais de Tokyo, a prize for best work at the Moscow Young Art Biennial (which she shared with Brazilian-American artist Juliana Cerqueira Leite), and a solo booth at Frieze London, among others—has cemented her place among the next generation of rising stars.
Counting linguists, paleontologists, zoologists, explorers, and elephant specialists among her collaborators in 2016, Humeau has focused her research on the origins of life, language, and love. In each of her projects, holes in scientific knowledge are filled in by fantastic, speculative narratives. At Palais de Tokyo, Humeau takes us back to the moment some 100,000 years ago when a mutated gene spurred the beginning of human consciousness. Ten elephants, enacting a mourning ritual, reimagine our world if pachyderms had instead become the dominant species. “Marguerite feeds her work with our past, present, and future writing of the world, and the infinite potential we have to collectively transform it,” says the show’s curator, Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel. In the spring, Humeau’s commission for New York’s High Line will be followed by a solo show with C L E A R I N G in May and a solo show at the Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin in June.
Portrait of Raúl de Nieves in his Queens studio by Alex John Beck for Artsy.
The bold, transcendent work of Mexico-born, New York-based de Nieves is rocketing to prominence. His intricate sculptures and body-quaking performances featured in MoMa PS1’s influential roundup of regional emerging art, Greater New York. And the remainder of 2016 saw de Nieves’s work heralded for group shows at prominent galleries like Gavin Brown’s enterprise, and solo presentations at COMPANY gallery’s Lower East Side space and booth at NADA Miami. Across each venue, de Nieves’s intricately beaded sculptures explore the fine lines between violence and beauty, pleasure and sacrifice, anger and devotion. They feature impossibly high platform shoes encrusted in jewel-like bits of plastic, military backpacks embellished with pearls, and full-body suits covered completely in beads. Similarly, his performances, both alone and with his band Haribo, see him dressed flamboyantly in psychedelically hued costumes and screaming at the top of his lungs, like a heavy-metal front man.
The coming year promises even more exposure for the artist’s spellbinding practice, which explores the intersection of self-expression, sexual freedom, and cultural ritual. Influenced by his Mexican roots and his New York community alike, de Nieves’s installations often resemble a hybrid of a Día de los Muertos celebration and a downtown club. Up next for the multidisciplinary artist: the 2017 Whitney Biennial, and a performance with Colin Self at The Kitchen. “The vibrancy and infectious energy Raúl brings to every single aspect of his work is really inspiring,” says Whitney Biennial 2017 co-curator Mia Locks. “Whether in sculpture or performance or installation, his work invokes a real labor of love and a generosity of spirit that feels ever more important in these troubling times.”
Portrait of Mario Pfeifer in Mexico City by Ana Hop for Artsy.
Location is key for German artist and filmmaker Pfeifer, known for culturally sensitive and research-intensive video works. Over recent years, Pfeifer has traveled to the southernmost tip of South America to document the indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego, to the streets of Brooklyn to create a music video with the Flatbush ZOMBiES, to the urban chaos of São Paulo to film crystal healers and other religious leaders, and to his native East Germany, where he interviewed members of the far-right PEGIDA movement. “His videos are politically committed and at the same time characterized by an almost anthropological view,” notes Kunsthalle Wien curator Vanessa Joan Müller, who recently contributed an essay to one of Pfeifer’s catalogues. “He observes cultural upheavals from an interested distance and transforms his impressions into fascinating films that deconstruct exoticism in favour of insight.”
His 2015 collaboration with the ZOMBiES titled #blacktivist has resulted in nearly 3 million YouTube views—and resounding praise for the artist. The resulting two-channel video installation debuted at Goethe-Institut’s New York space, Ludlow 38, and went on to feature at this year’s editions of The Armory Show and Art Cologne, and at Berlin’s ACUD Gallery. This fall, Pfeifer opened his first comprehensive institutional solo exhibition, curated by Kirsa Geiser at the Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig, featuring the 10-part film resulting from his time in São Paulo in which he documents the varied religious rituals of Brazil’s diverse population. Currently Pfeifer is in Mexico City, researching developments in virtual reality and robotics, a project that will take him on to Johannesburg, Beirut, Seoul, and Ulaanbaatar. Pfeifer’s momentum carries into 2017 with group exhibitions at Paris’s Maison Populaire and Lisbon’s MAAT, as well as a third solo show with KOW in Berlin.
Portrait of Donna Huanca in her Berlin studio by Jonas Lindström for Artsy.
