30 Most Influential Contemporary Artists

Contemporary art Most Famous Artists

BY Alina Livneva POSTED 20th of June 2018 13:40 GMT

contemporary artists

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art captures the world of today and sets a lasting impression which influences years to come. The art is/was produced in the second half of the 20th century or in the 21st century.

Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, and Amedeo Modigliani are just a few of the names we know for their creative contributions to contemporary art. As time continues to pass by, who are contemporary artists of today that will leave behind a lasting legacy we will look back on tomorrow?  Here you’ll find a curated list of today’s most famous contemporary artists.


Contemporary Artists

30. Liu Xiaodong

b.1963 in China 

Liu Xiaodong contemporary painter

Liu Xiaodong is one of China’s most recognized Contemporary artist. He left Jincheng to pursue art in Beijing. Liu Xiaodong went to the Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he received his BA and MFA. He stays in Beijing and is currently a professor. Liu Xiaodong is a Figurative painter, working on subjects of common people, sex workers and the homeless. His contemporary painting draws inspiration from scenes of friends and family however his work often depicts social problems he highlights through his works in places such as Israel-Palestine, Tibet, and rural China. Liu Xiaodong creates extremely realistic subjects using colors to strengthen emotion. The artist has been exhibited internationally and is represented by a number of galleries. 

29. Takashi Murakami

b. 1962 in Tokyo Japan

Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami has been celebrated and criticized for his culturally infused contemporary art style. His critics claim he is a “sell out” by taking a business approach to art and producing a consumable style of Japanese pop-culture. Pushing past the reviews, Takashi Murakami is becoming an iconic contributor to contemporary art with his coined style called “superflat” which is a theory based on the flat, 2-D imagery of Japanese style of manga and anime. In 2002, Takashi Murakami received an invitation from Marc Jacobs, designer of Louis Vuitton, to collaborate on a 13-year project of infusing Murakami’s style with the LV signature brand.  Murakami has a vast contemporary painting collection with prices averaging at $1.8 million per work. His record painting sold in auction for $4.2 million was The Castle of Tin Tin (1998). Although Takeshi’s art is highly sought after, it is also possible to find entry-level art starting at $30 000.   

28. Cecily Brown

b. 1969 in London

Cecily Brown

Cecily Brown is a London-born painter. She creates vivid, atmospheric depictions and is compared to Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon. Cecily Brown works are filled often with erotic positions and fragmented bodies. Critics are mixed on opinions about her work but she certainly has a presence on the art market. Auction record of $2.2 million.

27. JR

b. 1983 in France


JR is a rebellious photography with an unconfirmed identity taking extreme risks to share his photographic perspective. This photographic contemporary artist of today is recognized for his stunning photographic portraits and street art. In 2011, JR won the Ted Prize (an award for people with a creative, bold wish to change the world) and established the Inside Out Project. The prize awarded him $100 000 to support his project and JR sold an additional 6 photographs for $850 000 to allocate more funds to help aspiring local artists. JR continues to inspire and surpass those in his contemporary field. He has an incredible sell-through rate of almost 80%, which provides him with around $600 000 annually.

 26. Anish Kapoor

b. 1955 in Bombay, India

Anish Kapoor contemporary art

Anish Kapoor is a popular British-Indian contemporary artist known for his abstract sculptures and prestigious awards. Anish Kapoor has been awarded the Turner Prize (1991), Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (2003) and Knighted (2013) for his contributions toward visual arts. In addition to Anish Kapoor ’s memorable public sculptures, he has also produced a variety of exotic plates with alluring colors. The creations of Anish Kapoor seem to defy the boundaries of space and pushes the limitations of architecture to unimaginable extremes. The price of Anish Kapoor ’s contemporary art ranges from a few thousands of dollars up to the millions. Many of Anish Kapoor Untitled sculptures have sold in auction at an average of $1.4 million. Overall, Kapoor’s net worth has been estimated to be $180 million which placed him at 832 of the Rich List’s top 1000 in 2016.

25. Miquel Barcelo

b. 1957 in Spain

Miquel Barcelo

Miquel Barcelo is the artist with an experimental approach to painting. Whether utilizing bleach, organic matter or even live insects, Miquel Barcelo ’s Neo-Expressionist oeuvre explores decomposition, light, and the natural landscape. “I like to invent the materials,” he explained. “I think it is a part of my job, to invent new techniques—the right technique for everything.” Born in Spain, he went to Decorative Arts School in Palma de Mallorca and the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona. Miquel Barcelo ’s work is both abstract and cerebral, as evidenced by his broad range of paintings, ceramics, and installations. In 2011, the artist exhibited his sculpture Gran Elefandret (Big Elephant) (2008) in New York’s Union Square. Currently living and working between Paris, France, and Mallorca, Spain, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Guggenheim Bilbao, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid, among others.

