The Most Important Artworks of the 2010s –

Over the past decade, the number—and size!—of museums, galleries, art fairs, and art schools around the world has grown dramatically, and it feels safe to say that more art was made in the past 10 years than at any other time in the history of humanity. Picking the 20 works that definitively defined that stretch of time is a fundamentally impossible project, but as the decade ends, the editors of ARTnews have taken a stab at it, below. Each listed work pioneered a style, exemplified a scene, shaped a trend, or expanded the bounds of art. Some did all of those things. From the vantage point of today, these works seem likely to endure. But time will be the final judge. (To read lists from each individual editor of artists who did not make the Top 20, click here.) —The Editors

Wu Tsang, Wildness, 2012.

20. Wu Tsang, Wildness, 2012
In Wu Tsang’s feature-length film Wildness, a gay bar in Los Angeles speaks, sensuously and in in a way that beckons viewers in. “They wanted to throw a party, fill my room with their energy,” the bar says in a Spanish-language voiceover. “How could I resist being occupied by them?” Tsang’s unique approach to telling the story of the meeting place called the Silver Platter—including documentary footage and semi-fictionalized segments surrounding a weekly party that Tsang and her friends hosted there—brings to life a space that proved integral for a mix of different communities. Wildness isn’t the artist’s most stylistically accomplished film, but it is her most affecting work to date, and it has been influential for a wave of younger filmmakers mulling over the blurry division between art and life and ways to preserve histories that can all too easily be lost. —Alex Greenberger

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Installation view of “Anicka Yi: 7,070,430K of Digital Spit,” 2015, at Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland.
Philipp Hänger/Courtesy 47 Canal, New York and Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland

19. Anicka Yi, Maybe She’s Born with It, 2015
Throughout the first half of the decade, Anicka Yi established herself as one of the most venturesome artists of the present moment, experimenting with ephemeral materials and scents to conjure delirious work that touches on geopolitics, memory, and identity. Her 2015 show at the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland saw her inimitable visions ascend to a whole new level, and this sculpture—a column of tempura-fried flowers encased in a glowing bubble—exemplifies her achievement, suggesting an artwork as a living, breathing thing, perhaps on life-support, perhaps being cultivated into something new and grand, seductive and terrifying. I’ll never forget the electrifying moment that I first saw it. At the time, we had no idea then of just how ambitious and incisive Yi’s work would become, but this was clear sign that big things were on the horizon. —Andrew Russeth

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Kevin Beasley, A view of a landscape: A cotton gin motor, 2012–18, installation view at Whitney Museum, New York.
Ron Amstutz/Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York

18. Kevin Beasley, A view of a landscape: A cotton gin motor, 2012–18
The whir of the cotton-gin motor that Kevin Beasley moved into the Whitney Museum in New York was more than a little disquieting. The machine was a long way from its previous home, on a farm in Alabama, and after Beasley acquired it and started changing its context, it turned into another kind of entity entirely. There was something beautiful about it, encased in glass and running like the well-oiled innovation it was. But the rumble it emitted gave a thundering presence to the darkness within it too—as an agent of an industry supported for so long by enslavement. Beasley channeled that presence into a separate listening room with speakers around the ceiling and walls, and he and other artists activated it with performances that played with the sound and turned it into other forms. All of it made for a pointed kind of alchemy in which history seemed both distant and omnipresent at once. —Andy Battaglia

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Cecilia Vicuña, Quipu Womb (The Story of the Red Thread, Athens), 2017, unspun wool, dyed. Installation view at Documenta 14, Athens.
Mathias Voelzke

17. Cecilia Vicuña, Quipu Womb (The Story of Red Thread, Athens), 2017
For some 50 years, Cecilia Vicuña has been creating sculptures that explore the complex history of the quipu, a system of knowledge created through knotted strands of colored yarn that were used by the Inca prior to their colonization beginning in the 16th century. (Quipus were systemically destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors and the Catholic Church.) With her sculptures and performances, Vicuña tenderly thinks through what quipus are, or could have been: recorded forms of knowledge, oral histories, “the imaginary,” as she’s put it. For this piece, created for the Athens portion of Documenta 14, Vicuña sourced wool from locals and had it dyed a deep crimson red. Installed in a stark white gallery of the EMST—National Museum of Contemporary Art, Quipu Womb looked like a knotted, cascading river of blood from a woman’s womb, and it acted as a bridge between pre-Colombian Andean legacies and ancient Greek mythology. What are the threads, Vicuña seemed to ask, that connect us to each other? —Maximilíano Durón

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Pierre Huyghe, After ALife Ahead, 2017, installation view at Skulptur Projekte Münster, Germany.

