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20 works from 2000-2019, what will they be? 2020 is upon us and what other way to celebrate the end of this twenty-year period if not by discovering together which were the 20 works of art that marked history between 2000 and 2019? I am happy to have seen some of them with my own eyes. The last years of these twenty years have been for me those of unbridled art readings, of the first international fairs in Basel, Madrid and London and of exhibitions around Europe.

Each of these works proved to be important for the message that the artist wanted to launch, for the historical moment in which it was created or sometimes for the stratospheric sum for which it was sold. You could never make a ranking and surely I will have left equally interesting ones aside, but let’s start!

Martin Creed, Work no. 227, The lights on in 2000 You

blink. A crime is committed in England. A child is dying of hunger. The frequency of each of these actions is every five seconds. And five seconds, apparently, is the unit of time in which our lives can be changed. And no artist has explained the significance of the importance of this five-second interval in a more elegant and controversial way than the English artist Martin Creed. In his installation the lights that turn on and off created in 2000 when much controversy on the concept of art itself was exhibited for the first time. The work consists of a simple timer programmed to alternately turn the lights on and off every five seconds in an empty gallery.

Those who appreciated the work compared its conceptual importance with the avant-garde experiments of the American composer John Cage with the silence and sound of the 1950s. Those who had a controversial attitude considered it a do-it-yourself project. Whether you consider art or philosophy, in any case, it is undeniable that today more than ever we need to reflect on our actions and our concept of time, because five seconds can pass quickly, but they can also upset our lives. 

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project 2003

The success of this incredible work by Eliasson, which attracted over two million visitors to the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall between October 2003 and March 2004, tells us a lot about the anxieties and worries of our age. 

The work consists of a huge sun suspended supernaturally in the canyon-shaped space of the hall. Through a makeup of mirrors and sugary mist, Eliasson has created a fiery red sunset that gives the sensation of consuming everything around him. And the references to works such as William Turner’s Light and Color are evident. 

Visitors become silhouettes against the dazzling light and it is this feeling of disappearance that made The Weather Project a transformative and haunting experience. Today we are rightly pestered by the various opinions in the debate on the consequences of climate change, and Eliasson’s troubling work reminds us that, these days, when we talk about the weather, we are also talking about our lives. And Tate is back to tell about Eliasson in her latest exhibition, which I told you about a few weeks ago. And of which I am happy to talk about now in this post on the 20 works of 2000-2019.

Giuseppe Penone, 2003 Cedar of Versailles

Presented by Gagosian at the 2019 edition of Art Unlimited in Basel, the work impressed me very much. The work consists of a monumental tree hollowed out to its core to be brought back to its initial stage. From the outer bark, therefore, the artist has dug up to the innermost part of the heart of the tree.

The title the Cedar of Versailles tells the story of the work. To make it, in fact, an ancient 194-year-old cedar was used which collapsed due to a storm in the park of Versailles in the late 90s. And the action of nature and man together are the characteristic themes of this series of works by Penone and of all his poetics in general.

We humans live within a world that we must know and respect and our every action affects in some way the development of nature, as much as an external force. 

Cindy Sherman, 2003-2004 Clowns

American photographer and director Cindy Sherman is world-famous for hiding behind her camera flash for years, staging series after series of self-portraits in which she changes her face to take on someone else’s appearance. Having adopted disguise as a primary identity tool for so long, Sherman’s deception has certainly begun to come true.

Disguising is no longer a denial of itself, but it has become how we identify it, what we know it for. Hence the nerve-wracking power of his 2003-4 Clowns series. Cindy Sherman assumes the identity of made-up strangers who have themselves hidden under kilos of clown makeup.

In Western culture, in fact, clowns are considered deeply ambiguous beings. Their fixed expressions often hide not cheerfulness, but something more tragic or sinister. Almost provoking fear with her ambiguous expressions, Cindy Sherman reflects on the themes of identity and the illusion of the mask in theater, cinema and art.

Anish Kapoor, The Cloud Gate 2004

Cloud Gate is a colossal public sculpture that British artist Anish Kapoor, born in India, unveiled in 2006. The work consists of 168 stainless steel plates and weighs 110 tons. Its smooth, reflective surface bounces distorted images of everything around it in Chicago’s Millennium Park. This distorted effect is visually amplified within the sculpture which Kapoor called the omphalos of the work from the Greek “navel”. Here, the concave parts of the work deform and multiply the reflections to disorient the viewer.