24. Njideka Akunyili Crosby

b. 1983 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Born in Nigeria Njideka Akunyili Crosby, went to USA Swarthmore College, where she studied biology and studio art. Njideka Akunyili Crosby earned her MFA from Yale. The artist recommended herself when she has been named a 2017 MacArthur fellow. Akunyili Crosby’s explore cultural hybridity through a welter of references. Njideka Akunyili Crosby creates contemporary paintings of herself, her family, and friends.

23. Luo Zhongli

b. 1948

Luo Zhongli

Luo Zhongli is a painter known for his portraits of laborers in rural parts of his country. His famous work is Father (1980), an empathetic portrait of a wrinkled elderly man. Luo Zhongli dedicated the space to a farmer, symbolizing the commencement of the time of people. Born in China, he went to Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. He followed to Belgium where he qualified for MFA from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. His work has been exhibited in cities worldwide. The contemporary artist lives in China. His paintings are held in the collections of the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the Shanghai Art Museum, and the Singapore Art Museum.22

22. Liu Wei

b. 1965

Liu Wei

Liu Wei (b. 1972, and lives and works in Beijing, China) explores 21st-century socio-political concepts such as the contradictions of contemporary society and the transformation of developing cities and the urban landscape. Liu Wei uses found materials to draw new meanings out of the materials from which they are made. Liu Wei uses in his works architectural forms. He is trying to reference his urban surroundings. The artist graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, China in 1996. 

21. Sean Scully

b. 1945

Sean Scully

Sean Scully is an American artist. Born on June 30, 1945, in Ireland, Scully went to London to study art at the Central School of Art and Croydon College of Art. He followed his BA from Newcastle University in 1972. He is known to the world for his abstract paintings composed of brushy layers and alternating colored squares or stripes. Sean works do not have a reference. He draws from specific memories of places and objects. “From my studio south of Munich I often get in the car and drive a few hours down to Venice. It was the impressions from these trips that I brought back into the studio; I was painting the memories of Venice into the works.” Scully went to the United States in 1975. He lives and works between New York, NY, Barcelona, Spain, and Munich, Germany. His works are held in the collections of the Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. 

20. George Condo

b. 1957

George Condo

George Condo ’s artwork is populated by characters. The characters have bulging eyes, bulbous cheeks. Drawing on vastly diverse contemporary painting practices—like Pablo Picasso, Diego Velázquez, Henri Matisse, and Cy Twombly - Condo absorbs art-historical sources. George Condo creates a pictorial language. Some say the language is characteristically his own, the others do not agree. George Condo calls his surrealistic style “psychological cubism”. He is exploiting human imperfections or unseen aspects of humanity. George Condo ’s abstract works, like Internal Space (2005) explore the furthest extremes of the human psyche. 

19. Zhou Chunya

b. 1955

Zhou Chunya

Zhou Chunya was born in 1955 in Chongqing, China. He went to Sichuan Academy of Fine Art in 1982. Followed his MFA from the Kassel Academy of Fine Art in Germany in 1988. Abroad, he embraced Western techniques of contemporary painting and was inspired by German Expressionism. Zhou Chunya lives and works in Chengdu, China. He employed it alongside traditional Chinese calligraphy techniques. Zhou Chunya is a painter known for his Green Dog series of paintings. Zhou Chunya depicts a bright green German Shepard in a variety of poses and environments. His Landscape Series No.5 appears almost abstract. The brushstrokes remind of ancient Chinese landscapes. Today Zhou Chunya work can be found in the collections of the All Show Art Center and the Tang Contemporary Art Center in Beijing.

18. Zhang Xiaogang

b. 1958Zhang Xiaogang

Zhang Xiaogang was born in 1958 in Kunming, China. Xiaogang went to Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in Chongqing. Being unfavored at times he was forced to work in construction and other odd jobs instead of teaching painting as he had intended. Zhang Xiaogang fell into a deep depression fueled by alcoholism, eventually leading to his hospitalization in 1984. He lives and works in Beijing, China. Zhang Xiaogang is a preeminent member of the contemporary Chinese avant-garde. His Surrealist-inspired portraits are executed in smoothly rendered oil paint. The works maintain a formal and stiffly posed aesthetic. Zhang focus is on the aftereffects of the Cultural Revolution and the meaning of family, history, and memory in China today. Zhang Xiaogang was inspired to create his Bloodlines series when he discovered an old album of his family. Bloodlines series is work for which he is now celebrated. He has been exhibited at Pace Gallery in New York, the 1995 Venice Biennale, and the Daegu Art Museum.