16. Pierre Huyghe, After ALife Ahead, 2017
At Documenta 13 in 2012, Pierre Huyghe offered a beguiling environmental work in Kassel, Germany’s Karlsaue park that involved a dog with one leg dyed purple and a sculpture of a reclining woman whose head teemed with bees—a scrappy ecosystem that seemed to be powered by unseen forces. Five years later, at the superb Skulptur Projekte Münster, he presented a kind of big-budget sequel that was at once earthwork and alien technology. Inside an old stadium that formerly held an ice rink, Huyghe dug up the floor to create a craggy landscape. A mysterious aquarium stood atop one mound. Holes in the ceiling opened by some phantom logic, to let elements and organisms fall down inside. It felt like the artist was not only pushing the boundaries of art—that well-worn cliché—but actively moving beyond it, into the unknown. —Andrew Russeth

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Danh Vo, I M U U R 2, 2012, at Guggenheim Museum, New York.

15. Danh Vo, I M U U R 2, 2012
The most heartbreaking work of the decade? My vote is Danh Vo’s I M U U R 2 (2012), which consisted of countless tchotchkes collected by the late, great painter Martin Wong, along with a number of his drawings and paintings. Assembled by Vo for his 2013 Hugo Boss Prize show at the Guggenheim Museum, it reads, to me, as an act of potent generosity: keeping the trove of Wong’s material together and proposing that his whole life be viewed as a kind of integral, integrated artwork. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis wisely acquired the work, adding a masterpiece to its collection. —Andrew Russeth

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Jordan Wolfson, (Female figure), 2014. Installation view at David Zwirner, New York.
Jonathan Smith/Courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, and Sadie Coles HQ, London

14. Jordan Wolfson, (Female figure), 2014
Jordan Wolfson’s animatronic ghoul was one of those artworks where anyone who had seen it at David Zwirner gallery would start to explain it to you and then give up and say, “You just need to go see it.” The freaky thing about going to see it was that while you were looking at it, it was looking at you. A life-size woman robot with flowing golden locks, she was poised in front of a mirror, as though about to embark on some ballet. Dressed in the tight, white, curve-hugging mini-dress of a streetwalker, she was covered in scuff marks, as though she’d been roughed up. So ill-used was she (you might think) that the skin on the upper half of her face had peeled away to reveal something reptilian. What might have been the ballet barre was a metal pole that impaled her at the waist, yoking her to the mirror. As she spoke in Wolfson’s voice, she danced, and her eyes followed you around the room. Being alone with her was like being in one of those nightmares where whatever horrific things you’ve repressed have congealed into the monster who has it in for you. —Sarah Douglas

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Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017.
Andrea Merola/EPA/Shutterstock

13. Anne Imhof, Faust, 2017
The first thing visitors to the German Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale saw was a set of barking dogs that were kept in shatterproof cages blocking off the structure’s Neoclassical architecture. Inside lay something even stranger. Several performers lunged, writhed, vogued, and posed their bodies over the course of five hours on top of a raised glass platform supported by a grid of metal girders. Below was an amalgamation of different objects: a leather mattress, a white lighter, a BB gun, burning mini torches, chains, cuffs. Throughout the work, a performance called Faust, Anne Imhof, the piece’s creator, texted various instructions to the performers, which included her frequent collaborator and partner Eliza Douglas. Everything that seemed to have been improvised was closely controlled, from the movements of cold-eyed performers to the chic clothing they wore. The Golden Lion–winning piece was uneasy, tense, and brimming with anxiety, and in that way, it was a lot like the society that gave way to the work, where that which is visible is also subject to control, where the body becomes another means of subjugation. —Maximilíano Durón

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Eric Fischl, Late America, 2016, oil on linen.
Courtesy the artist and Skarstedt, New York

12. Eric Fischl, Late America, 2016
When Donald Trump won the presidential election, a lot of people professed shock. You get the feeling Eric Fischl didn’t. The painting Late America, which he showed at Skarstedt gallery in New York the following spring, is dated 2016, and quickly became the indelible image of what we mean when we talk about the frustrations of white men in America. With the arrival of this painting, the Obama era was truly over; there is no hope in this painting. —Sarah Douglas

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Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Surviving Active Shooter Custer, 2018, 24 monoprints, 24 ghost prints. Installation view at SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Maximilíano Durón/ARTnews

11. Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Surviving Active Shooter Custer, 2018
Indigenous peoples in the United States have long been subjected to brutal violence—both physical and metaphorical—and their stories have been erased from this nation’s history. In a commissioned work for the 2018 SITElines Biennial at SITE Santa Fe in Mexico, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne/Arapaho) presented a series of 24 monoprints and 24 ghost prints collectively titled Surviving Active Shooter Custer that made clear just how painful—and how pervasive—these forms of erasure have been. (The following year, the piece traveled to New York for an exhibition at MoMA PS1, and was subsequently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.) The prints present phrases in white set against various shades of reds and oranges. Their words are a mix of fragments from pop songs and common sayings, along with some of Heap of Birds’s own declarations on the topic of mass shootings. Gun violence is not a new phenomenon, explains Heap of Birds—one need look no further than the massacres of Native populations throughout American history, he has said. One telling print, the namesake for the series, reads “STOP / ACTIVE / SHOOTER / CADET / AUTIE / CUSTER”; it repositions General Custer as an active shooter, upending the longstanding perception that he was a Civil War–era hero. —Maximilíano Durón

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