The 100 Most Iconic Artworks of the Last 5 Years

What are the most resonant works of art from the recent past? From among the thousands of individual works that pass through galleries and museums, which have affected the conversation in some significant way? Amid all of contemporary art's chaotic installations and ephemeral gestures, which images have some staying power? These are the questions that ARTINFO set out to answer with its list of "100 Most Iconic Artworks From the Last 5 Years."

How did we put together our ranking? First, we asked a broad group of colleagues to submit their nominations for artworks, from 2007 or later, that they considered to be in some way "iconic." Then we asked members of our staff and a few distinguished outsiders to give the works on the resulting list a score of 1 to 10. Adding our scores together, we came up with a ranked list of 100 artworks from the last half-decade.


Contributing to our ranking were Ben Davis (art editor, ARTINFO), Daniel Kunitz (editor-in-chief, Modern Painters), Coline Milliard (editor, ARTINFO UK), Madeleine O'Dea (editor, ARTINFO China), Jen Graves (critic, The Stranger), Walter Robinson (critic/editor, Art-Rite, Artnet Magazine), Martha Schwendener (critic, New York Times, Village Voice), and Christian Viveros-Faune (critic, ArtReview, Village Voice).

What do we learn from this exercise? Well, for one thing, despite all the chatter about the triumph of the art market, it is actually not necesarily the center of the action here. Christian Marclay's "The Clock" was produced for a gallery, as was Damien Hirst's "For the Love of God" and Urs Fischer's "You." But a great number of the memorable works on our list were conceived for museum shows, biennials, or as public art works of various kinds. Street art, or works that found an audience through relatively unconventional channels, like Jon Rafman's "9 Eyes of Google Street View" (which gained notoriety as a photo essay on Art Fag City) or William Powhida's "How the New Museum Committed Suicide With Banality" (which took fire as a cover for the Brooklyn Rail), were as likely, if not more likely, to leave a mark as conventional gallery fare.   

Another thing that stands out in the list is the high number of works that are participatory mass spectacles, and the low number that are old-fashioned painting. It's not that contemporary painting is incapable of creating an "iconic" image: one work that many of our contributors suggested as being "iconic" was Luc Tuymans's "The Secretary of State" — but that was from 2005, outside of our date range. Nevertheless, to speak of general trends, it looks like the artist as image-maker is out; the artist as stage manager is in.

It also seems to help to penetrate the collective mind if you draw on the energy of politics in some way — though that way can vary greatly, from the straight-forward idealism of Shepard Fairey's "HOPE" poster, to the gonzo activism of Voina's "A Dick Captured by the FSB." Works as diverse as Ai Weiwei's "Remembering" and Paul Chan's "Waiting for Godot in New Orleans" become particularly evocative in the way that they resonate with their social background (the Chinese artist's own outspoken politics or the recent tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, respectively).

Finally, more than one "iconic" artwork on our list has become resonant in its failure as much as its success, from Christoph Büchel's "Training Ground for Democracy," whose vast ambition famously resulted in it never being completed, to Richard Prince's "Canal Zone," which has become a symbol, in a way, of the battles over the use of appropriated imagery — hardly its intended effect. At any rate, it seems clear that "iconic" doesn't necessarily mean "successful," though it does mean that the work in question throws off some kind of charge that is bound to have larger effects.

Here it is then, ARTINFO's "100 Most Iconic Artworks of the Last 5 Years" (to see our illustrated commentary on the Top 25 Most Iconic Artworks, click on the slide show):  

1) Christian Marclay, "The Clock," 2010          

2) Marina Abramovic, "The Artist Is Present," 2010            

3) Tino Sehgal, "This Progress," 2010            

4) Ai Weiwei, "Sunflower Seeds," 2010            

5) Damien Hirst, "For the Love of God," 2007            

6) Mark Wallinger, "State Britain," 2007            

7) Voina, "A Dick Captured by the FSB," 2010            

8) Shepard Fairey, "HOPE," 2008            

9) Pussy Riot, Christ the Savior Cathedral performance, 2012            

10) Allora & Calzadilla, "Track and Field," 2011            

11) Jayson Musson, "Art Thoughtz," 2010-present            

12) Antony Gormley, "One and Other," 2009            

13) Jon Rafman, "9 Eyes of Google Street View," 2009            

14) Michael Heizer, "Levitated Mass," 2012            

15) Paul Chan, "Waiting for Godot in New Orleans," 2007            

16) Superflex, "Flooded McDonald's," 2009            

17) Maurizio Cattelan, "L.O.V.E.," 2010            

18) Anish Kapoor, "ArcelorMittal Orbit," 2012            

19) Olafur Eliasson, "The New York City Waterfalls," 2008            

20) Teresa Margolles, "¿De qué otra cosa podríamos hablar?," 2009            

21) Urs Fischer, "You," 2007            

22) Ai Weiwei, "Remembering," 2009           

23) Bruce High Quality Foundation, "Bruce High Quality Foundation University," 2009-present            