17. Albert Oehlen

b. 1954

Albert Oehlen

Albert Oehlen was born on September 17, 1954, in Krefeld, Germany. He went to Hochschule für Bildende Künste, where he graduated in 1978. He received his first solo show in 1981 at Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin. Albert Oehlen worked as a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from 2000 to 2009. Albert Oehlen is an influential contemporary painter. He is working in a variety of techniques and imagery. His interest is the exploration of the medium as a genre. Albert Oehlen went from abstraction to realism, often serving as a parody or imitation of traditional painting models. Bad Paintings series, a notable work includes a 1986 portrait of Adolf Hitler. Albert Oehlen Computer Paintings explored abstract imagery derived from a laptop. He lives and works in Bühlen, Switzerland. Oehlen’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Strasbourg, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

16. Mark Bradford

b. 1961

Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford was born in 1961 in Los Angeles. He went to California Institute of the Arts for his MFA in 1997. His work displays the atrocities and struggles of race and poverty. Mark Bradford is a contemporary African-American artist. He is working in a wide-ranging conceptual practice. Mark Bradford creates multimedia abstract paintings. The artist depicts the excavation of emotional and political terrain. He concentrates on details that point to a larger thing. In 2017, Mark Bradford represented the United States pavilion at the Venice Biennale with his work Tomorrow is Another Day. He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. 

15. John Currin

b. 1962

John Currin

John Currin was born in 1962 in Boulder, CO. He grew up and studied in Connecticut. After receiving his BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1984, John Currin went to study at the Yale School of Art. He has participated in shows at Sadie Coles HQ in London and Gagosian Gallery in New York. John Currin lives and works in New York, NY. His wife sometimes serves as a model for his paintings. John Currin is considered among the most influential painters working today. He is combining the techniques of Northern Renaissance painters. He reflects a satirical attitude towards his subject matter. The artist produces works steeped in both art history and kitsch, as seen in his 2003 painting Thanksgiving. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Tate Gallery in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.


14. Jeff Koons

b. 1955 

Jeff Koons

The contemporary works of Jeff Koons become noticed in the early 1980s. He is recognized for his much sought after sculptures depicting animals and other novelty creatures. Jeff Koons illuminates the art scenes with his clever creations using stainless steel polished to the point of appearing mirror-like. Jeff Koons sculptures have been called disturbing, stunning, and complex yet always inspiring an illusion of seamless perfection. Estimated between $35 million to $55 million, Jeff Koons ’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold to a telephone bidder for an unexpected $58 million in 2013. This became one of the highest selling pieces from a living artist. Jeff Koons has also collaborated with Louis Vuitton and prices for his collaboration range from $585 for a keychain to over $4 000 for a handbag. The valuation of Jeff Koons was determined by the Wealth X ranking in 2008 for having a net worth of over $100 million.

13. Thomas Schutte

b. 1954

Thomas Schutte

Thomas Schutte was born on November 16, 1954, in Oldenburg, Germany. He went to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Benjamin Buchloh and Gerhard Richter. The artist lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany. From 1998 to 2000, Thomas Schutte was the subject of a three-part survey at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York City. He is working with media in print, watercolor, and installation. Thomas Schutte sculptures/figures range from miniatures to large-scale public works. The works are often unsettling or uncomfortable. He is exploring the artist’s role in contemporary society. His project, Schutte created a series of architectural models, among them Model for a Hotel (2003), which occupied the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2007. His awards include the Golden Lion at the 2005 Venice Biennial and the 2010 Düsseldorf Prize. His work is held in the collections of the Tate Modern in London, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

12. Zeng Fanzhi

b. 1964

Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi was born in 1964 in Wuhan, China. He went to study at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts. He developed an interest in German Expressionist painting. Having lived through the Cultural Revolution, Zeng Fanzhi often focuses on this experience in his work. Zeng lives and works in Beijing, China. The contemporary painter critically explores the changing face of contemporary Chinese culture. His iconic painting Tiananmen (2004) of Mao is the evidence of it. Zeng Fanzhi was the subject of a major retrospective at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2013–2014. In 2009 he represented China in the 2009 Venice Biennale. He depicts human faces with vivid and lively brushworks. Sometimes his works border on abstraction. Zeng Fanzhi often will portray his subjects as seen through a dense thicket of branches, crowding and obscuring the canvas with a chaotic and stylized sense of malaise. His painting Mask Series 1996 No.6 (1996) broke auction records in 2008, and became the highest-grossing work by a contemporary Asian artist. 

