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WARNING! This post will be really pretentious.
The self-styled grandmother of performance art is present throughout my book in many ways, some obvious and some not so much. Her work is very focused on the body and themes of endurance, and has included such acts as cutting and whipping herself, lying on blocks of ice, lying naked whilst draped in a skeleton, and sitting quietly every day for 3 months at the Museum of Modern Art whilst people were invited to sit opposite her. It all sounds ridiculous, and it kind of is, but very few things in the world have the same level of emotional impact on me as her work does. She can be both epic and deeply personal, and emphasises the divide between acting and performance. Her series of performances with her former partner Ulay are particularly beautiful to me. It's not quite the love story for the ages (he cheated on her) but the work they created together is priceless. If you're interested in her work, check out the documentary "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present". It's a bit of a hagiography but it works as a great introduction to performance art.
Art is all about the personal, often inviting the audience to gawk at one's most private moments in an almost voyeuristic manner. Frida Kahlo and her many self-portraits did this in a beautiful manner, combining beauty with the surreal and grotesque while including her uncompromising feminist and social ideals as well as her Mexican heritage. I love how colorful her work is, and I love that she doesn't try to hide her flaws, such as her famous unibrow. I have a soft spot for the work of her husband Diego Rivera as well, but Kahlo's in a league of her own. Check out Julie Taymor's movie "Frida" for a gorgeously shot biopic of her life.
You may think that Damien Hirst is the most famous user of polka dots. You'd be wrong. Imagine painting a pattern over a surface and then looking up to see that pattern everywhere - on the walls, on your skin, in the skies, everywhere. That's what happened to the Japanese artist Kusama, who lives voluntarily in a hospital for the mentally ill. Her work, which includes paintings, films, light instillations, and some very disturbing sculptures (click with caution, and yes, that boat is covered in what you think it's covered in). It's all consuming and I love it for that. She's also begun to get the audience involved in her work, something I highly approve of, and have included in my book (although the scene in my book involves more nudity!) Check out this cool video from London's Tate Modern and tell me you wouldn't love to get involved with that! Yoko Ono counts her as an inspiration. Make of that what you will.
Admit it, you love him already!
I love his combination of using very traditional craft styles to tell decidedly modern British stories, although this Yank admits that some of the references fly over her head. Like the other artists on this list, his work can often be very personal but it's also reflective of that odd foreign body known as the British class system, something that fascinates me in a weird way. I really don't think pictures do his work justice (which is a shame for me since I've never actually seen any of his work in person, oh what a tragic life I lead!) because it's so detailed and intricate, but give him a Google and see what you think. He's also very funny.
Whiteread is most well known for creating casts of every day objects. That sounds weird, and I know many people, critics and novices alike, who despise her work. The year she won the Turner Prize for a concrete cast of an old Victorian house, she also won a prize for the worst British artist. Hey, great art inspires debate! Her work is very focused on space and the space that everything around us fills.
One of the biggest themes in "The Art of Love" is transformation, and how much you can change yourself before you become someone completely different. A lot of that was inspired by Cindy Sherman, who is simultaneously a photographer, artist, performer, scholar and feminist critic. Her pictures, where she is almost always the model in various costumes and make-up, focus heavily on the role of women in art and the stereotypes portrayed within. Sex features heavily as well, of course! Sometimes it's hard to believe that this woman is the same as this one. She's such a chameleon and her skills allow her to take on almost any personality she pleases. A picture really can say a thousand words, often far more with Sherman's work.
So that's just a small portion of the hundreds of artists I love. Honestly, I think almost anything can be art, from video games to poetry to furniture. You just have to be willing to look at things a little differently.