The non-fungible token, or NFT, has topped the annual ranking of the contemporary art world's most powerful movers and shakers for the first time, making it the first time a non-human object has topped the list.
After a year in which it upended the art market by bringing together contemporary art and millennial meme culture, ERC-721, the specification for the "non-fungible token" on the Ethereum block-chain, leads ArtReview's 20th Power 100 list.
According to ArtReview, NFTs have spawned a new generation of collectors and enabled artists to circumvent conventional market gatekeepers.
"Even if you can't avoid the fact that the NFT explosion is driven by a feverish speculation over cryptocurrencies," JJ Charlesworth, editor at ArtReview, remarked, "NFTs have turbocharged a new crossover between pop culture and contemporary art."
"However, the broader principle behind NFTs is perhaps more important – the concept of digital assets and virtual collectibles is a seductive prospect for artists making art in an increasingly online, virtual culture, and it isn't going away anytime soon."
A collage by digital artist Beeple, which sold for £50.3 million at Christie's in March, is the most expensive NFT to date. Grimes, a musician, sold a collection of digital artworks for over $6 million (£4.4 million), while the original picture that inspired the Disaster Girl meme in 2005 went for $473,000 (£354,000). NFT was even named the word of the year by Collins Dictionary.
Following last year's Black Lives Matter movement, the new Power 100 list illustrates how concepts, rather than individual artworks, signify a change in the industry.
The anthropologist Anna L Tsing is ranked No. 2, while Indonesian group ruangrupa is ranked No. 3, and they will organize the Documenta 15 show in Kassel, Germany, in 2022. Theaster Gates, an American artist, is ranked No. 4, while Anne Imhof, a German visual artist, is ranked No. 5.
The list also highlights the inherent paradoxes in the art industry. While NFTs and cryptocurrencies have been chastised for their environmental effect, artists, curators, and galleries have been reflecting on the climate catastrophe and capitalism in the last year.
Karrabing Film Collective (No. 8) from Australia, curator Lucia Pietroiusti (13) from Italy, and artist Olafur Eliasson from Sweden are among them (15).
Artists whose art is linked to the BLM movement's many injustices have continued to be prominent. Carrie Mae Weems, whose images and installations deal with Black female subjectivity, is ranked No. 9, while Kara Walker, whose work similarly deals with race, gender, and violence, is ranked No. 11.
Koyo Kouoh (38), Achille Mbembe (14), Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy (16), and Achille Mbembe (14), have all spearheaded campaigns for the return of plundered artefacts to their original locations.
This year, there were "significantly fewer" western institutions on the list, according to Mark Rappolt, editor-in-chief of ArtReview, which underscores the fact that they are no longer leading the conversation about contemporary art as much as responding to it.
"This may reflect the slower pace of their processes or bureaucracies, but it may also reflect the extent to which efforts to initiate dialogues about restitution, race, and gender come from outside rather than within established orders," he added.
Thirty nameless panelists and contributors from throughout the globe prepared the list. Damien Hirst, the Serpentine's creative director, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and the German artist Hito Steyerl were among the previous number-ones.