Koons and Joannou The Pre-Show Figures


Last Thursday the New Museum’s press office announced the artists selected for the upcoming, controversial-in-all-corners exhibition of Greek super-collector Dakis Joannou’s cache of contemporary art, curated by Jeff Koons. The show, dubbed Skin Fruit and opening March 3, will feature 100 works by 50 artists, selected by Koons from the more than 1,500 works (by 400 artists) that comprise the Athens-based collection.

The artist roster hits many shades of blue chip contemporary, from (American) eternals Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, to a thorough representation of the mid-2000s and the Lower East Side via Dan Colen and Nate Lowman. There are those who came up in the 2000s-Paul Chan repping the political, Seth Price the intellectual, and Assume Vivid Astro Focus, the electro-alongside stars who rose during the 1990s, among them pop conceptualists and YBAs including Maurizio Cattelan and Gillian Wearing. Blockbuster celebrity artists like Matthew Barney and Takashi Murakami are joined by Koons himself, who has curated one work of his own into the show: One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1985), identified in the press release as the “first major” artwork acquired by Joannou. Some of the lesser-known artists in the show happen to be the two Greeks, Christiana Soulou and Jannis Varelas. LEFT: CHARLES RAY, ALUMINUM GIRL, 2003.

The demographics aren’t so broad. With the exceptions of the very international Murakami and, in a sense, Ashley Bickerton, no artists are based outside the states or the EU. There are 15 women; that is, less than one third. Only three artists-Mark Bradford, Chris Ofili and Kara Walker-are people of color. Of the women who are exhibiting, several are known for practices that explicitly embrace body as subject and/or material, including Janine Antoni, Vanessa Beecroft, Nathalie Djurberg and Kiki Smith. Interesting that Joannou-held artists Marina Abramovic, Orlan and Dana Schutz all are not included. As with all this work, rest assured you can see it elsewhere.

The driving theme of the exhibition is ostensibly the body in contemporary art and “the human form as a vessel of and vehicle for experience.” Sculpture predominates (judging by the artists, and the press images in circulation), and this prevalence could be a bit reassuring in terms of the relative homogeneity of the artists-not because sculpture is a practice done best by white American men, but because the show appears not to aspire to comprehensiveness or to a grand narrative of recent art.  Based on this initial information, it seems that Koons may have sincerely pursued a thematic interest to the (best case scenario) point of un-PC, undemocratic unevenness.

Some artists are more familiar with the New Museum than others. Two names return from Younger Than Jesus, Tauba Auerbach and Haris Epaminonda.  Urs Fischer has curated shows at the DESTE Foundation (Joannou’s Athens non-profit where he presents work from his collection) and is in the process of de-installing his own at the New Museum. He is in Skin Fruit, too, and having dealt visitors phenomenological games of scale and mechanized body parts all winter, his contribution is likely to be a site-specific riff on Koon’s theme.

In addition to works already a part of the Joannou Collection, the exhibition will also premiere a handful of reworked projects by Charles Ray, Jenny Holzer and Robert Cuoghi. Pawel Althamer and Tino Sehgal will contribute actual bodies, each via their own brand of “living sculpture,” exemplifying poles of mimetic materiality and evasive ephemerality, respectively.

A couple years ago, Sehgal praised Koons for recognizing “that critique is a trap since it also affirms what it criticizes and does not propose a solution to the problem.” The Museum offers Skin Fruit as an exhibition with a brazen lack of critique-wary restraint. By showcasing the private, inimitable holdings of a trustee, the institution puts forth a profusion of conflicting interests, baiting the type of self-negating critique Sehgal finds useless if not counterproductively hegemonic. It is a savvy setup for introducing a disarmingly new institutional gesture. And one bottom line is this gesture makes an epically exclusive trove of art accessible to the public.

Briskly tucked into the press release is the description of the overarching series of exhibitions for which Skin Fruit serves only as the debut. “The Imaginary Museum” will feature presumably similar artist-as-curator/collector mash-ups availing other world-class private collections to New Museum visitors.

My cynical side wonders if the franchise isn’t premature or even a bit precautionary, regardless of the fact that it was conceived in tandem with the Koons/Joannou pairing. One would hope the contention swarming Skin Fruit is viewed by the museum as integral to the project’s life as a meta-exercise in institutional critique, which it really has no choice but to be if it is to be cognizant of the boundaries it crosses. Templating the exhibition allows for future iterations to be calibrated to the critical reception of Koons/Joannou, lessening some of Skin Fruit‘s riskiness that in my view is so exciting. Regardless, the one show and the series both amount to deliberate, head-on engagement with vital, murky ethical matters, and further shrouds the new New Museum’s dichotomous iconoclastic/marketing-obsessed agenda in mystery, in a very provocative and welcome way.

And so what’s with the curious title, Skin Fruit? Put it in Google and you’ll get recipes for citrus facials. The Museum’s press release states that it “alludes to notions of genesis, evolution, original sin, and sexuality.” I’d emphasize the last bit, as the title very nearly alludes to a crass, anatomy-oriented musical instrument. Perhaps this device should be read as the central figure of a show that is on some level essentially about guys showing off, via nested gestures of power, wealth and taste.