Kapoor’s message is direct: we live in a world as dazzling as it is distorted. Truth and the manipulated perception of truth mingle with each other. In Cloud Gate the work seems to be a fluid placed there by a magician for a sleight of hand, but in reality the steel plates take years and years to be so shiny. This too is a distortion of reality. An illusion, like that of our reflection in the work. 

Jeff Koons, 2004 Tulips

This series of works called Celebrations by one of the most talked about artists in the contemporary art world began as early as the 1990s. But it has certainly become known thanks to the specimens of recent decades, which have been the protagonists of some incredible auction passages and have been installed in the most important museums in the world, such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao. A museum that I visited a couple of years ago and about which I told you not only in this post on the 20 works of 2000-2019 but also on Instagram in the stories.

The 2004 Tulips work consists of a giant bouquet of 7 stylized tulip flowers in super bright colors. Each of these is 5 meters large and has been created of a reflective metal. The sensation you get is that of light and weightless objects, frivolous already in their presentation to the public. The rainbow of colors, however, makes them pleasant and above all enhances their real characteristics. In fact, tulips are flowers that we compete to have a thousand different colors, they are flowers that have entered our homes at least once to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or other holidays. Hence the title of the Celebrations series. So Koons’s is to magnify and put before our eyes under another guise the objects that characterize our daily life, in full pop style. 

Damien Hirst, 2007 For the Love of God

Can Art Overcome Death? When Damien Hirst’s 1,106-carat diamond-encrusted skull was first exhibited in London in 2007, a group of critics responded with a beautiful Yes. But the question remains open, even if Damien Hirst’s work wants to prove otherwise. 

It is a platinum casting, carved from the recovered skull of a 35-year-old 18th century European and purchased from a shop in London. On this base 8,601 pavé diamonds were set by the Bentley & Skinner jewelers of Mayfair. As if this were not enough, mounted on the forehead is a large diamond, a sort of third eye, which wants to push the potential meaning of the work in the direction of the supernatural.

We cannot know that Hirst’s work can survive death or not, but certainly, as on many other occasions, the reflection on death itself becomes the protagonist of his works. And the irony of the titles leads us to reflect on themes that have not only defined the last twenty years but in reality the entire history of art from its beginnings to today. All the more reason for not being able to exclude him from the list of 20 works of 2000-2019.

Yayoi Kusama, Dots obsession of 2008

The interior of the installation with soft lighting, the mirrored walls and the black dots are the characteristic elements of the works of the Japanese artist Kusama. Works that reflect his inner dimension and his visions. These works cannot be inserted in any specific movement, they have made the history of pop art and minimalism at the same time and have ideas of Japanese and American culture and tradition together. 

The idea is that upon entering the installation, viewers are immediately struck by an environment that becomes almost a cocoon that is enhanced by the yellow light and floating shapes. The effects can be unnerving or relaxing because the senses are bombarded. The floor and ceiling are covered with black dots, while the mirrored walls multiply the space, which becomes infinite. These elements force viewers to experience conflicting feelings: there are those who feel imprisoned, others free to imagine. However, Kusama remains aware of viewers’ responses and the work intends to be both therapeutic and overwhelming. A reflection on our psyche and a representation of our dreams. A reflection that could not have allowed Kusama and his works to enter by right among the 20 works of 2000-2019.

Franz West, The Ego and the Ego of 2008

This series of works by Franz West in which we are encouraged to interact with the work in parks or on the streets of cities has become the signature of the Austrian artist. Sitting on stools or letting us play with the elements of the work Franz West insists that the artwork is not complete until viewers interact with it. His goal has always been to create art that inspires brilliant environments, in which we are part of the work.

In the case of the ego and me, the idea arose from an article written by Sigmund Freud in 1923 about the ego’s battle with three forces: the ego, the super-ego and the external world. And West starting from Freud’s reflections created this work to ask a direct question: what is sculpture for man? The answer is in the interaction with oneself when living the work and in sharing with others. In this case in the center of Central Park, New York, away from a museum and in an outdoor play space.

Pipilotti Rist, Massachussets Chandelier 2010

Colored panties hang from the ceiling, all bright in a dark gallery. As if they were hung up after washing to dry in the sun. A warm light is emanated from inside the work, while an external video light is projected onto the work.

