Time magazine has released its 2023 list of the 100 “Most Influential” people, which this year features art-world stars Simone Leigh, Wolfgang Tillmans, and El Anatsui alongside noteworthy actors, politicians, and personalities.
As always, the roundup is categorized by artists, innovators, titans, leaders, icons, and pioneers. Previous winners were invited to pen short essays honoring the impact of the 2023 recipients.
Simone Leigh was honored by Venus Williams, who described in her citation the experience of first encountering Leigh’s art: “[The] overall majesty of her work transcend the art form and captivate attention, and the message informing that work is even more powerful.”
Leigh—lauded worldwide for allusive sculpture and installation that spans grand and intimate scales—was the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Her monumental presentation nabbed the highest honor at the prestigious event, the Golden Lion, and she is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston.
“For generations, Black bodies have been stereotyped, marginalized, and commodified, but Simone completely upends that narrative with her sculptures—centering the experiences of Black individuals and celebrating Black bodies, specifically female bodies, for their beauty, strength, and pride,” Williams added.
The Tony-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris was selected to write about the German-born photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, the star of a blockbuster retrospective in 2022 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that recently traveled to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. In it, images of friends, lovers, and clubbers that foreground the kinship of subculture took center stage.
“Tillmans has the unique ability to take his viewer through histories and timelines both real and imagined,” Harris wrote, adding that he “brings us into his memories and by extension brings us closer to our own.”
Lastly, the Ghanaian-born El Anatsui was honored by the Nigerian art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, who called Anatsui “one of the most impactful artists of our time.”
Anatsui has been a major presence in West Africa’s art scene and beyond since 1990, when he first appeared at the Venice Biennale. In 2008, one of his tapestries, Between Earth and Heaven, became the first major sculptor by a contemporary African artist to enter the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work, like much in his oeuvre, utilizes West African textile traditions, in particular kente cloths developed by Akan and Ewe craftspeople in Ghana.
“As a sculptor, he shows an incomparable capacity to experiment with his materials, medium, and process,” Okeke-Agulu wrote. “El collects diverse materials, puts them aside in his studio for years, and then returns to them intermittently, until he figures out the right language for inventing completely new sculptural forms.”