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Swiss Curator Tops Art Power List, Damien Hirst Slumps
British artist Damien Hirst poses for photographers in front of his painting "Shark's Jaw, Skull and Iguana on a Table" (2008). Photo: Reuters/Kieran Doherty (Britain Entertainment Society)

By: Mike Collett-White

LONDON (REUTERS).- Several prominent collectors disappeared altogether and Britain's Damien Hirst went into freefall in the latest list of contemporary art's 100 most powerful figures.

But while the financial crisis claimed plenty of victims from a year ago, a group of well-connected, flexible and hitherto lesser known figures rose to the top, including Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist who took the number one position.

Obrist, ranked 35th in 2008, is co-director of exhibitions and programs and director of international projects at London's Serpentine Gallery, and is also a writer and promoter.

In interviews over recent years he has championed smaller art galleries, which he says are important as well as major collections such as London's Tate Modern or the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

ArtReview, the publication which compiles the annual power ranking, said its 2009 edition reflected "a year of extreme change in the economic landscape."

It "both reflects the fundamental changes in the international power structures of the art world and readdresses what power really means and how it is deployed."

"Hans Ulrich Obrist ... is a tireless advocate for contemporary art who operates close to the center of a network of influential thinkers and agenda-setters," ArtReview said.

It described Obrist as "one of the most active and well-networked figures the contemporary art world has seen."


More established figures in the art world continue to hover just below the pinnacle, including MoMA's Glenn D. Lowry (second), Tate's Nicholas Serota (third) and U.S. dealer and gallery owner Larry Gagosian (fifth).

"Diminished endowments and sheer size have slowed their ability to respond to change, leaving openings to the flexible and fast-moving," said ArtReview.

Examples include Venice Biennale director Daniel Birnbaum (fourth), the team behind New York-based art information network e-flux and Iwona Blazwick, back with the re-launched public art space, the Whitechapel Gallery.

Francois Pinault, the French businessman who owns the world's largest auctioneer Christie's, is in sixth position, and the highest ranking artist is Bruce Nauman of the United States, who lies 10th.

Hirst, who with his company Science topped the list in 2008, slumped to 48th place in 2009, mainly reflecting a relatively quiet 12 months since he raised 111 million pounds at a single auction of new works just over a year ago.

Charles Saatchi fell to 72nd place from 14th, while Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich and his art collector girlfriend Daria Zhukova dropped off altogether.

The 2009 list is published in ArtReview's November issue and coincides with Frieze Art Fair, London's annual showcase of contemporary art that attracts many of the world's leading collectors, artists and curators.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

Hans Ulrich Obrist | Contemporary Art's 100 Most Powerful Figures | Glenn D. Lowry | Nicholas Serota | Larry Gagosian |

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