5 Contemporary Artists You Need To Know

Art is experiencing a renaissance thanks to a new generation of fans, collectors and artists. A recent stat released by The Broad was as eye-opening as the downtown LA museum’s striking design. Of the more than 400,000 people who have visited America’s newest modern art mecca, 70% were younger than 34 with an average age of 32. Social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook have played a key role in the resurgence by allowing art to be captured (through pictures and video) and shared by millions with a tap of a button. You may never be able to afford a Jeff Koons sculpture, but you can “own” his iconic Michael Jackson and Bubbles (his chimp) piece on your IG page. The art world can be a weird, cold place so if you don’t know your Banksy from your Mr. Brainwash don't stress, we’re here to help you with the top contemporary artists in the game.


The Artist: As an OG member of LA-based graffiti crew MSK, Retna is a street art living legend, but he achieved worldwide #trending status when he created the album artwork for Justin Beiber’s “Purpose”.

The Art: His eye-catching typography combines ancient and traditional symbols and letters from old English, Native American, Asian, Hebrew and Arab text. You might not be able to decipher his secret language, but it spells out $$$ with a recent original going for $40K.

Where to See It: Retna is the Kanye West of the contemporary art world. His late night rants on Instagram are as legendary as his profitable collaborations with the likes of Nike, Louis Vuitton and Helmut Lang. He is THAT rich and famous megalomaniac who you love to hate, who can cover a historic building with his instantly recognizable hieroglyphics, work with at-risk kids, and post 4am groupie nudes on his “gram” all in a 24-hour span.


The Artist: Billed as the French Banksy, JR is as much an artist as he is an activist, using powerful black-and-white imagery in public spaces to address timely political problems. Just like Banksy, JR redefines the meaning of artist, choosing to proliferate his form around the world, rather than on gallery walls or on the web.

The Art: The semi-anonymous artist describes himself as a “photograffeur” who got his start as a graffiti tagger in Paris. Like most artists, it took him years to find his form, combining his love for photographer and graffiti skills with his passion for social activism.

Where to See It: Like a superhero, JR springs to action when duty calls, racing to New York to hand out giant “We Are Watching” eyes in a protest march for police abuse or traveling to the war-torn Middle East to comment on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The media-savvy JR proclaims that he owns the biggest gallery in the world, that being the world itself.

Ai Weiwei

The Artist: Ai Weiwei has been deemed the most powerful artist in the world, feared by governments and idolized by protesters. A longtime Chinese human rights activist, he made global headlines when he was secretly detained for 81 days without any official charges being filed after speaking out against the Chinese Communist regime. He uses art as weapon of choice to stick it to the powers that be.

The Art: Ai Weiwei may look like a solemn monk, but he’s a dissident for the digital age who uses art, words and pictures to push boundaries and hot button issues. His unique and fascinating mash up of forms, mediums, and politics has influenced countless modern artists and social movements as well as many genres of creative arts, including fashion, architecture and film.

Where to See It: After his prison release, Ai Weiwei was back at it again, telling his own inspiring story in in a must-see documentary, Ai Weiwei “Never Sorry” (check it out on Netflix). An avid social media user who started out as a political blogger, his daily posts show his artistic process and media manipulation, while giving us insight into real world issues.

David Choe

The Artist: Choe was a well-known graffiti artist and budding graphic novelist when he was hired by then Facebook president Sean Parker to paint a mural at the social network’s first corporate office in Palo Alto way back in 2005. When the mural was finished, Parker gave Choe the option of taking cash or stock options. Choe, a confessed gambling addict, put his faith on the year-old start-up and ended up hitting the jackpot as his 0.1 to 0.25 percent of the company is estimated to be now worth $200 million.

The Art: Choe is an outsider among outsiders, whose work is impossible to be define. He works with spray cans and acrylics, a pop culture geek and a surrealist painter. His themes generally involve anatomically-impossible human-animal hybrids, urban street culture and sex.

Where to See It: The self-described “Korean (American) gone bad” has used fame and fortune to step outside the art world to pursue whatever artistic whim that he wants to explore. As a Vice correspondent he rode freight trains across America, then started a raunchy comedy podcast with porn star Asa Akira and is now in a performance art punk band with former Beastie Boy’s collaborator Money Mark. If you’re a fan of his art/schtick, follow his always interesting Instagram and Snapchat for his latest colorful adventure.

Takashi Murakami

The Artist: The Japanese Andy Warhol is now an international brand name, who blurs the traditional lines between art and commerce with creative collaborations with the likes of Kanye West (“Graduation” album art) and Louis Vuitton (collector-edition handbags).

The Art: Murakami’s “cute,” “psychedelic” and “satirical” art is a genre unto itself, often copied, but never surpassed. The “super flat" fine artist works in many mediums (animation, painting, sculpture) playing around with the same iconic motifs (smiling flowers, colorful skulls, tripped out anime characters) that look playful and childish on the surface, but actually have sick and twisted sexual overtones underneath the glossy work.

Where to See It:Named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People,” Murakami is that rare artist who can cross into pop culture and business, while still being respected by the artist community. His career-spanning perspectives have travelled the world from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, while his influence can be seen in everything from anime to fake handbags.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published