Thirty-six-year-old artist Huanca has long taken skin and the human body as her medium—from imprints of paint-daubed performers à la Yves Klein, to performances featuring trancelike nude models clad head-to-toe with pigment, clay, and bodystockings. But this year saw her practice reach new heights. In addition to a September solo at Peres Projects, a performance at Manifesta 11, and a handful of group exhibitions, Huanca tied up the year with her first U.K. solo at the Zabludowicz Collection—notably, the space’s first performance-focused commission.
The exhibition kicked off during Frieze Week in London, filling the collection’s 19th-century chapel with stunning sculptural installations swarmed by a gang of glacially moving, painted performers (she calls them collaborators). Amidst the scent of Palo Santo—a wood tied to sacred and shamanic rituals—they moved through the space, lulling runaway fairgoers into a brilliantly meditative state. The show’s curator, Maitreyi Maheshwari, says Huanca’s work “provokes a mixture of devotion from her collaborators and a visceral discomfort from her audience as we are asked to confront our attitudes to the body and all the power dynamics attendant to it.” These include, among others, looking and being looked at, gender, race, sexuality, and objectification. “She has a very clear vision of what she wants her work to do, and is very open to working with others in order to make that vision a reality,” says collector, philanthropist, and Zabludowicz Collection co-founder Anita Zabludowicz.
Portrait of Kemang Wa Lehulere in his Cape Town studio by DNA Photographers for Artsy.
South African artist Wa Lehulere’s year wrapped up with a series of firsts—his first U.K. solo exhibition at Gasworks in September, his first American museum show at the Art Institute of Chicago in October—and the streak continues into 2017. The 32-year-old’s first German institutional solo show will go on view at Berlin’s Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in the spring, celebrating his tenure as Deutsche Bank’s 2017 Artist of the Year. This marks the acceleration of a long-standing art world interest in Wa Lehulere’s work, which previously appeared in the Berlin and Lyon Biennials and the 2012 New Museum Triennial.
Wa Lehulere uses a wide range of mediums to craft historical narratives of his native country that are at once collective and personal. His Art Institute show featured porcelain dog sculptures alongside suitcases brimming with grass, chalk drawings of pencil sharpeners and musical scores, and a video of a cigarette slowly turning to ash. To underscore the slippery and ephemeral nature of recollection, he often incorporates symbols of rehearsal (music stands, empty stages) and education (wooden desks, blackboards). “Kemang wields familiar, often fleeting materials with sensitivity and specificity,” says Kate Nesin, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Institute. “While his work tends to excavate lost histories, I find it is less about the past than about both the present and the future—not just what we remember but also what we rehearse, and what we rehearse for.”
Portrait of Anne Imhof in her Frankfurt studio by Nadine Fraczkowski.
Shortly after Imhof’s solo shows at the Hamburger Bahnhof and Kunsthalle Basel came to a close this year, it was announced that the 38-year-old artist would represent Germany in the 2017 Venice Biennale. The news galvanized a momentous year for Imhof, whose performances, paintings, and installations dissect contemporary culture—in particular, how branding, technology, and power structures shape us as humans. In one canvas, The Navel (2016), currently on view at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, a portrait of a young woman shaving her stomach floats in space not far from a can of Diet Coke, connecting millennial identity to the consumer goods that surround us.
“Performance has a now-long history, but Anne Imhof’s take on performance renders it both percussively critical and squarely of our time,” explains Kunsthalle Basel curator Elena Filipovic, who organized Imhof’s solo show, titled “Angst,” this summer. “She makes truly epic work (and I don’t use that term lightly) that brings together an almost ceremonial rituality and an extreme conception of the experience of time with subcultural references and coded gestures—whether a runway march or head banging, utter dependence on an iPhone, or drinking Diet Pepsi.” Indeed, as the title of Imhof’s Kunsthalle Basel show suggests, her work powerfully synthesizes a host of contemporary cultural norms and anxieties in order to shine a light on how they affect relationships and human nature itself.
Portrait of Rachel Rossin in her Brooklyn studio by Alex John Beck for Artsy.
Rossin began experimenting with computer code at the tender age of age eight. And, recently, she has been hailed as one of the pioneers of the burgeoning artistic medium of virtual reality. The New York-based artist skillfully manipulates digital technology to create immersive environments where one might fall through the center of the world as gravity dissipates or drift through the artist’s digitally distorted home and studio like a ghost—all seen through the Oculus Rift headset, which she’s tinkered with since receiving a developer prototype before its official launch in spring 2016.