11. Gheorghe Virtosu

b. 1968

Gheorghe Virtosu

Gheorghe Virtosu was born in 1968 in Chisianu, Moldova. He went to study at the Sankt Petersburgh Arts Academy. However, he has left the art academy for studies at State Security Academy. After quitting his military career in 1992 he went to London where he acquired British citizenship. He developed an interest in Abstract painting and writing. Virtosu lives and works in London, Amsterdam, Luxembourg. Having lived through the Cultural Revolution, Virtosu often focuses on his knowledge experience in his work. He depicts social phenomena and characters in abstract style. He has developed a truly own style so his works are unique and carry the stamp of originality. His iconic painting series of Prophet Muhammad Daughters (2006) is the evidence of it. The artist was the subject of a major retrospective at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2016–2017. In 2017 he represented Romania in the Venice Biennale. His works are abstract; however, the artist does not deny reality in his oil painting. His painting Fatimah Bint Muhammad (2007) broke records in 2017 and became the highest-grossing work by a contemporary UK artist. 

10. Damien Hirst

b. 1965

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst has been a prominent figure in the contemporary art scene since the 1990s. Damien Hirst paintings and sculptures are known as obscure interpretations of reality with an obscure obsession with death. In 2008, Damien Hirst made one of the most iconic moves for a solo artist by hosting an entire gallery for Beautiful Inside My Head Forever. At the end of his show at Sotheby’s, Damien Hirst auctioned over $198 million USD making him one of the richest artists of today. Overall, Damien Hirst was ranked at 422 on the Rich List’s top 1000 in 2016 for his net worth of $362 million. Despite Damien Hirst ’s claim to fame and exorbitant prices, he has been sued on a few occasions for plagiarism. However, these lawsuits have not stopped Hirst from continuing to expand to his colossal contemporary art earnings. 

9. Anselm Kiefer

b. 1945

Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer is a German painter and sculptor. He studied during the 1970s. His works incorporate mix-media. Anselm Kiefer developed themes of German history and the horror of the Holocaust, the spiritual concepts of Kabbalah. Anselm Kiefer argues with the past and addresses controversial issues from recent histories, like themes from Nazi rule. His works reflect the willingness to confront his culture's dark past, and unrealized potential. His work has signatures and/or names of people of historical importance, legendary figures or historical places. Anselm Kiefer seeks to process the past, being linked with the movements of New Symbolism and Neo-Expressionism. 

8. Ai Weiwei

b. 1957 

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is recognized for his powerful contemporary art which captures human struggle both politically and culturally. Ai Weiwei has been internationally recognized as a political activist and takes an open stance against the Chinese government. In 2017, Ai Weiwei recreated a popular image of a drowning Syrian refugee child. This has caused some to regard Ai Weiwei as a vocal supporter of inhumanity while others claim he is shamefully capitalizing on human suffering. Although Ai Weiwei receives harsh criticism, he continues to allure the world with his incredible, culturally fierce works. Two of his more well-known sculptures include the Circle of Animals, Zodiac Heads with the gold collection auctioning for $4.4 million and the bronze collection $5.4 million. Other pieces of contemporary works designed by Ai Weiwei include the Coca-Cola Vase ($665 000 in the auction), the Forever Bicycles ($730 000 in the auction), and the Colored Vases ($735 296 in the auction).

7. Yoshitomo Nar

b. 1959

Yoshitomo Nar

Yoshitomo Nar was born on December 5, 1959 in Hirosaki, Japan. The artist went to Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music, for his BFA and MFA. Followed the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf during the late 1980s. Yoshitomo Nar lives and works in Tokyo. Nar is a Japanese artist. He is known for his paintings of children and animals. These elements appear simultaneously sweet and sinister, as one can see in work Do Not Disturb! 1996. Yoshitomo Nar has been influenced by the popular culture in both Eastern and Western society. His versatile practice explores themes of isolation, rebellion, and spirituality through printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics, and installations. Some people misinterpret Yoshitomo Nar as being manga because of the imagery that he usually works in his paintings. Sometimes Yoshitomo Nar would say that not a lot of people would see the spiritual side of his work. He states that his work is filled with religious and philosophical considerations. The artist’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Museum of Art in Osaka, and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. 

