‘Skin Fruit’ in the Big Apple

NEW YORK – Tuesday evening, March 2: U2 guitarist the Edge is sitting beneath a large contemporary art statue depicting an Assyrian demon, while Cyndi Lauper is taking a closer look at a Takashi Murakami sculpture. The occasion? The opening of «Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection» as curated by Jeff Koons. Celebrities and more ordinary folk mingle among the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s floors at an event that has triggered heavy discussion in the city’s visual arts community and has attracted plenty of publicity, even before the show’s opening to the general public. The first reason is the obvious one. Koons, a well-known artist who established his reputation through a series of impressive works starting in the mid-1980s, is now crossing over to the curatorial department, choosing from among works that belong to a collector who, for over two decades, has been both a friend and fellow-traveler. As the American artist turns to curating, what is less known about this former stockbroker is that he is a collector himself, with a predilection for the so-called «old masters.» There’s another reason: The New Museum, the exhibition’s host, received heavy criticism, ranging from online bloggers to other American publications, for the fact that Greek-Cypriot collector Joannou, a New Museum trustee, is presenting part of his collection at that particular venue. «Why should a public foundation organize shows that might multiply the value of works belonging to private collectors, people who at the end of the day have an institutional role within the organization?» is one recurring question. At times that are difficult for the art world, a number of museums are hosting major private collections, a corpus of works that might have come together due to the personal taste and wealth of a collector yet also appeals to a large portion of the public. But what about the actual tribute? According to New Museum chief curator Richard Flood, the show is «sexy,» displaying powerful works that focus on the human body – pieces that are being exhibited in the USA for the very first time. Koons juxtaposes newer works against older ones, playing with size, as viewers feel they have been reduced in scale when coming face to face with gigantic works such as Roberto Cuoghi’s «Pazuzu,» Terence Koh’s «Chocolate Mountains» and «The Giant» by David Altmejd. The exhibition also showcases works by Joannou favorites Maurizio Cattelan, Robert Gober and duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Perhaps one might have expected a more heretic take from the curator, who, though reshuffling the collection’s cards in an enchanting way, failed to come up with any novel reading of these works that seem to have popped out of dreams and nightmares, minds full of images and visions. Had it been more daring, their presentation could have resembled a stroll into an enchanted forest full of strange beings. But that is not the case. On the contrary, the jostle of exhibits can produce a sense of bewilderment – imagine a kid playing with the toys in his room and then giving up. The exhibition runs to June 6.

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