The vision of an art collector

When the Cypriot-born businessman Dakis Joannou began collecting art, what first caught his attention was Jeff Koons’s One Ball Total Equilibrium, a fishtank with a basketball placed inside it. That was the 1980s and both consumerism and the media were primary subjects for art, especially American art. Joannou’s choice reflected that spirit and showed him to be a collector looking for a contemporary edge in the art he purchased. Soon enough, Joannou (currently the president of the Guggenheim’s International Directors’ Council and a member of the Board of Trustees of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York) grew to become one of the most renowned international collectors of contemporary art. His collection was publicized in parts through various exhibits that the DESTE Foundation (also established by him) mounted, many of them curated by Jeffrey Deitch, the American curator who was Joannou’s principal art adviser through the ’80s and early ’90s. The practice of curating exhibits, not only of Joannou’s collection but also of contempor- ary art in general, expanded with the opening of the DESTE Center for Contemporary Art in 1998, a valuable addition to the Athens art scene. Considering the Joannou collection’s prominent public image, it is perhaps strange that his acquisitions were never shown in Cyprus, and it is probably exactly because of this lapse that a major exhibit drawing from the collection’s principal works opened recently at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Center. Curated by Katerina Gregou, who is both director of the DESTE Center for Contemporary Art and the present curator of Joannou’s collection, the exhibit is built around principles that portray some of the major themes which shaped art from the 1980s through to the present. To chart contemporary art trends through the pieces in a private art collection is, of course, bound to leave voids and tend toward simplification, but the exhibit does nonetheless give a flavor of the developments in contemporary art both in subject matter and style over the course of the past couple of decades. Consumer culture, the body, personal identity and multiculturalism, coupled with the relationship between the urban hubs found at the center and on the periphery of art world decision- making, are the four broad categories used to match chronological development. Beginning with Jeff Koons and continuing with works by some of the most prominent artists who emerged in the ’90s – Kara Walker, Janine Antoni, Chris Ofili, Shirin Neshat and Chen Zhen among them – the exhibit also gives a sense of the collection’s broad scope and a feel for the contemporary.

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