Rossin has been increasingly gaining traction following two well-received New York solo shows in 2015—“n=7 / The Wake in Heat of Collapse” at SIGNAL and “Lossy” at ZieherSmith—both of which featured virtual reality-based works, often in conversation with her paintings and sculptures. She was also selected as the New Museum’s first-ever virtual reality fellow, a program she wrapped up in 2016 under the purview of the museum’s incubator NEW INC.
“She’s one of those rare artists who is seemingly devoid of ego and pretension, who exudes genuine and uninhibited curiosity, and radiates warmth and light,” says Julia Kaganskiy, director of NEW INC. “I think this may be the reason why she’s able to move between worlds, contexts, and media so deftly, alternating between wielding a paintbrush or VR headset, and offering subtle but poignant images and observations that illuminate and inspire both vantage points.” Rossin’s work has continued to captivate audiences at the 2016 editions of SPRING/BREAK Art Show, NADA New York, UNTITLED, Miami Beach, and Seattle Art Fair; and during Art Basel in Miami Beach week, fair-goers visiting the brand new Faena Art Dome experienced her project commissioned by Artsy, using 360° projection to bring virtual reality out of the headset.
Portrait of Cécile B. Evans by Yuri Pattison, courtesy of the artist.
With digital avatars, robots, and animated video that presage a cyborg-filled future, Evans has poignantly plumbed the relationship between humans and machines that has come to define our contemporary world. The Belgian-American artist began to catch the art world’s eye in 2014 with her first solo gallery show at London’s Seventeen, and a digital commission for Serpentine Galleries (the first ever) which manifested as a 16-year-old spambot named Agnes. But this year was a defining one for Evans. Her work was the undisputed standout of the buzzy Berlin Biennale and is currently on view, until March 2017, in a solo show at Tate Liverpool.
“Cécile’s work unravels the value of emotion in our contemporary society, and the person-to-machine exchanges that have come to define the contemporary human condition,” explains the art collective DIS, who curated the Berlin Biennale. Evans created three new works for the exhibition, including the show-stealing video What the Heart Wants (2016). As lab children coddled by robot caregivers and a memory from 1972 which has outlived its human creators pass across the screen, Evans hypothesizes how machines will continue to transform what it means to be human.
Portrait of Christopher Kulendran Thomas in Berlin by Jonas Lindström for Artsy.
The week before the U.S. presidential election, 37-year-old artist Kulendran Thomas opened a show at Hamburg’s Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof titled “60 million Americans can’t be wrong.” The show opened with a question: “Could this U.S. Presidential election even constitute a revolutionary attempt by the demographically disenfranchised?” Pundits in the time since have responded, resoundingly, yes. The exhibition centers on Kulendran Thomas’s startup-as-artwork New Eelam (2016), which debuted at the Berlin Biennale this summer and proposes a future in which globetrotting subscribers to the service collectively own and occupy hiply furnished homes in cities around the world, while referencing the proposed state of Tamil Eelam, which was wiped out during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, often characterized as a genocide.
New Eelam is as much a globalist’s dream as it is a very symptom of the hyper-globalization that those 60 million Americans rallied successfully against on November 8th. It toured the world in various forms this year, making stops at the 11th Gwangju Biennale, the Dhaka Art Summit, and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, in addition to Berlin and Hamburg, garnering unprecedented attention for the London-born and -based artist. (In 2017, he’ll enjoy further shows at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin and Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm.) The work continues Kulendran Thomas’s practice, which often takes an active role in trying to reshape or reformulate the core structures of our world rather than critique them. “Christopher’s approach to art and politics is different from most. He is perpendicular to the left,” comments Marco Roso of the New York collective DIS, which curated the Berlin Biennale. “Christopher works through the idea that emancipatory communalism might not be achieved today by force or resistance, or even through any mass-collective moral choice, but possibly through making something that people want. For example the way Tesla is aiming to fight global warming.”
Portrait of Njideka Akunyili Crosby by Brigitte Sire.
Since earning her MFA at Yale in 2011 and a pivotal residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem the same year, Akunyili Crosby has been on a steady ascent in her young career. Following a flood of recognition sparked by her solo show at the Hammer Museum’s project space at the end of 2015, this year kicked off with a January survey at the Norton Museum of Art in South Florida. By spring, her work filled a massive New York billboard commissioned by the Whitney, while she featured in the museum’s portraiture show, and officially joined the roster of Victoria Miro—a dealer well-known for spotting rising talent. The gallery brought her work to Art Basel in June, but it was her fall solo show during Frieze Week that affirmed her place in the global art-world conversation.
