Who Runs the World? The Hottest Names in Contemporary Art


A legitimate question that everyone asks – who actually runs the art world? From my view as a contemporary art critic, I think we first need to define the different sections of the market: artists, art dealers and decision makers, art collectors and foundations. Here are the movers and shakers making the scene what it is today!


Jeff Koons (American born artist, 1955)
The first contemporary who got the authorization to exhibit his work inside the Chateau de Versailles. Koons works are considered a must, and are collected by nearly every art-loving billionaire around the world (the giant balloon dogs and hearts made in steel for example). Demand for Koons’ works is very strong as he produces few pieces per year. Koons is also an entrepreneur, running an eponymous company with about 100 employees.

Takashi Murakami (Japanese born artist, 1962)
Emmanuel Perrotin, a famous French art dealer, was the first one to support and sponsor Murakami. Since then Murakami has become an icon, even collaborating with fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton. Like Koons, Murakami also had the honor to have his own exhibition at the Chateau de Versailles. He is internationally known and everyone can recognize his works and the multitude of little crazy characters that fill his paintings.

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Anish Kapoor (Indian born artist, 1954)
Most known for his most famous sculpture: the Cloud Gate that links the Earth and the Sky, standing in Millenium Park in Chicago. After having starting study electricity in India, Kapoor decided to move to London to become an artist. He soon became one of the most prominent artist on the scene, and was rewarded with the Turner Prize in 1991 and the Preamium Imperiale in 2011. His colorful satellite dishes are exposed in all the most famous museums in the world.


Larry Gagosian (American born art dealer, 1945)
Lawrence Gilbert “Larry” Gagosian – AKA the Shark – is widely considered to be the king of the contemporary art market. Gagosian owns twelve galleries; three in New York, one in Los Angeles, two in France (Paris and Le Bourget), two in London, one in Athens, one in Rome, one in Hong Kong, and one in Geneva. Gagosian represents the most famous and important contemporary artists, from Maurizio Cattelan to Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and many others. Gagosian rose to prominence with his “spot paintings” exhibition done by Damien Hirst in the same time in eight of his galleries.

Glenn D. Lowry (American born, 1954)
Lowry is an art historian (Harvard) who is also famous for being the director of the MoMA in New York since 1995. In 1999 Lowry decided to expand the exhibition space by creating the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. He led a $900 million capital campaign for the renovation, expansion, and endowment of the museum. Lowry is a board member of the AAMD, he announced the acquisition by the museum of “The Clock” by Christian Marclay honoring at the Venice Biennale, and he was also honored by the French government, who offered him the prestigious title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2004.

Marian Goodman ( American born art dealer)
She is very discreet, respectful, and influential. Goodman is like a talent scout, looking everywhere for artists just as modeling agencies are always on the lookout for the next Kate Moss. One example of her talent: Gerhard Richter quit his other gallery for her to be the only who can represent him. She brought the first European Art dealer on the US soil: Belgium born Marcel Broodthaers with whom she founded her first NY based gallery.



Dakis Joannou (Greek born, 1939)
He is a multi billionaire and the head of a huge real estate empire, with ties in construction and civil engineering businesses. Joannou is one of the biggest art collectors in the world and created his own foundation, the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, which is based in Athens. A member of several museum boards, Joannou has a lot of pull with artists – including getting Jeff Koons to curate an exhibition at the New Museum in New York, but also to design Joannou’s yacht!

Steven A. Cohen (American born, 1956)
He is a self-made-man who built his fortune through hedge funds, primarily focused on equity market strategies, and founded SAC Capital Advisors. Cohen is famous for spending an estimated 20% of his fortune on art. His countless artworks include pieces by artists like Jackson Pollock, Damien Hirst, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. His fund, SAC, bought 6% of Sotheby’s in 2009 but sold it straight away.

François-Henri Pinault (French born, 1936)
He is an insatiable art collector! Owner of the luxury conglomerate Kering (which owns Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Girard-Perregaux and more), Pinault is married to actress Salma Hayek. Pinault’s art foundation is based in Venice, Italy at the Palazzo Grassi (rebuilt by Japanese architect Tadao Ando). Originally set up in 2005, Pinault has since expanded the exhibition space by buying The Punta della Dogana building, which comprises a number of huge rooms that served as a customs warehouse for the maritime trading activities of Venice. Pinault also has a majority stake in Christie’s auction house.

Pictured above is Koons’ Balloon Flower (Blue). Photo courtesy Christie’s.