You may consider yourself to be quite arty because you know the works of Mone, Picasso, and Pollock, but can you name at least half of the 15 most famous artists and painters who are alive today?
Famous living artists today are somewhat of an enigma. The majority of the population can name only a few, while on the other hand everybody has heard of Leonardo da Vinci or Van Gogh and some of 10 most famous cubist paintings are probably familiar. After all, you know someone is extremely popular and recognizable if not for the artistic value, then for the memes made out of their paintings (how they would feel about it is a different issue). The truth is, the reality is harsh. In order to be recognized fully, an artist usually has to die first – just check out our piece on 10 Most Successful Musical Artists of All Time. History is full of painters and sculptors who were hardly making their ends meet because their works were far ahead of their time, so they ended their lives in misery only to be glorified afterward. Fortunately, the situation couldn’t be more different for famous artists today and their work.
However, with so many successful and outstanding artists and painters, we were faced with a few challenges. To find out what are the most prominent names in the art world, we did something which is in complete opposition to the art world and its noble qualities. We looked up the wealthiest artists today at Complex. It is an undeniable fact that being famous today isn’t just about the quality of what you do, but also about your financial status and presence in the pop culture. But we’ll go back to it later. Speaking of money matters, if you find that intriguing, read more about it in our article on 6 richest painters in the world. Ranking the artists only according to their finances doesn’t fully equal with fame and popularity, so we roamed through Brainscape, Artsy , The Culture Trip and 1stdibs to check reviews of their work, and also paid visits to the Vanity Fair and Newsweek art sections to see who they picked as most famous. The information we collected is most recent, and at Artsy we actually used two articles for our references (most influential artists in 2014 and 2016). Finally, we ended up with an extensive list of famous modern artists names and were faced with the final challenge – how to rank them according to their popularity? It is a rather inconvenient task, and once more we must stress they are ranked according to their fame or popularity, not according to the quality of their works.
Therefore, to create a list of most famous artists and painters who are alive today, we now go back to what we had already mentioned – their presence in the pop culture. Mind you that does not mean they are strictly involved in creating pop art. It only means that their appearance in the media is more frequent than with the others. Consequently, if they were or are involved in some projects that are globally familiar or they have become a household name, it ranked them at the very top of our list. The other criterion was how often their name appeared in the articles we have checked. If the number of appearances was the same, the higher position went to the person whose name appeared more often in the media in recent years.
Hopefully, famous contemporary painters and artists won’t mind too much what their position is on our list of most famous artists and painters who are alive today, though one can never be sure. Every artist’s biography sounds like a story, so we also included some details that will help you to get the best picture.
15. Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky is a well-known name in the art circles, especially renowned for his large format architecture and landscape color photographs, which usually include a high point of view. He is a German artist, and at the moment he is a photographer and a professor at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Germany. Fun fact: he sold Rhein II (1999) for $4,338,500 at Christie’s and celebrated by dancing and proclaiming himself “KING and Undisputed Champion of the Most Expensive Photograph in the World”. What else could he do next but go to Serendipity and treat himself with the World’s Most Expensive Dessert, a $25,000 chocolate sundae.
14. Kara Walker
Ms. Walker is an American artist from California. The very first work that got in the public eye was a mural titled Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. It is almost as big as its title – the dimensions are 3.96 m x 15 m. It was made of paper and shows a number of silhouettes. Her typical topics include issues of race and sex. At present, she’s working on the MFA faculty at Colombia University.
Born in Germany, but works in London and Berlin. Having lived in the UK for about 25 years, he was the first non-Brit to take home the Turner Prize, and he was included in the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013. As for Brexit, he was against it and tried to influence the voters with his artwork. Unsuccessfully, though. On the bright side, he finally released his first record (that he had started way back in 1986), and make an appearance on our list of most famous artists and painters who are alive today.
12. Richard Serra
Gigantic is the word describing this American artist. He’s one of the oldest on our list (born in 1938). Serra’s sculptures are large-scale, urban, and made of urban materials (usually metal). Though enormous, they get to travel all around the world. One of his exhibitions sets is the Qatari desert.
