As always, W's annual Art Issue has one eye on the landscape of contemporary art today, and one on its promising future. Here, we have selected five artists who are already making work that will matter for years to come.
Still in their beta stages, virtual reality headsets have already become the art world’s accessory du jour, a must for any forward-looking biennial. Although the artist Rachel Rossin, 29, is known for her innovative VR installations, she admits that the fashionable new medium is still in a nascent stage. “And the headsets are ugly,” she adds. Rossin should know: She is designing what she hopes will be a more aesthetically pleasing headset, complete with a mirrored surface. In two shows last year at Signal gallery, in Brooklyn, and ZieherSmith, in Manhattan, Rossin bridged the gap between the white cube and the floating, limitless digital world she had devised by showing sculptures and semi-abstract paintings that represented the imaginary world inside the headset. “I feel uncomfortable with my work being called ‘surrealism,’ ” Rossin says, after some critics referred to her pieces as Dalí-esque. Still, she admits that outside of an art-historical context, that is exactly what VR is: surreal. (Just think of the times you’ve witnessed someone stumbling about an empty gallery, hooked up to a long wire, like some blindfolded marionette.) “Right now I’m using sculpture and painting to address the gradient between the virtual and the real. But I have other things in progress that take that even further,” she hints. “It’s clunky, but eventually VR will be a medium in the canon.” — Fan Zhong
The 43-year-old Brooklyn-based artist Brian Belott seamlessly jumps from one idea and discipline to the next, counting among his heroes geniuses as disparate as the composer Domenico Scarlatti and the comedian Ernie Kovacs. Belott has embedded socks into dazzling abstractions on glass, bedecked remote controls and calculators with rocks and shells, and hidden dollar-store finds (fans, most recently) into bulky, uproarious “Puff” paintings that he makes by stuffing pillow innards between slices of paper. “They are really just big paper ice cream sandwiches,” he says. Belott has also been known to light his hair on fire—on video and in the Dada-inflected program he organized in July at the Serpentine Pavilion, in London, with fellow artists Jamian Juliano-Villani, Tyson Reeder, and others under the name George de George Hair Cuts Hair. (The show will be reprised sometime in the next year at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, in New York.) An obsessive collector of old color photos, audiotapes, and children’s art, Belott shares a wild array of discoveries on Instagram—ketchup drawings, aluminum-foil sculptures, and plastic hair and hair gel. “I’ve always liked that kind of lost archaeological data, stuff that is not the main event, not the top of the box, but just someone’s pocketbook that fell during an opera,” he says. “And now you’re looking at the contents—something like a cool piece of gum that has melted in the sun.” — Andrew Russeth
One of the standouts of the Berlin Biennale this summer was an installation in the European School of Management and Technology by the eight-person collective GCC, whose young members all have ties to Persian Gulf states—and today are scattered in Amsterdam, Berlin, Kuwait, London, and New York. A running track and miniature sand dunes carpeted the room-size piece Positive Pathways (+); at the center stood a plaster sculpture of a mother in a modern hijab performing a metaphysical ritual on her son. Their pose uncannily captured several of the zeitgeisty dichotomies that inform their practice, which explores the way their hyper-brand-conscious home countries incorporate Western trends into their evolving identities. “We wanted to make a work about the late-blooming New Age culture of the Gulf,” GCC explained via a group-sanctioned e-mail, “and how it is affecting everyone in the region, from conservative housewives to absolute monarchs toying with start-up culture.” The collective’s first Stateside gallery solo show is on view this month at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, in New York, reprising the Berlin installation alongside new work derived from YouTube videos of, among other things, modern-day healers on morning talk shows “making holistic remedies and products out of supermarket items.” — Kevin McGarry
Emily Mae Smith
In 2014, a debut solo show of stylized paintings at the tiny New York gallery Junior Projects catapulted Emily Mae Smith into the art world. Those Pop art–like works—one featured a broom lifted from Disney’s Fantasia and imbued with womanly attributes—possessed a graphic sensibility and provided sly feminist commentary. Stunningly self-assured, they exuded, as The New York Times put it, a “satirical ingenuity.” But their ultraflat finish belied a decade of messy trial and error. Smith, 37, who arrived in New York in 2004 from her native Texas, lost her longtime studio space three years ago—which threw her for a loop. “I was going through a really tough period,” she says. She turned the spare room in the apartment she shared with her artist boyfriend into a joint studio. In the cramped space, Smith worked faster and smaller, spreading out her ideas over several paintings, rather than cramming them all onto one canvas. “It was a revelation,” she says now. “It’s like when you cook something down until it’s really concentrated.” Since then, Smith has gone on to elaborate on her main themes—gender and eroticism—while making her broom (which has even acquired a chic bob and oversize sunglasses, like some impassive It girl) an avatar for the female painter. “That broom is so available for psychological projections: It’s a paintbrush! It’s a magic wand! It’s a phallus!” she says. “Oh, what would Freud say?” — Fan Zhong
Her parents are both painters; her grandfather was an actor; and her grandmother directed films, which makes Dora Budor, 32, a third-generation artist. Still, she says, growing up in Zagreb, when the Croatian capital was part of Yugoslavia, “we were quite isolated in terms of art. You couldn’t see many contemporary shows.” Happily, Budor had a fairy godmother in the form of her actual godmother, who lived in Venice and took her to the Biennale when she was a young teen. That early plunge into the international art world inspired Budor to move to New York. And in 2013, not much more than a decade after that first visit, she was back at the Biennale to show her own work, New Lavoro, which included a lifestyle brand, a café, and a soundscape, all centered on a reality show in which artists compete to win a free trip to—where else?—the Biennale. These days, her work is more object-based. For her first institutional solo show, “Spring,” at the Swiss Institute, in New York, in 2015, she composed sculptures and installations around movie props from Hollywood action films. And her work for “Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016,” currently on view at the Whitney Museum, includes the prop frogs used in the rain scene of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, which illuminate when people walk by them. What ties all of the work together, aside from its roots in cinema, is collaboration and coproduction—whether with fellow artists, actors, prop houses, or an audience. “I don’t like the idea of having complete control over a project,” Budor says. “I think art should be live, open to change.” — Jenny Comita
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