Curated by Jeff Koons, “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection” is the first exhibition in the United States of the Athens-based Dakis Joannou Collection, renowned as one of the leading collections of contemporary art in the world. This is also the first exhibition curated by artist Jeff Koons, who was invited to organize the show by the New Museum and whose work inspired Joannou to start his collection in 1985.
Including over 100 works by fifty international artists spanning several generations, the exhibition explores the age-old preoccupation with the human body as a vessel and vehicle for experience, a distinctive focus of the collection. Koons’s title “Skin Fruit” alludes to notions of genesis, evolution, original sin, and sexuality. “Skin” and “fruit” evoke the tensions between interior and exterior, between what we see and what we consume. In the exhibition role-playing games and dramas occur: a man will stage a religious ritual; a sculpture literally sings out; white-chocolate monuments tower above visitor’s heads; voracious creatures eat themselves and each other while bodies are buried or frozen.
It is no coincidence that Joannou’s collection developed in the cultural context of Greece, where classical sculpture defined the Western canon of anatomical representation. Artists have arrived at a much more uncertain image of humankind in this new century, a time in which bodies are still admired but also are assaulted by forces of our own making. Joannou’s collection is comprised of more than 1,500 works by 400 contemporary artists, from the most eminent to those just emerging. For “Skin Fruit,” Koons has selected works in many mediums including sculptures, works on paper, paintings, installations, and videos.
The show also marks the premiere of new works such as Charles Ray’s re-envisioned Revolution Counter-Revolution (1990/2010), on view on the fourth floor; a public installation of Jenny Holzer’s Selections from the Survival Series (1984) on the New Museum’s façade; and a special 3-D book commission by Italian artist Roberto Cuoghi available in the bookstore. “Skin Fruit” features only one work by Koons—his One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (1985)—the first major artwork that Joannou acquired, initiating the collection that would grow to be one of the world’s finest. Within the context of the exhibition this influential object, with its both familiar and mysterious basketball suspended in fluid, becomes a point of origin and of departure.
According to Koons, “When you collect within the time of your own life, you confront your own mortality, and things that you respond to…you enter into the metaphysical aspect of art and art history. The vocabulary is not just linear, it’s like how light bends in time. History bends in time. And a collection bends in time.”
The exhibition is a merging of viewpoints: Dakis Joannou’s keen, critical eye, and Jeff Koons’s obsession with vision, clarity, and transparency. The works on display represent some of the best examples of contemporary art from the past twenty-five years, which Joannou acquired before hierarchies and values had been settled. Koons’s recent paintings are testament to his panoptical gaze: large canvases with superimposed figurative fragments from different original and appropriated images, including commercial photos, stylized details from Courbet paintings, comics, and cartoons. It is the same approach that Koons uses to curate the exhibition; “Skin Fruit” is installed so that most of the work is visible at the same time. For Koons, seeing means seeing everything; within the exhibition, Koons’s hyper-vision translates into an increasingly complex quest to strike a balance between disorder and form, between noise and music.
The Imaginary Museum
With the exhibition “Skin Fruit,” the New Museum launches The Imaginary Museum, a new exhibition series that will periodically showcase leading private collections of contemporary art from around the world, providing the opportunity for rarely seen, great works of art to be accessible to a broader public.
About the Dakis Joannou Collection and the DESTE Foundation
Dakis Joannou, a noted philanthropist, arts patron, and New Museum Trustee based in Athens, Greece, has worked closely with artists and curators since 1985 to assemble an unparalleled collection of iconic contemporary works that reflect his distinctive passion and fervor. Focusing on contemporary art from the ’80s to the present, the collection is constantly enriched with works by emerging artists. The collection contains major concentrations of works by some of the most distinguished and influential artists of the late twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Curated shows from the collection have been presented at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Kunsthalle, Vienna; Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna; the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki; and the Nicosia Municipal Arts Center, Cyprus, among other international venues.
“Collecting is, for me, an adventure, a set of different ‘lived’ experiences, a constant flow of meeting, talking, listening, looking. It is an act of understanding and participating. And within this never ending involvement with ‘what is happening,’ the moments when I see exciting works for the first time constitute some of the highlights of my life,” says Joannou.
In 1983, Joannou established the DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art—a nonprofit institution based in Athens, Greece, at the suggestion of Pierre Restany. Ever since, DESTE has been organizing exhibitions and supporting projects and publications internationally. Through an exhibition program that promotes emerging as well as established artists, the DESTE Foundation aims to broaden the audience for contemporary art, to enhance opportunities for young artists, to explore the connections between contemporary art and culture, and to encourage new scholarship on contemporary art. DESTE has established the Contemporary Greek Artists’ Archive, a resource for curators and researchers, as well as a specialized art library which is open to the public.