No need for the full name. This is an anonymous artist, so we don’t even know the gender. Some even doubt it could actually be a group of artists that emerged from the underground graffiti scene in London in the 90s. Most of the art is presented on walls and billboards. Of course, social criticism is often depicted.
10. Jasper Johns
If you aren’t familiar with this name, here is something you will easily remember. False Start, $80 million. That’s the name of one of his works done in 1959. As it is reported, Johns, one of the most famous artists and painters who are alive today, holds the title for the creator of the most expensive painting by a living artist. Another famous piece is his depiction of the American flag.
9. Ed Ruscha
Ed Ruscha is currently living and working in Los Angeles. Originally from Nebraska, his work is mostly concentrated on describing American culture through pop art and contemporary art. One of his exhibitions is on at the moment at Gagosian, New York.
This German visual artist is one of the most expensive to purchase, i.e., his works are among the priciest. That’s why he is number nine on the list of the richest artists. He is no stranger to selling paintings for 20 or 30 million dollars, and in February 2015 his painting Abstraktes Bild was sold for $44.52 million in London at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale. Impressive.
7. Damien Hirst
Despite ArtNews unfavorable review of his latest exhibition in Venice, Damien Hirst’s place in our list of 15 most famous artists and painters who are alive today is more than well-deserved. After all, every publicity is good publicity, right? This English painter and sculptor has 1 billion reasons to be happy after all. Yes, that is his estimated worth: one billion dollars. It seems there is something in his huge sculptors that both shocks and inspires people. Have you heard of that shark in formaldehyde? His stuff. Also, the Global Brands Magazine tells us he designed the most expensive bike in the world, the Butterfly Trek Madone, whose price is astonishing $500,000.
6. Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist, and BBC reports on his latest exhibition which is taking place in Turkey at the moment of writing this article. Quite a diverse artist, his newest works involve porcelain objects, but many still remember his infamous photographs of showing the finger to international landmarks. Also, at present, his new obsessions are nothing else but selfies.
This lady has shown every now and then on the lists of most significant contemporary artists, and the richest, too. She is recognized as the master of socially critical photography, and women are the most frequent object of her artistry. Talking about selfies, she adores dressing up and taking pictures of herself. Apparently, the world loves them, too. That’s why her name appeared on our list of most famous artists and painters who are alive today. Her photograph Untitled #96 (1981) was sold for $3.98 million in 2011, and it is officially the second most expensive photo in the world.
4. Jeff Koons
All fans of the King of Pop are surely familiar of Koons’s sculpture of him and his beloved chimp, Michael Jackson, and Bubbles. His style is sometimes criticized because he rarely puts his hands on the product until it is finished, but no one can deny he is one of the most daring contemporary artists. Hence, one of the most famous.
At number 3 on our list of the most famous artists and painters who are alive today we have Marina Abramović that is probably best known for her provocative installations and performances. Originally from Serbia, she has become an internationally recognized artist. She doesn’t shy away from the media, and some may remember her The Artist is Present performance as the inspiration for one of the scenes in Sex and the City when Carrie and Alexander observe a similar act. By the way, this video of her seeing her ex-lover for the first time in years (during her performance) has over 15 million views. It is absolutely moving, even when your expectations are low.
2. Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono has continuously been neglected as an artist since the title “John Lennon’s widow” is always overshadowing her work. Whoever has heard of the Beatles knows very well who she is. A Japanese musician and an artist is a definition that usually evades them. Yet, this 84-year-old lady has succeeded in her career and definitely belongs to the most famous 21st-century artists.
Our list of most famous artists and painters who are alive today ends with Annie Lebovitz. She has started her career in the Rolling Stone and worked her way into the stardom. An American photographer, Lebovitz is world-renowned for her portraits of celebrities, and the magazine covers have made her a household name. Naked and pregnant Demi Moore, Kim and Kanye Vogue cover, Disney Dream portraits, etc. That’s all her.