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Downtown New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art caused a bit of controversy in the art world last November upon the announcement that a forthcoming exhibition would consist of selections from the private collection of renowned collector Dakis Joannou, curated by none other than art star Jeff Koons. The debate stems from the questionable ethics of showing the collection of a New Museum board member: a dedicated exhibition would certainly add value to the artwork on display, such that Joannou’s personal financial stake in the exhibit is at odds with his status on the board.
In any case, the New Museum decided to carry on with the show and the much-anticipated “Skin Fruit” opened yesterday as planned. With work from over 50 contemporary artists, some well-known and others less so, Koons has filled three floors of the museum with paintings, sculptures, photographs and a couple films of various sizes. Massive sculptures by David Altmejd and Robert Cuoghi, each twice the height of a normal man, dominate the second and fourth floors respectively, while the first and third floor allow for a more egalitarian viewing experience. There is a whole room dedicated to Robert Gober, a couple of Chris Ofili paintings on separate floors, not to mention work by Takashi Murakami, Kara Walker, Matthew Barney, Mike Kelley, Urs Fischer and Kiki Smith, among others.
For all the differences in the shapes, sizes, looks and feels of the artwork, the pieces are unified by a clear reference to the human body as a vessel and a symbol. While two-dimensional works tend towards outright abstraction, there are about a half-dozen sculptures of human(oid)s on each floor, which demand some kind of interaction in space, as well as disembodied limbs throughout. As far as abstract sculpture goes, the twin pillars of Terence Koh’s “Untitled (Chocolate Mountain)” is a definite standout. “Skin Fruit” also includes the curator’s own “One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank,” the first Koons that Joannou ever bought, his only piece in the show.
The sheer number of pieces is nothing short of overwhelming, something like stepping into the mind of contemporary art’s notoriously fastidious golden boy. Each work is discreet but never aloof: it is impossible to examine a work without catching a glimpse of another very disparate one behind (or sometimes in front of) it. The only exception is a narrow set of stairs, where Koons has managed to cram a couple more pieces. I’ve often found myself wanting more at previous exhibitions at the New Museum; “Skin Fruit” is pure saturation, with little chance to reflect on what it all means.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “Skin Fruit” inevitably has something for everyone, and everyone will have his or her favorites. The exhibition will certainly raise the profile of lesser-known artists in the show, but only because the work deserves the attention. In this sense, “Skin Fruit” is less about Koons and Joannou but the artists’ themselves, who merit the recognition of the collector, the curator, and hopefully, the general public.
Text: Raymond Hu
Photography: Stephen Wordie