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Most Iconic Art Works In History according to Experts

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In questioning any historian to name one of the most iconic artworks of the 21st century will definitely make them crack up. It looks like it is difficult to name one single artwork made in the past years.

Well, famous curators and gallery directors tried their hands at this to narrow down one artwork. While some didn’t choose just one, the other refused to even answer the question. But everyone answered the question with utter honesty. Below 15 experts from around the world have narrowed down the most iconic artwork of the 21st century.


1- Eric Shiner, senior vice president of contemporary art at Sotheby’s

The Pablo Helguera The School of Panamerican Unrest (2005)


According to him, The Pablo Helguera The School of Panamerican Unrest (2005) which had months-long performance between Alaska and Argentina saw the artist through the whole of America in a portable schoolhouse and podium conducting think tanks, lectures, and artist statements throughout North, Central, and South America. This is one of the most alluring artworks of the century.

Kara Walker’s A Subtlety (2014) sculpture made for an installation at a former Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn stands as not only one of the greatest works of the 21st century but perhaps of all time according to his project in slavery and racism in this world. Teshima Art Museum by Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito (2010) takes the audience to a completely different work of meditation taking one’s breath away.


2- Julia Converti, director of arteBA


Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books (2017), Friedrichsplatz, Kassel, documenta 14.

Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Forbidden Books by the famous Argentinian artist called to the documenta’s last edition with her huge collection of prohibited books. It was initially constructed after the country’s military dictatorship’s biggest fall in 1983 and to celebrate the recovery of democracy and protest against censorship. Almost 35 years later this piece of art is in a different context. Another piece is the Anne Imhof‘s Faust installation from the German Pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the Venice Biennale for its strong concept of contemporary society.


3- Natalie Frank, artist


Mickalene Thomas’s Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noir (2009)


Mickalene Thomas‘s Le Déjeuner sur L’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noir (2009) is Natalie’s pick for the iconic artwork of the century. In the history where white and male people are dominating, the artist mixes high and low with no traditional media to transform the once scandalous Manet painting into an amazing portrait of glamorous black women, exploring beauty, race, and constructed identity. This was also a site-specific wall piece in the windows outside of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


4- Gonzalo Casals, director, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York


Cassils, PISSED (2017)


Cassils’s PISSED (2017) consisting of a glass cube containing 200 gallons of urine.The sculpture is contextualized by audio recordings from the Virginia school board and the Fourth Court of Appeals talking about the ignorance and difference that occurs in almost all the levels of judicial proceedings. A few piece of artwork that is iconic to this century is the Pussy Riot’s Performance at Cathedral of Christ the Savior (2012) and the Marta Minujín’s Parthenon of Books (2017).


5- Almine Ruiz-Picasso, owner, Almine Rech Gallery


James Turrell’s Roden Crater (ongoing)


James Turrell’s Roden Crater which is still in progress so the work of a lifetime. For Almine Ruiz many artists worldwide tried to work with light but none could reach James Turrell’s level and thus this art piece is the most iconic of the period.

6- Carrie Rebora Barratt, deputy director for collections and administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Kara Walker’s A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014)


For Carrie the most amazing and iconic art of this century is Kara Walker‘s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” (2014) at the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn. It is a well crafted and engineered piece of work that projects the past, present and the future. It also talks about architectural space bringing it back to life with amazing experiences to all our senses. But for the director many artworks lost in Palmyra, in Syria, in Mosul, and in Nimrud, as well as Confederate statues are linked with much of history, culture and heritage that which are all intertwined in our memories.


7- Philip Hewat-Jaboor, chairman of Masterpiece London


Ai Weiwei alongside his work Straight


For Philip Hewat works like Olafur Eliasson’s golden sun in The Weather Project took to the walls of the Turbine Hall at the Tate in 2003; and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Floating Piers (2014–2016) are few worthwhile artworks of the 21st century. But for him the most iconic artwork is the Ai Weiwei’s Straight from 2008–2012. Made of 150 tons of steel rods from buildings damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake it is a beautiful memorial for the tragedy and the lives that were lost during it. This is indeed one of the most genuine artwork of this century.


8- Luke DuBois, artist


Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet (2001) installation at Fuentiduena Chapel at The Cloisters museum and gardens


Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet (2001). In 2017 was the first choice for Luke DuBois. This piece talks about all the virtual and augmented reality. This Motet in which 40 loudspeakers replay a multi-channel recording of a choir, one voice per speaker, performing an 11-minute work by the 16th-century English composer Thomas Tallis. It is so amazing in the way it takes the audience to a completely magical world. You will never come across another AR experience than to walk from speaker to speaker and listen to the voices, one by one, and how they transform and are transformed by their surroundings.


9- Vilma Jurkute, director, Alserkal Avenue


Lala Rukh, Crimes against Women (1985)


The moment the question was asked to Vilma Jurkute, she immediately remembered the late Lala Rukh. The famous Pakistani activist and abstractionist had a huge effect and impact on the contemporary South Asian art.  A founding artist of Grey Noise gallery,all her artworks were called for at the documenta 14 in Athens, and a collection of historic works in Kassel. But the world lost this beautiful artist earlier this year.


10- Michelle Grabner, artist and co-artistic director, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art


Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel (2007)


Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel (2007) in Mechernich, Germany is all about protruding out symmetry, composure, and sensuality coming out from the material contrasts of concrete and burnt wood. For Michelle Grabner it is a 21st-century observance of abstraction and profound humanism.


11- Susan L. Talbott, executive director of The Fabric Workshop and Museum


Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007)


Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007) was the first thing that came out of the directors mouth when asked the question. This amazon piece of art represents the commodification of art and the nihilism of the early part of this century. According to her it is one of the biggest iconic work of art this time period.  


12- Li Shurui, artist


Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (2003)


Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (2003) at Tate’s Turbine Hall is the iconic artwork for Li. With the environment and climate change being the main global issue, this painting was a symbol of human-made or “artificial nature,” and for six months, it provided a situation in which people could interact with it like a natural phenomenon.


13- Diana Campbell Betancourt, artistic director of Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit


Amwar Kanwar The Sovereign Forest (2011)


Well, Diana Campbell the artistic director and curator had a long list of iconic artworks and paintings to credit this 21st century like the Amwar Kanwar The Sovereign Forest (2011), Nalini Malani Transgressions (2011), Imran Qureshi’s Blessings upon the Land of my Love (2011), Shilpa Gupta’s Untitled (2014) from the Dhaka Art Summit, Naeem Mohaiemen Rankin Street (1953), Bharti Kher The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006), Nilima Sheikh’s Each Night Put Kashmir in your Dreams (2003–2014), Shahzia Sikander‘s Parallax (2013) and the Huma Bhabha’s The Orientalist (2007).  


14- Lorraine Kiang-Malingue, director, Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong and director of Condo Shanghai  


Samson Young’s “Songs for Disaster Relief” (2017)


For Lorraine,Samson Young’s “Songs for Disaster Relief” (2017) at the Venice Biennale, Tino Sehgal’s performance Kwan Sheung Chi’s video, ONE MILLION (Japanese Yen) (2012);, This Variation, at documenta 13 in 2012 are few of the iconic artworks of this 21st century.


15- George Goldner, art advisor; former chairman of prints and drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa (1503–1517)


According to him, there is no iconic artwork that falls in the period. There is no Mona Lisa, Raft of the Medusa, or Guernica to be found here during the years of 2001–2017.


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