6. Richard Prince

b. 1949

Richard Prince

Richard Prince was born on August 6, 1949, in the Panama Canal Zone. He moved to New York in 1973. Prince currently lives and works in upstate New York. Richard Prince is known for his use of imagery. The artist takes photographs from advertising, entertainment, and social media. He is probing ideas around authenticity and ownership. Richard Prince controversial practice is sparking debates concerning copyright, intellectual property, and theft within the art world. Willem de Kooning has influenced Richard Prince to his painting techniques. He was taking photo pages of advertising and identify typologies and recurring archetypes. His series Cowboys(1980–1992, ongoing) was pulled from Marlboro cigarette ads. In 2014, the artist once again established his ability to provoke controversy. This time over issues of ownership and content, with Instagram. Richard Prince ’s New Portraits series consisted of blown up screenshots culled from selfies taken by young men and women on the social app. His works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Goetz Collection in Munich, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

5. Christopher Wool

b. 1955

Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool was born on September 16, 1955 in Boston, MA. He went to Sarah Lawrence College and followed the New York Studio School. Wool introduced graffiti techniques to his work. Christopher Wool incorporated silkscreens and paint rollers as well. His work has been exhibited at numerous institutions around the world, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Gesellschaft für Moderne Kunst am Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Christopher Wool currently lives and works between Marfa, TX and New York, NY with his wife the painter Charline von Heyl. The artist contrasts bold stenciled text or abstract brushwork with white backgrounds.

4. Peter Doig

b. 1959

Peter Doig

Peter Doig was born on April 17, 1959 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. He moved to London in 1979 to study at Wimbledon School of Art. Peter Doig soon followed his MA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Since 2002 Doig lives in Trinidad. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich. Peter Doig is celebrated as one of the most important representational painters working today. His paintings are characterized by their equal focus on both landscapes and figures. He makes personal references into painterly abstractions with distinctive compositions. Peter Doig ’s works are both diaristic and universally relevant. His practice shares no central formula. He is making paintings using photos as a reference.

3. Rudolf Stingel

b. 1956

Rudolf Stingel

Rudolf Stingel was born in 1956 in Merano, Italy. Stingel lives and works in New York, NY. He is known from the late 1980s for his silver painting. He mixed the silver with various primary colors. In 1990, Rudolf Stingel began testing the relationship between painting and the spaces where they are shown. He developed a series of installations that covered the walls and floors with carpets. The architecture itself was acting as a painting. Rudolf Stingel employs materials such as rubber, carpet, painted aluminum and paint. The artist questions and disrupts the viewer’s understanding and experience of the traditional art object. His work often reflects upon fundamental questions concerning the medium of painting. Questions like the role of authenticity and context in contemporary art. Rudolf Stingel has participated in the 1999, 2003, and 2013 Venice Biennales, and was the subject of a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art.


2. Mark Grotjahn

b. 1968

Mark Grotjahn

Mark Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena, CA, he went on to attend the University of Colorado Boulder and later received an MFA from the University of California Berkeley. Mark Grotjahn is an American artist. The artist is known for his abstract paintings. Mark Grotjahn 's work explores the vanishing point of perspective. He uses it as a catalyst to create expressive and brightly colored paintings. Mark Grotjahn is also known for his mask sculptures. He works with bronze sheets and cardboard boxes. In 2008, he had a solo exhibition “Dancing Black Butterflies” at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Grotjahn lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. His works are held in the collections of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 

1. Frank Stella

b. 1936

Frank Stella 

Frank Stella was born on May 12, 1936 in Malden, MA. Stella went to Princeton University before moving to New York in 1958. He was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. The work of Jasper Johns inspired Stella’s Black Paintings of 1958-1960. The artist is known for his use of geometric patterns and shapes in creating both paintings and sculptures. Frank Stella works depicts the formal properties of shape, color, and composition. He explores non-literary narratives. Abstraction does not have to be limited to a kind of rectilinear geometry or even a simple curve geometry. It could have a geometry that had a narrative impact like in Gheorghe Virtosu works, telling a story with the shapes. Artist states It wouldn't be a literal story, but the shapes and the interaction of the shapes and colors would give you a narrative sense. Through following decades, Frank Stella gained traction in the art world. In 1970 he became the youngest artist ever to be granted a solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. Frank Stella lives and works in New York, NY. His works are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Art Institute of Chicago. 

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