Contemporary art USA

Controversy over New Museum's plans to show trustee’s collection

Exhibition raises a potential conflict-of-interest between private collectors and public institutions

new york. In late September, the New Museum in New York announced an exhibition consisting solely of works that Greek construction tycoon Dakis Joannou—one of the museum’s trustees—has amassed for his Deste Foundation in Athens. Set to open in March 2010, the show will take up the museum’s entire Bowery building, to be curated by US artist Jeff Koons, whose work Joannou started collecting in the 1980s.

The exhibition is the first in the venue’s programme “The Imaginary Museum”, a series of private-collection shows that sounded alarms in the art blogosphere. Observers sharply questioned the ethics of the collaboration with Joannou, a trustee who owns more work by Koons than any other single collector. The New Museum’s director of special exhibitions, Massimiliano Gioni, has also organised shows at the Deste Foundation and borrowed works for his own shows.

It raises a potential conflict-of-interest question that has come up before in regard to such shows. Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened its Broad Contemporary Art Museum with works from the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Foundation, which also supplied its own curator to make the selection. Meanwhile Eli Broad made it clear that he would not promise his namesake museum any gifts of art for its collection.

New Museum director Lisa Phillips says the debate over such issues is one good reason to pursue the show. “We want to push the conversation forward,” she says, adding that the museum is assuming all costs associated with the Joannou exhibition and that her board has a policy against trustees lending a work of art if they are actively planning to sell it.

In the Association of American Art Museum Directors guidelines, a reputable collector is defined as someone “whose involvement enhances the museum’s programme” and who has proven a “sustained commitment to the museum”.

Chief curator Richard Flood says that “The Imaginary Museum” concept preceded the Joannou show, and that the invitation to Koons came directly from the museum, not the collector.

UPDATE: In the original article printed in The Art Newspaper (November, 2009, p11) we wrote that the New Museum board, "has a policy against borrowing works from collectors likely to profit from their exhibition". We would like to clarify its policy. The New Museum board "has a policy against trustees lending a work of art if they are actively planning to sell it".

"The Imaginary Museum: Dakis Joannou Collection" runs from 3 March to 6 June

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19 Apr 10
18:22 CET


Wouldn't it be more interesting to see an exhibition of lesser known work curated from the private collections of artists? Work given to artists by artists? This would give museum visitors an opportunity to see art that is exchanged in a loving non-commercial manner. We all know that rich people love to become richer, that's nothing new... but it isn't particularly interesting. In reality, the country, as a whole, has become quite tried of it during this current economic crisis. Why not create the possibility of raising the value of art owned by working class or poor artists? Now THAT would be something "New".

27 Nov 09
17:21 CET


I am just pointing out the inappropriateness of such a comment by making one of my own (Yael, just as quickly as people accuse others of being fascist media tycoons, yes). Nonetheless, your position on the show is valid. It all depends on whether you believe in upholding ethics, regardless of context, and if you think the storm of negative publicity will further tarnish the New Museum's already spotty reputation.

17 Nov 09
1:53 CET


So, as usual the issue at hand has degenerated into unrelated and uninteresting personal insult (Mark, are you usually this quick to accuse people of being Nazis?). The question of whether Jeff Koons is an interesting or worthwhile artist has no bearing on the broader consideration of whether in showing the works of a board member and private collector (double conflict of interest) the New Museum has taken an unethical step. It seems that its easier to criticize this decision than to posit viable and affordable programming alternatives at a time of limited resources. Private collections have often formed the subject of museum exhibitions. Were Dakis Joannou to have shown his collection elsewhere perhaps the New Museum would have been pilloried for not taking advantage of their close connection to him.

16 Nov 09
15:7 CET


Well done Jan, you have found two people from the same culture who may, or may not share similar ambitions. Outstanding generalization. I wonder if I could find someone that I could buddy you up with? Hmmm, now let me think... are there any German figures from the no so distant past who made broad, and ridiculous accusations about a specific group of people?

16 Nov 09
15:5 CET


There should be zero controversy: 1. It is one exhibition of many 2. it is a major collection, curated by a major artist Sounds like recipe for an exhibition that is far better than most - it will for sure be an improvement on what they have up now!!

15 Nov 09
21:16 CET


Massimiliano Gioni conflict is perfectly Italian. Of course Berlusconi's model rules!

15 Nov 09
17:51 CET


Jeff Koons publicity machine? Your lack of understanding of contemporary art is apparent with a comment like that. Care to define your idea of "quality contemporary art"? I'm intrigued. I suspect if you made some effort to understand Koons and his oeuvre, you would not make such a naive comment. Clearly you lack understanding of contemporary art (and furthermore the understanding of how the museum/gallery world works) OR your bias nature is hindering you from making more informative comments. I urge you to reconsider your previous thought.

13 Nov 09
17:27 CET


It is too cozy. Lisa's trustee is validating the value of the collection through her actions and his work, like Warhol decades earlier, has a collaborative value but can't compare with the giants who have gone on before who have both the vision and ability to execute that vision. There are many other artists and groups of artists whose work is of a similar quality level or better that are more deserving and in the end - more innovative. How sad that a major museum is sucked in by the Jeff Koons publicity machine at the expense of quality contemporary art that Lisa should be looking at if she would get off her ass.

13 Nov 09
13:54 CET


It's an outrage. The artist is so so and there are tons of younger artist who need a chance.

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