10 Contemporary Artists Every Millennial Should Know


Whether you’re an art aficionado or graphically green, you’ll want to remember these people.

They’re either some of the most successful, groundbreaking, or up-and-coming artists of the 21st century, so familiarize yourself with their background and work now and bust out the fun facts when someone mentions them at a future conglomeration of some sort.

1. Jeff Koons (b. 1955)

Can you picture those sardonic sculptures of balloon animals made from stainless steel? Yeah, that’s Jeff Koons. The American artist is famous for his reproductions of banal items and for exploring the concept of “art” in a media-saturated culture. He’s also the world record holder for the most expensive auctioned item by a living artist — “Tulips” sold for just under $33.7 million last year.

 2. Ai Weiwei (b. 1957)

This Chinese artist has experience as a sculptor, photographer, film director, architect and curator, but is perhaps best known for his political activism, as he is outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government. He was called a “deviant and a plagiarist” by his motherland in 2011, and has spent time in a Beijing jail. He is the subject of a 2012 American documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

3. Banksy (b. 1974...probably)

If you find yourself strolling the streets of Bristol, England, you’ll likely come across a creation by Banksy, the U.K.-based graffiti artist, painter, and film director. His satirical and rebellious images feature a distinctive stenciling technique, and the city is his canvas — he decorates walls and sidewalks with the likes of rats and skeletons.

4. Shepard Fairey (b. 1970)

Frank Shepard Fairey emerged from the skateboarding scene to become a well-known contemporary graphic designer and illustrator. You may recognize his work from 2008: he designed the iconic “Hope” poster for President Barack Obama.

5. James De La Vega (b. 1968)

If you’ve wandered the streets of New York City and ever stared at the sidewalk (which, if you’re a true New Yorker, is pretty much every day), at some point you’ll probably see the work of James De La Vega. The native New Yorker, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has been scribbling inspirational quotes in chalk on the streets of the city for years. One of his main messages? “Become Your Dream.” He’s also a muralist.

6. Urs Fischer (b. 1973)

Swiss-born Urs Fischer is an artist and photographer living in New York. He’s known for both small waxwork items as well as large, room-sized installations — such as “You,” his 2007 creation at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery for which he brought in contractors to dig an 8-foot hole where the floor had been.

7. Ryan Trecartin (b. 1981)

Texas-born Ryan Trecartin is a young artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, he’s known for having his friends and family help him create his works — a kind of social collaboration that exemplifies youth culture today.

8. Rosson Crow (b. 1982)

L.A.-based painter Rosson Crow’s works are larger than life: Inspired by diverse influences including Baroque architecture and cowboy culture, she creates interiors that are busy, exuberant, graffiti-like and rife with theatrics. Along with Ryan Trecartin, Crow was featured by the Wall Street Journal in 2006 as one of the top 10 emerging artists.

9. Julie Combal (b. 1977)

This native New Yorker is a Skidmore grad and creates beautiful paintings, drawings and prints that highlight the beauty in nature and the human relationship — and occasional conflict — with it.

10. Bruce High Quality (? - 2001)

Bruce High Quality is the name of a fictional deceased artist created by the Bruce High Quality Foundation, an arts collective based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The group is known for its subversive reactions to public art installations — like “Public Sculpture Tackle,” an ongoing project (documented on video) which features one of the members wearing football-like gear and climbing, hurling himself against or hanging from public sculptures in Manhattan. Or following around a Whitney Museum-sponsored "Floating Island" in New York Harbor on a small skiff with a small replica of orange gates that had been displayed as art in Central Park earlier that year (pictured).