From Ai to Zhukova: meet the art world's most powerful figures

Chinese dissident is named the most influential of them all in prestigious annual poll

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The Independent Culture

A year that brought incarceration, worldwide protest and some of the most celebrated commissions in contemporary art has jettisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to the top of an influential global art power poll.

ArtReview magazine has placed Ai, 54, at the summit of its 2011 Power list which showcases artists, gallerists and collectors demonstrating a global dominance in the international art world.

Ai, an outpoken critic of the Chinese government, and best known for designing China's distinctive "bird's nest" 2008 Olympic stadium, was detained for 81 days earlier this year – prompting global outrage.

He has now overtaken billionaire collector and gallery owner Larry Gagosian and artist Damien Hirst to seize one of the art's world's most prestigious measures of influence.

"He is pushing art beyond the museum and gallery world and exploring the ways it can engage with real life rather than being this privileged thing you see in institutions – once you walk out it's behind you," said ArtReview editor Mark Rappolt.

Ai is the second artist to occupy the top spot in the list, now in its 10th year, after Damien Hirst. The latter was No. 1 in 2005 and 2008.

The list's judges, 26 art professionals from around the world, said Ai was placed "as much for his activism as for his art practice".

After Chinese authorities arrested him on 3 April, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota (ranked No. 6) and sculptor Anish Kapoor (50) spoke out in his support. Kapoor also cancelled a forthcoming show in China.

Ai showed in the Tate's prestigious Unilever series until May, employing 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds scattered across the floor of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. He also featured in this year's Time magazine 100 poll, which ArtReview says is "proof of his influence beyond the strict sphere of art".

There are just two Brits in the list's top 10, Serpentine co-director Julia Peyton-Jones, who is ranked at joint second – making her the highest-ranking gallery professional in the world – and Sir Nicholas, four spots below her. The top-ranking foreign gallery professional is New York's Museum of Modern Art director Glenn D Lowry, who is third.

Other prominent British arts figures on the list include Frieze founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, jointly ranked at No. 24, the Lisson Gallery's owner Nicholas Logsdail at 30 – who represents Ai – and White Cube co-founder Jay Jopling, who is placed at 31.

"What I found working on Ai's show at the Lisson Gallery in May is that his art and his politics are part of the same sensibility," said the Lisson Gallery's curatorial director Greg Hilty. "He's an activist who brings an aesthetic sense to shape his social thought, and he brings a moral sense of activism into his artistic practice... It is hard to separate his art from his activism."

Ai employed sunflower seeds at the Tate as a political symbol. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Mao used propaganda depicting himself as the sun and the public as sunflowers turning towards him.

Art Review's list, published today to coincide with this week's international art fair, Frieze, comes with a health warning: "The aim of the list is to document those forces and describe the 'world' that affects the production and display of contemporary art.

"As with almost everything related to art, however, the production of these lists is not a science."

Power 100: The top 10...

1. Ai Weiwei

Alongside a hectic exhibition schedule, the Chinese artist spent 81 days in prison this year for "economic crimes", thought to relate to his outspoken politics.

2. Hans Ulrich Obrist & Julia Peyton-Jones

A power partnership who co-direct London's prestigious Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, described by ArtReview as a "curatorial dynamo".

3. Glenn D. Lowry

Director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Lowry has been praised with expanding the institution's collection and premises over the past 12 months.

4. Larry Gagosian

The world-famous collector and gallerist has staged a staggering 58 shows in his 11 global outposts over the last 12 months, including exhibitions by Richard Prince.

5. Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda & Brian Kuan Wood

Organisers of daily email art information service e-flux, which now reaches 50,000 readers around the world. Specific targets include commercial galleries.

6. Sir Nicholas Serota

Presides over The Tate, Britain's most influential art institution with some 7.4 million visitors entering its four galleries every year. About to unveil the first stage of extension to Tate Modern.

7. Cindy Sherman

The partner of former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, one of Sherman's early photographs sold in May for $3.89m (£2.47m), becoming the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.

8. Iwan Wirth

Co-founder of Hauser & Wirth, one of London's most powerful commercial art galleries, this year he oversaw the transformation of his Piccadilly space into a "community centre" for locals.

9. David Zwirner

Gallerist and co-founder of charity Artists for Haiti with actor Ben Stiller, he raised some $13.7m (£8.71m) at a fundraising auction at Christie's last month. Around a third of the artists – who contributed 27 works in total – were represented by Zwirner himself.

10. Beatrix Ruf

Director of contemporary art centre Kunsthalle Zurich, and recently appointed to the newly constituted cultural advisory board of CERN, which operates Europe's Large Hadron Collider.

... and other notable entries

Anish Kapoor (#50)

British sculptor famous for his highly reflective structures. His landmark structure for the 2012 Olympic park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, is nearing completion.

Damien Hirst (#64)

Original Young British Artist. Next year he is set to have a major retrospective at Tate Modern to coincide with the Olympics. Gagosian Gallery will showcase his work in all of its 11 galleries simultaneously in January.

Dasha Zhukova (#81)

Russian model and philanthropist, and partner of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. Filled Moscow's Garage Center for Contemporary Culture with some of the last 12 months' most successful artworks.