When I first saw this suspended chandelier on display in Milan, I was speechless. And for this I decided to insert it in this post on the 20 works of 2000-2019. The work is made up of panties collected by the artist, his friends and family and displayed naturally. Intentionally exuberant and entertaining, the work was created to encourage viewers to consider issues related to gender, sexuality and the human body.

Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist created the installation to convey a sense of happiness and serenity. And even if the work is deliberately simple and straightforward, it is not childish. In fact, under the apparent lightness of the work Pipilotti Rist addresses feminist issues and taboos related to the most important and secret part of our body. 

Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present of 2010

For two and a half months, from mid-March to the end of May 2010, Marina Abramović sat at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, while the participants of the performance were invited in turn to look her in the eye for as long as they wished or could bear. For more than 700 hours, the artist stared at hundreds of strangers meeting their gaze seated together at a table. The portraits of the visitors tell the range of expressions provoked by the rigid face of the Abramović: fun, fear, boredom or even despair. 

A window on the soul that aims to bring people together. In fact, there was no way to escape reality and face the eyes of another human being, vulnerable and only a few centimeters away. 

And this work once again reaffirmed the status of Abramović among the most significant performance artists of our time. In fact, for forty years Marina Abramović has challenged us to look into the eyes of the reality that surrounds us and the problems of our society. This is why he could not miss this post on the 20 works of 2000-2019.

Ai Wei Wei, 2010 Sunflower Seeds

Where does the identity of the individual end and that of the group begin?  Ai Weiwei asks us this question in the form of one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds individually made by 1,600 Chinese artisans. Each of these hand carved and convincingly painted, gray and white streaked. The work that was exhibited at the Tate in London stems from a direct criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights violations and provoked an unforgettable political debate.

Among other things, it is not the first time that the artist criticizes and provokes the government of his country of origin. But this time it challenges him in an even more subtle and elegant way. This mountain of small seeds has in fact attracted thousands of people who participated as individuals each in their own way in the group sharing of the work of art. 

Christian Boltanksy, People of 2010

What survives of us once death comes? Attempting to answer this question undoubtedly motivates many works of art. Several of those that have been included by me in this list of the 20 works of 2000-2019. But in particular it motivated this work by Boltansky, exhibited for the first time at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2010. We spend our lives accumulating and using objects, clothes, photographs and much more and this work tells us about it. The work consists of square meters of lots sprinkled with clothes like fields of textiles.

There are jeans, shirts, T-shirts, dresses, everything. And who did they belong to? The answer seems to be in the title of the work. To everyone and no one, to the people who, in addition to leaving their memory, also leave with them everything that belonged to them. And the work doesn’t stop there. Several times, in fact, a huge machine suspended above a mountain of clothes suddenly lowers to lift and relaunch our objects, like an endless game. 

Maurizio Càttelan, LOVE 2010

The marble statue of an eleven meter high hand that seems to raise a middle finger caused a sensation when it was inaugurated in 2010 in Piazza Affari in Milan, right in front of the Palazzo della Borsa. The world of finance felt offended by what was perceived as a gesture of defiance. All the more reason to add it to my list of 20 works from 2000-2019.

But a closer look at the work and some statements by Càttelan himself revealed a different meaning for this work. In fact, it seems to be a fascist salute cut off and eroded by time, located right in the center of the square and in front of one of the buildings of the 1920s that made the history of fascist architecture.

A hand whose interpretation is left to our imagination, but which distorts the concept of classical sculpture, transforming the statue of the emperor on horseback into a new symbol of our society.

Christian Marclay, The Clock of 2010

The cinematographic work of the Swiss-American artist Christian Marclay ingeniously tries to bridge the divide between the time of art and the time of reality. In fact, the works of art found in museums often seem to be foreign to the passage of time. some of these tell us about experiences that can be considered universal and continue to make us move or reflect despite having been made decades earlier.

Marclay’s work metaphorically tries to transcend this division. The work includes thousands of footage featuring a clock, carefully assembled together so that the footage keeps perfect pace with real time.

We often talk about art imitating life and vice versa, but imitation assumes that one or the other must have happened first. While great art suspends time. The Clock is a collage of Western cinema but in reality it makes us reflect on the time that surrounds us and on the very importance of art for our society. 

