Thursday, April 22, 2010

Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection, curated by Jeff Koons

The New Museum should know that the entrance is the first impression, but this superstar show left me asking where to begin? Literally, where to begin? Walking in to Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection, I quickly learned what to expect: confusing choices regarding space and a lack of finesse in execution.
Skin Fruit highlights pieces of the Dakis Joannou collection, which begins and ends with Jeff Koons. In 1985, Joannou bought his first piece of art, Jeff Koon’sOne Ball Total Equilibrium Tank. Critics have interpreted the basketball suspended in a tank of liquid as an eye, a womb, and a globe. From this point on, Dakis Joannou collected art with an undertone of understanding humans through the body and “new images of man.”
Jeff Koon’s title, Skin Fruit, references this relationship to the human body, whether it be internal versus external like Ashley Bickerton’s F.O.B , a strangely beautiful but at the same time grotesque sculpture of an obese torso, aging and decay, or sin and sexuality like Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Black Narcissus, a phallic sculpture that creates human profiles in the shadows. Most of the work pokes and prods at ironic, satirical subjects, such as Paul McCarthy’s Paula Jones. Koons selected over one hundred works by fifty different contemporary artists who modeled this idea of “skin fruit,” some more successful than others.
Jeff Koons is known as an artist who is obsessed with vision. The curator/artist’s only piece in the show is One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank. One critic has mentioned that the viewer emerges from the elevator on the second floor and comes face to face with this work of art, which functions as the eye from which to see the exhibit. I kept this in mind as a walked through Skin Fruit. This is Jeff Koon’s first time curating a show of other artists’ work, but looking back on it, is it truly his vision? This might be his first attempt, but could this simply be a marketing ploy to increase New Museum attendance?
It is plausible, given the hype surrounding this exhibit from the start. Before the art was even displayed, this exhibition was the subject of many heated reviews. Billionaire Dakis Joannou, a member of the board of the New Museum, displays his collection, curated by none other than Jeff Koons. This show should increase the value of his collection, mostly from the surrounding controversy.
Director Lisa Phillips defends the New Museum’s choice in the exhibition. The Dakis Joannou collection, in her eyes, is one of the best collections of contemporary art in the world, and her responsibility is to share it with her audience. She also champions the relationship between public/private organizations. But, with any good controversy come even better ticket sales.
Although this exhibition will most likely raise the market value for Joannou’s collection, it does not mean that this show was artistically and visually successful. I experienced moments of hope and moments of confusion throughout the exhibition. Overall, the layout of the New Museum did not lend itself to this exhibition. Pieces of art ran together, like the woman repeatedly singing Tino Sehgal’s This Is Propaganda next to Maurizio Cattelan’s All, which was what seemed to be bodies covered in sheets. The staircase between floors in the gallery was awkward. Was I supposed to go up the stairs? Luckily I did, or I would have missed Cady Noland’s Bluewald, the Harvey Lee Oswald image with holes cut out as if he was part of a kid’s game. I wonder if I missed one of these secret passages and along with it, one of the fifty renowned artists in this exhibition.
In that regard, the art matched the space: it felt out of place and unpolished. Pawet Althamer’s Schedule of the Crucifix was a bad joke. Unfortunately for this performance artist, the Marina Abramović retrospective was taking place at the same time at the Museum of Modern Art. The reenactment of Abramović’s The Biography from 1993 completely eclipses Althamer’s 2005 work. Abramović’s performance artist is naked and spot lit. The work is both physically and emotionally intense for the viewer and the artist. It takes up its own room, where the actress on the cross stares in uncomfortable meditation. Althamer’s actor/Jesus climbed up to the cross promptly at 3 p.m. but looked as if he just rolled out of bed and was counting the minutes until he could slip back into his pajamas. The similarity is immediate, but Althamer’s effort is laughable.
That We So Not Appear to Fly is of Little Consequence, by Matt Greene, is also quite out of place in this exhibition. I am unsure what the purpose and relation this specific piece of work had with the other, more serious pieces. It feels more like an ad for the Broadway show Wicked rather than an “important,” satirical piece that belongs in the Dakis Joannou collection.
I was most mesmerized by the exhibits on the first floor, but looking back, maybe that is only because it was the first work that I saw. Riding in a Limousine (Behind a Hearse) is a large canvas covered with blank checks with the author’s name and acrylic paint. I contemplated this piece for a while, trying to understand the purpose of the work. Another hopeful piece included Gillian Wearing’s Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say… with a man in a suit holding a sign that says “I’m desperate.” This piece was made in 1992, but feels especially ironic and relevant now in light of the current economic crisis.
The rest of the pieces were mediocre. From big name artists, such as Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Chris Ofili, Takashi Murakami, and David Altmejd, I expected to see a wonderful exhibition. Whether this is Koon’s fault for poor curatorial choices or Dakis Joannou’s fault for poor options for Koons to choose from remains unclear, but overall, this exhibition is mediocre at best.
The highlight of this exhibition should be the art from the superstar artists present. Unfortunately, rather than a dazzling show meeting my admittedly high expectations, the collective energy is low. The artists bring each other down rather than build each other up. It simply feels like a snapshot of a collection using all of the big names but their bad work. I wonder if Koons wants me to stare in passive awe at Ofili’s elephant dung and ponder the implications of it, or is Koons innocent in all of this? Was this simply a marketing scheme that I fell into? Either way, my excitement has fizzled out.

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