What, exactly, is visual culture? In a world where we communicate increasingly with images, it’s an ever-expanding field, comprising not just art, photography, and design, but also memes, advertising, histories of representation, and the very technologies through which all this flows. In 2017, visual culture spanned from Arthur Jafa’s efforts to create an archive of the black aesthetic to Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms” becoming a calling card for the #metoo movement. It meant collector Yusaku Maezawa crowning Basquiat as America’s most expensive artist and Agnes Gund using art to help spark prison reform. But it also meant the pussyhat, the ubiquity of the Memphis Group, and incredible technical advances like augmented reality’s newest release, Magic Leap One. Here, Artsy’s editors select the 25 individuals who had the biggest impact in changing the visual landscape this year.
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Powerfully addressed race relations in the United States and continued his effort to create a visual archive of black American life. Very rarely does an artwork come around that has the effect of a literal punch to the gut. Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message is Death is one such artwork. The seven-and-a-half-minute video, set to Kanye West’s gospel-infused “Ultralight Beam,” cycles rapidly through found video footage and home movies: a police officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back; teens dancing the dougie; President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at a memorial service for Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney and eight parishioners killed by a white supremacist at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church; clips of James Brown, Beyoncé, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, and the Notorious B.I.G.; helicopter footage of the L.A. Riots; and fans swag surfin’ at a basketball game. It is tragic to an extent that brings tears to your eyes even upon recollection. But it is also exultant and proud.