What Makes an Artist’s Artist? We Asked 6 Leading Figures to Name the Most Underrated—and Overrated—Artists of All Time

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but artists often see things differently from the rest of us. A masterpiece to a layperson’s eye might only make an artist roll theirs. On the other hand, we might be too quick to overlook an extraordinary work hiding in plain sight.

We asked six artists what they think are the most underrated and overrated works throughout art history. Here’s what they said.

 

Natalie Frank

Brancacci Chapel by Masaccio, 15th-18th Century, fresco Italy, Tuscany, Florence, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Brancacci Chapel. Photo: Antonio Quattrone/Mondadori Portfoliovia Getty Images.

Underrated: It might be Masaccio’s Brancacci Chapel. His frescos marked the beginning of humanism and perspective in Western art. His narrative paintings echo in my mind years later to another artist much more overlooked: Stanley Spencer. I just went to see his chapel in Sandham, U.K. His paintings are truly bizarre, and wholly his own. He approached the body with similar reverence and disdain for the humanity they represent. 

Overrated: Maybe the Mona Lisa? If I had to save one painting in a fire, I’d run toward the Goya. It’s odd what we fetishize, contemporary art certainly fits in this category. Between a Max Beckmann and a Banksy, I’m hoping the Banksy is the one being shredded. 

Tomokazu Matsuyama

Richard Lin, <i>Painting Relief Square, Circle, Aluminium Strip</i> (1960). Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Richard Lin, Painting Relief Square, Circle, Aluminium Strip (1960). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Underrated: Richard Lin. Being from across boundaries, not Asian nor Western, is still considered uncategorizable. This area of diversity is yet to be explored. It appears it takes much longer to be acknowledged. Lin’s mix of techniques, concept, quality, and sense of identity, should be appreciated more.

Overrated: How many Keith Haring spin-offs do we have to see? It makes it even more worrisome that major galleries are welcoming some of these artists for just the sake of its market value.

 

Julia Haft-Candell

Barbara Chase-Riboud, Mao's Organ (2007). Photo by Ben Davis.

Barbara Chase-Riboud, Mao’s Organ (2007). Photo by Ben Davis.

Underrated: When I think of overrated artists in art history, I think of the book Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo, in which the author describes the trouble with generation after generation of white men being told they deserve power and attention. While Pollock, DeKooning, and Rothko were good artists, their whiteness and maleness primed them for being considered genius; perhaps they were more mediocre than we give them credit for. 

The underrated artists are the women and BIPOC artists of this, and really all, eras that have been working their asses off to be exceptional artists, only to be considered less-than in the eyes of Western society. Lee Krasner, Annie Albers, and Joan Mitchell are all underrated. I work in sculpture and ceramics, and in school I was taught all about Peter Voulkos and Donald Judd. Why wasn’t I taught about Betye Saar, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Nancy Graves, Augusta Savage, Camille Billops, and Noah Purifoy?

 

Xavier Veilhan 

A gallery assistant poses with ‘Girl with Balloon’ 2006 artwork by Banksy.
e public on July 12, 2018. Photo: credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images.

Underrated: Olivier Mosset, who is currently shown in New York City, is much underrated!

Overrated: Banksy’s Girl with a Balloon.

 

Tomas Saraceno

Fly with Aerocene Pacha, a project for an Aerocene era with Tomás Saraceno. On the 25th of January 2020, 32 world records, recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) were set with Aerocene pilot Leticia Noemi Marques, flying with the message “Water and Life are Worth More than Lithium” written with the communities of Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina. This marks the most sustainable flight in human history. The Aerocene Foundation is made possible by the generous support of Eric and Caroline Freymond. Fly with Aerocene Pacha was produced by the Aerocene Foundation and Studio Tomás Saraceno. Supported by Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee. First exhibited at CCK, curated by Veronica Fiorito.

Fly with Aerocene Pacha, a project for an Aerocene era with Tomás Saraceno. On the 25th of January 2020, 32 world records, recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) were set with Aerocene pilot Leticia Noemi Marques, flying with the message “Water and Life are Worth More than Lithium” written with the communities of Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina. This marks the most sustainable flight in human history.

Underrated: Planet Earth in the anthropo-not-seen*

* Anthropo-not-seen, a term from Marisol de la Cadena: “The world-making process through which heterogeneous worlds that do not make themselves through the division between humans and nonhumans—nor do they necessarily conceive the different entities in their assemblages through such a division—are both obliged into that distinction and exceed it.”

 

Judith Bernstein 

Judith Bernstein, <i>Horizontal</i>, (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery.

Judith Bernstein, Horizontal (1973). Courtesy of the artist and Kasmin Gallery.

Underrated: Me! Because of the sexual and political content in my work, the depth and range have been ignored. My large-scale Horizontal was censored in 1974. But my work has transcended the conservative climate.

Robert Colescott’s George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware is emblematic of his fabulous and provocative work. In this case, re-envisioning Western art—putting black history front and center.

Rose Wylie’s Pink Skater (Will I Win, Will I Win) is a jubilant painting of a dancer springing through the air. It asks the question “Am I good enough?” This piece gets to the heart of women aiming while and questioning their role.

Walter de Maria was an extraordinary artist who pioneered Minimalism, conceptual art, and earth art. We’ve only scratched the surface of exploring his range and depth.

Dana Schutz’s work is impactful, expressive, and poignant. Her skill is masterful and she—like myself—uses a lot of humor in her paintings. Mountain Group is very inventive and mines from both contemporary art and her own psyche.

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