Kerry James Marshall, 2015 Lovers

If there is an artist who, together with Kara Walker, has told the experiences and stories of African-American populations over the last twenty years, this is Kerry James Marshall. He himself defined many of his works as the fruits of a social responsibility. And this kind of themes cannot be missing from the list of 20 works from 2000-2019.

And his favorite medium for telling these stories is painting. It is inspired by scenes of everyday life and typical objects of its culture, such as in the work presented at the 2015 Venice Biennale entitled “Amanti”. Here two guys who seem to have just been caught hugging each other turn smiling towards the viewer.

A seemingly simple but denouncing story. The main theme of works like this is in fact the presence of African Americans within the figurative works of art. In history they were often the first to be excluded from representations and thanks to artists like Marshall, who tell their daily life today, we find them protagonists of contemporary art.

Christo, The floating piers of 2016

Being able to define one’s own era and at the same time remain recognizable in each work is not easy for any artist. However, it seems not to be so complex for Christo who has made the packaging of small objects or entire monuments his signature since the 1960s. For every decade it would be possible to find one of his significant works: The Gates in 2005 in New York or the Mastaba in 2018 in London, but his passage in Italy on Lake Iseo was in my opinion equally significant.

The work consists of a labyrinth of fabric walkways, a sort of floating bridges that for exactly 15 days joined the mainland to the islands of San Paolo and Monte Isola. In this case the visitor becomes part of the work and the transformation of nature and the territory no longer consists only in hiding to give importance.

Banksy, Love is in the bin of 2018

It is not always easy to define the works that are changing our times if we are experiencing these times firsthand, but there are not many doubts about some of these. And in particular among the 20 works of 2000-2019, this has a special place.

Love is in the bin by Banksy has given rise to one of the most interesting debates in art in recent years. And I am not referring to the veracity of the work per se but to the importance of the action and the criticism on which this action itself makes us reflect. 

The work was born under the eyes of hundreds of people during the auction of the original work Baloon Girl at Sothebys in October 2018. A few seconds after the award, part of the canvas went through a paper shredder hidden in the frame and in the process of “destruction” of a work of art, a new one has been created. All Banksy’s works are the result of critical actions of society and the contemporary art market but above all they are reflections on our daily actions and our habits. And just this year another surprise came with the Gross Domestic product, a temporary showcase store that I had the opportunity to visit and which I told you about on the channel. 

Amy Sherald, First Lady Michelle Obama of 2018

Among the works that have made the history of the twenty years, painting and in one of its most classic forms the portrait cannot be missing. In this case, however, the work of the American artist Amy Sherald demonstrates how a contemporary icon can be represented in full classical style. And the portrait thus earns its position in this list of 20 works from 2000-2019.

The protagonist of the work is Michelle Obama, not only wife of the former President of the United States of America Barack Obama but also a champion of women’s rights, of the LGBT community and supporter of a healthy and sustainable life. The portrait is classic and contemporary at the same time for several reasons. The only protagonist is Michelle in the center of the canvas, immersed in blue, a color that symbolizes fidelity and trust. At the same time the color of the Madonna’s mantle in classical representations.

The eye is immediately captured by the dress that ends beyond the work as if it continues and that at the same time fills a large part of the scene. This element also takes up the classic portraits of antiquity, but transforms the work into an icon of our period. 

Kara Walker, Fons Americanus of 2019

A large-scale public sculpture in London’s Tate, which questions how we remember history through public monuments. But at the same time it tells of a historic event that lasted decades that changed the lives of thousands of people around the world: the African diaspora.

Fons Americanus is a huge indoor fountain inspired by the Queen Victoria Monument opposite Buckingham Palace. In this case, however, it is not a queen who is exalted or remembered, but an entire population and its tragedies. Water is the key issue and refers to the transatlantic slave trade and the fate of many people on three continents.  

And there are many other references to Western history, art and culture. For example, the Birth of Venus from the shell that turns into a boy who cries and fills the shell with tears, while the Goddess is instead far away on top of the fountain. A work that makes us reflect on our history and on the importance of our political and civil choices. 

There are works created by artists from all over the world because I strongly believe that art today more than ever is global when it tells an experience that is personal but at the same time collective. 

Thanks and see you next time!

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