This morning my distinguished publication unveiled the annual Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people. I have something to do with the selection of the artists and architects who make the list, so I thought I’d explain some of the thinking that led to this year’s choices.
The first thing to be said is that in a time of multiple practices and approaches, when no particular “ism” prevails anywhere, there’s no artist or architect who could be called the single most influential figure in the world. But we take real pains around here to arrive at people who are doing work that speaks to the moment in a particularly effective way, and that opens up new possibilities that other people are picking up on.
Our artist this year is William Kentridge, and not just because he’s the subject of a very powerful exhibition that debuted in March at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will soon be traveling the world. With the onset of the Great Recession, a big, brassy moment in the artworld has drawn to a close. And with the roar of market forces having subsided for a while, it’s possible now to really see and hear and learn from the quietly enigmatic work of a man like Kentridge, whose art tells you something about anguish, solitude and paradox.
When I wrote about the Kentridge show in March, I put it this way, and it still sounds right to me:
The question at the center of so much of his work — What do you do when the world breaks your heart? — is one that a lot of people are asking themselves lately.
As for architecture, Liz Diller and Ric Scofidio were another easy choice — and not just because, with their design partner Charles Renfro, they just debuted a pretty smashing renovation of Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York and have a much anticipated new project, the High Line Park in Manhattan, coming up in June. The best architects don’t just think about buildings as glass and steel, bricks and mortar, but as social and psychological experiences, not just as places but a journeys. Diller and Scofidio have operated as conceptual artists as much as architects over the years, and they bring all kinds of thinking about modern life — about things like travel, surveillance, confinement and release, the natural and the man made — into their work as architects.
When Liz and Ric had a retrospective a few years ago at the Whitney Museum in New York, it included a robot mechanism that drilled hundreds of holes in the gallery walls over the course of the show. That’s what we like around here — people who know how to break out of the box. It’s the questing, open-minded spirit of their work that makes it feel particularly important right now, when architecture is facing the kind of downturn that can tempt architects to play it safe.