- Wangechi Mutu
Collage is a fantastic medium because it forces the artist to use images that actually come from our world. Like a poem structure with a difficult form, the well composed collage can convey many layers of meaning not only from the final image, but from the very act of sampling specific sources. Wangechi Mutu’s works explore gender and racial identity in the modern world, pointing out important but often disgusting realities about our world. She is simultaneously able to capture violence and beauty in her works, drawing attention to the long history of colonial control that art has actually perpetuated.
- Yayoi Kusama
On the threshold between sculpture and performance art, Yayoi Kusama is perhaps the artist that will most endure as a symbol of our era. Some of her most poignant art explores questions of narcissism and self-obsession in the modern world, forcing the viewer to interact with themselves through use of mirrors in a way most contemporary art doesn’t. She also invites questions about the art market and the commodification of self-expression. Kusama raises many of the same questions in her work as someone like Jeff Koons, but in ways that actually engage the viewer and force reflection.
- Faith Ringgold
Using a form that is rarely seen in Western high art, Faith Ringgold is able to merge an artistic tradition that has long excluded women of color with a unique form of cultural heritage. While her works often point out deep inequalities in society, her works are also often remarkably optimistic, speaking to a hope that the injustice embedded in modern society will someday erode. Using written word alongside of her art, Ringgold is able to reinforce her images with narratives that contextualize and expand on the image.
- Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Heavily inspired by twentieth century artists, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith takes stylistic innovations of recent artistic movements but drastically enhances their capabilities by pairing them with intensely emotional experience. Her canvases literally drip with history, and the images she incorporates into her work represent generations of representation of First Nations people. Whereas the canvases of Frankenthaler, Pollock, and Rothko can seem abstract, the history and present day injustice that Smith points to is immediately affecting.
- Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman’s carefully composed photographs are so exciting because of how she draws attention to the history of art. Art has long been a weapon of inequality in the West, and Sherman uses the medium to deliberately present and represent in ways that have been restricted to female artists for many years. Many of her works include the cord she uses to photograph in them, making it very clear that she is the one in control of the image, images that are usually familiar because they are inspired by works embedded in the cultural consciousness.
- Honorable Mention: Guerilla Girls
A collective with hidden identities, the Guerilla Girls point out forms of sexism that are still prolific in the art world. By incorporating images from the history of art with beautiful graphic design sensibilities, these works make bold statements.
- Bottom: Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono might not have broken up the Beatles, but she broke up the Beatles. Is it petty to dislike an artist because of something she didn’t even do that was completely unrelated to visual arts anyway? Yes. It’s the principle of the thing. I actually teach Yoko Ono in my art history classes as a noteworthy artist of the Conceptual Art movement, and her works definitely do engage interesting questions. But on principle, Yoko Ono must be at the bottom of this list.