We live in an excellent moment for art. Yes, I’m surprised too. Given the sheer quantity of junk to be seen, such a declaration seems absurdly Pollyannaish. But after a friend asked me to tell him which artists to watch, I was shocked to find my list verging on 50 names. At the top were a solid 10 artists—some already famous, some little known—who seemed not just good, but so good they might enter the history books. (I was counting only artists who belong to our moment. Other living geniuses, like Jasper Johns and Richard Serra, proved themselves in earlier eras.)
Think back to the great years and places in art: 1515 in Rome, or 1912 in Paris. How many of us can cite 50 Renaissance talents, or that many cubists, whose work still shines? Finding so many artists worth getting behind in 2011 must say something about the moment we’re in.
Here, then, are the top 10 artists of our time—at least as I judge them. A handful are showing work right now at the Venice Biennale, the world’s most important roundup of contemporary art. Many others will have work for sale at Art Basel, the huge commercial fair that opens in Switzerland on June 15. I’m not certain all the artists on my list are flawless, or that I won’t change my mind about some of them. But I can say this to anyone who cites today’s junk as supposed proof of art’s current failure: it’s just the dross on which quality work always floats.