While the spotlight on her crisp collage paintings aligns with the demand for figurative painting, Akunyili Crosby draws admirers not just through elegant imagery and impeccable skill, but also through her unique and intimate perspectives on Nigerian and American life. “She has taken on the aesthetic of classical realism and made it her own, meticulously layering fabricated compositions of familial scenes with personal and political meaning, and animating her surfaces with the careful transfer of images of Nigerian pop stars and government figures alongside family photos,” says Cheryl Brutvan, curator of the artist’s show at the Norton. “The joy and tension of her life as a Nigerian woman in America is quietly inescapable in her paintings, which both seduce and confront us, evoking loving relationships, poignant memories, and the consequences of political oppression.”
Portrait of Yu Honglei in his Beijing studio by Jumbo Tsui for Artsy.
Beijing-based sculptor Yu achieves a tricky balancing act in his work—incorporating the long trajectory of art history while simultaneously evoking a fantastical, science-fiction-tinged future. His sculptures range from rows of Brancusi-inspired columns topped with springy, neon-hued wigs to a series of fiberglass Chinese totem panels riffing on Matisse’s oeuvre. First trained as an animator, Yu also produces video works that appropriate iconic artworks including Jeff Koons’s balloon dogs and conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner’s text works.
The 32-year-old artist has been gaining traction in China since his first solo exhibition in 2011, attracting the attention and support of notable collectors such as M WOODS co-founder Michael Xufu Huang. “For me, Yu gives a perfect demonstration of working in a globalized information explosion era,” Huang says. “He is able to reference his knowledge of Western and Eastern art history to create his own aesthetic.” Yu’s work garnered an international audience in 2016 with a string of high-profile booths at Frieze London, FIAC, ART021, and Art Basel in Hong Kong—exposure further bolstered by the artist’s second solo exhibition at Shanghai’s Antenna Space and group shows at Amsterdam’s Upstream Gallery and Italy’s Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali this year.
Portrait of Andrew Norman Wilson on the RMS Queen in Long Beach, California, by Emily Berl for Artsy.
Wilson caught the attention of the art world—and the internet at large—when his 11-minute video Workers Leaving the Googleplex (2009–11) went viral in 2011. His footage revealed a group of data-entry employees, mostly people of color, cordoned off and excluded from the perks of the Google campus. Since then, the now 33-year-old artist has probed the inner workings of corporate structures through videos and installations that walk the line between art and commerce. This approach to artmaking has taken the form of a startup that produced stock video clips (which Wilson then liquidated during a performance at the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw earlier this year) and a multi-year collaboration with an outsourced personal assistant from India.
2016 has seen a shift in Wilson’s practice, with a new focus on puppets as a metaphor for the scientific realities, genetics, and economics that control us. It also saw a shift in locale, with the artist moving from New York to California to take up residence on the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach. Wilson’s year was defined by biennials—his work was featured in no less than four, including the Gwangju Biennale and the DIS-curated Berlin Biennale. The artist’s most recent video work, Ode to Seekers 2012 (2016), was the focus of a solo show at Chicago’s Document Gallery and will be screened in early 2017 as part of the Whitney’s current exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016.
Photo courtesy of David Lewis Gallery.
Dodd’s paintings resemble stormy galaxies and writhing seas. They are made from such sundry materials as fermented walnuts, kombucha mold, and river water, and give off smells that suggest the fumes of magic potions and ancient elixirs. It’s no wonder, then, given their sensory power, that the artist’s large-scale canvases have grabbed the attention of the art world. While Dodd has received a good amount of attention over the last five years, this year was particularly momentous for the artist, whose paintings took center stage in solo presentations at Frieze London, the Power Station in Dallas, and in one of the most mesmerizing and critically acclaimed exhibitions by an emerging artist of 2016, at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The show brandished some of Dodd’s strongest works yet, tilted forms that were rooted on the floor throughout the space. The paintings’ swirling surfaces of yellows, grays, and sea greens felt like vortexes of pure expression, tapping into the mystical power of painting that great artists like Sigmar Polke espoused—but with a new quality of openness and warmth. “She created an intimate space—an inviting, warm environment that didn’t shy away from ambitious scale,” explains Whitney curator Christopher Y. Lew, who organized the show. “Her paintings pack so much energy; they are a tempest of color and texture that bring in a world of ingredients and materials.