24) Ryan Trecartin, "I-Be Area," 2007            

25) Dash Snow & Dan Colen, "Nest," 2007            

26) Elmgreen & Dragset, "The Collectors," 2009            

27) JR, "Women Are Heroes," 2008-2009                       

28) Christoph Büchel, "Training Ground for Democracy," 2010           

29) Theaster Gates, "The Dorchester Project," 2009            

30) William Powhida, "How the New Museum Committed Suicide With Banality," 2009           

31) Mike & Doug Starn, "Big Bambu," 2008            

32) Mike Kelley, "Mobile Homestead," 2011            

33) Doug Aitken, "Sleepwalkers," 2007            

34) Ashley Hunt, Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Katya Sander & David Thorne, "9 Scripts for a Nation at War," 2007            

35) Doug Fishbone, "Elmina," 2010 

36) Gilbert & George, "London Pictures," 2011            

37) Ai Weiwei, "Zodiac Heads," 2010            

38) Mark Bradford, "Mithra," 2008            

39) Martin Creed, "All the Bells in a Country Rung as Quickly and Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes," 2012            

40) Francesco Vezzoli, "Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula," 2009            

41) Liz Magic Laser, "I Feel Your Pain," 2011            

42) Mike Kelley & Michael Smith, "A Voyage of Growth and Discovery," 2009            

43) Nina Berman, "Marine Wedding," 2007                        

44) Swoon, "Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea," 2008            

45) Chris Burden, "Urban Light," 2008            

46) Christian Boltanski, "Personnes," 2010            

47) Paul Chan, "Sade for Sade's Sake," 2009            

48) Pipilotti Rist, "Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters)," 2008            

49) Taryn Simon, "Contraband," 2009            

50) Allora & Calzadilla, "Stop, Repair, Prepare," 2008            

51) Cao Fei, "RMB City," 2009            

52) Cecilia Gimenez, Restored version of Elias Garcia Martinez's "Ecce Homo," 2012            

53) Damien Hirst, "The Complete Spot Paintings," 2008            

54) Tom Sachs, "Space Project: Mars," 2012            

55) Alec Soth, "The Last Days of W," 2009           

56) An-My Lê, Photo series on US forces around the world, 2010            

57) Shirin Neshat, "Women Without Men," 2010            

58) Christian Jankowski, "Casting Jesus," 2010            

59) Marc Quinn, "Siren," 2008            

60) Marlene Dumas, "Blindfolded Man," 2007            

61) Maurizio Cattelan, "All," 2011            

62) Guido van der Werve, "Nummer acht: Everything is going to be alright," 2007            

63) Marilyn Minter, "Green Pink Caviar," 2009            

64) Michael Landy, "Art Bin," 2010            

65) Ragnar Kjartansson, "The End — Venice," 2009            

66) Roger Hiorns, "Seizure," 2008            

67) Clifford Owens, "Anthology," 2011            

68) Duke Riley, "After the Battle of Brooklyn," 2007            

69) Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, "Black Acid Co-Op," 2009            

70) Mitch Epstein, "American Power," 2009            

71) Takashi Murakami, "Oval Buddha," 2007                         

72) Richard Prince, "Canal Zone," 2007            

73) Adrian Villar Rojas, "A Person Loved Me," 2012            

74) Andrea Fraser, "There's No Place Like Home," 2012            

75) Cory Arcangel, "Photoshop Gradient" series, 2008-present            

76) Glenn Ligon, "Untitled (America)," 2009            

77) Hiroshi Sugimoto, "Lightning Fields," 2009            

78) Philip Lorca diCorcia, "Thousand," 2007            

79) Charles Atlas, "143652," 2012            

80) Grayson Perry, "The Walthamstow Tapestry," 2009            

81) Paul McCarthy, "Peter Paul Chocolate Factory," 2007            

82) David Hockney, "iPhone Drawing," 2009            

83) Isa Genzken, "Rose II," 2007           

84) James Turrell, "Twilight Epiphany," 2012            

85) Qiu Zhijie, "Breaking through the Ice," 2009            

86) Richard Serra, "Promenade," 2008            

87) Assorted street artists, "The Underbelly Project," 2009-10            

88) Lisa Yuskavage, "Pie Face," 2008            

89) Tara Donovan, "Untitled (Mylar),” 2011            

90) Catherine Opie, "Football Landscape #1," 2007            

91) Ryan McGinley, "Tracy (Red, White & Blue)," 2010            

92) Aernout Mik, "Schoolyard," 2009            

93) Kate Gilmore, "Through the Claw," 2011            

94) Liang Shaoji, "Mending Sky," 2011            

95) Carter, "Erased James Franco," 2008            

96) Jennifer Rubell, "Creation," 2009            

97) Rob Pruitt, "The Andy Monument," 2011            

98) Ryan McNamara, "Still," 2012            

99) Barry X. Ball, "Envy" series, 2008-11            

100) Amanda Ross-Ho, "White Goddess 16 (La Côte)," 2009