Jeff Koons: The Artist as Collector-Curator

05Mar10

A Fragonard in Koons' private collection. Image via The New York Times.

Jeff Koons, one of the world’s most famous living artists, is well-known for his inflatable lobsters, puppy dogs, and porn stars but he is also a passionate and very private collector of Old Masters and blue-chip 19th and 20th century works.  In addition to being an avid collector, Mr. Koons can now add curator to his resumé.  The notion of artist-curator is a time-honored tradition in art history; both Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol and more recently Elizabeth Murray, Chuck Close, and Scott Burton have all curated their own shows.

Randy Kennedy wrote an article in The New York Times, “The Koons Collection,” coinciding with the opening of a controversial exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, “Skin Fruit,” on March 3rd.  The exhibition features the collection of board member Dakis Joannou and is guest curated by Jeff Koons.  The exhibition has been criticized because of the clubby nature of the relationship between Mr. Joannou and Mr. Koons, as well as the fact that Mr. Joannou is on the board of the museum and the the value of his collection will be undeniably augmented by this exhibition.

Mr. Koons addressed his personal collection for the very first time in Mr. Kennedy’s article, making the point that for him, creating and collecting artwork is inseparable.  In fact, he collected before he could even afford to collect by trading work with other artists.  Mr. Kennedy describes the collection, installed salon style on the salmon pink walls of the most private room in Koons’ Upper East Side residence, his bedroom:

In one corner hangs an early-16th-century painted bust of a hollow-cheeked, very tender-looking Jesus by Quentin Massys, the first important painter of the Antwerp school. Across the way, perhaps reflecting Mr. Koons’s love of mingling the sacred and the profane, a risqué Fragonard stares back, showing a young woman cradling a pair of puppies at her bared breasts. But for the most part this extremely private collection… seems far more classicist than Koonsian, like an eccentric little gallery transplanted from the Met: Manet, Courbet, Poussin and scholars’ delights like Nikolaus Knüpfer and Cornelis van Haarlem.”

The artists selected by Koons for “Skin Fruit” include Urs Fischer, Mike Kelley, Mark Grotjahn, Robert Gober, Elliott Hundley, Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman, and Kara Walker, among many other contemporary art stars.  There is just one work included by Mr. Koons himself.

“Skin Fruit:  Selections from the Dakkis Joannou Collection” runs through June 6, 2010 at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002.

– Emily Waldorf

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