With the possible exception of rock and roll, no other endeavor has been as mystified—and indeed, as commodified—by the cast of characters who create it as art. At least since the days of Warhol's Factory, the New York City art scene has come to symbolize a kind of secret universe—a great party thrown for only the most enigmatically fabulous. Last year, the untimely passing of a certain runaway turned art-world icon named Dash Snow left many asking: What's next? But then, that has always been the question.

The seven emerging artists in this portfolio represent a changing of the creative guard—a crop of bold new talents who are taking the spotlight off themselves and putting it back on the art. They span all media and all manner of aesthetic, and though they are young, they have devoted their lives not to answering the question "What's next?" but to always giving us reason to ask.

From left: Nate Lowman, Aaron Young, and Mika Rottenberg in Young's Soho loft.

Friend to the late Dash Snow, boyfriend to the hyphenated Olsen twin, Nate Lowman would be a talked-about figure in the New York social scene even if he weren't making groundbreaking art. But he is, as proven by his second solo opening at Maccarone, a show loaded with dark, subversive pieces in multiple media, like a pair of steel crucifixes fashioned out of tow-truck parts. It marked something of a return for Lowman after a couple of disillusioned years spend on hiatus. "You wake up one day and you realize that you just work for the rich people—I mean the really rich ones," he says. "I got really fucked up by the idea that no one in my family would be able to afford my art—which, when you think about it, is fucking ridiculous." Lowman's back in the studio now and has plenty of inspiration. Witness his prints modeled after the bullet-hole magnets people stick on their cars, one of which is overlaid with images of pretzel-shaped turds. "Things with holes have a connotation—doughnut hole, bullet hole, glory hole," he says. "I was thinking sort of 'beyond the asshole.' It's retarded, I guess. But the most absurd idea sometimes slowly yields the best results."
[Photo Gallery: View Nate Lowman's art portfolio]

For his final undergrad project at San Francisco Art Institute in 2000, multimedia artist Aaron Young made a video of a motorcyclist doing tire burnouts in Diego Rivera's former studio space. "It almost got me kicked out of school," he says. "But my professor stood up for me." Four years later, Young was vindicated when MoMA snapped up the piece for $5,000. The throttle on his career has been open ever since. In 2006 he was selected for the Whitney Biennial, and the following year Tom Ford threw the after-party for Young's performance piece Greeting Card, in which 13 bikers carved skids and whirls into 288 plywood panels on the floor of New York City's Park Avenue Armory—while spectators watched in gas masks. Young's pieces now fetch six-figure sums. "I find it really tough to swallow when collectors resell my work for a shitload of money," he says. "Not because I'm not getting it. It just kills the purity." Next up is an enormous gold-dipped Roman chariot impaled on a 30-foot column inside Rome's 2,000-year-old Teatro di Marcello—"the biggest thing I've ever done," Young says. Don't expect that to be true for long.
[Photo Gallery: View Aaron Young's art portfolio]