New Museum commits suicide with banality

Jeff Koons Ushering in Banality 1988 polychromed wood sculpture

Jeff Koons seems to have said it himself, years ago.*


Many of us have been worrying about the New Museum for some time, including fans who were around at the time of its founding, but I'm not talking about money worries. The institution was founded by Marcia Tucker in 1977, who conceived of it, in a description published on its own web site, as "a place with a scope lying somewhere between grassroots alternative spaces for contemporary art and major museums that show only artists of proven historical value."

The New York Times reports today that in February the zigzag Bowery tower will host a show of work from the collection of Dakis Joannou, one of its own trustees, chosen by Jeff Koons, who is a close friend of the Greek billionnaire. The article tell us that Joannou's collection includes, other than work by Jeff Koons, art by other celebrated artists, and mentions Maurizio Cattelan, Urs Fischer, Robert Gober, Chris Ofili, Charles Ray and Kiki Smith.


Is this even legal? I mean, this is supposedly a non-profit, and aside from the self-serving aspect, it looks a lot like insider-trading; I see lots of money flying around, and I'm wondering why we shouldn't ask, cui bono?

I don't think Marcia would consider a show of work by established artists, curated by one of the country's most-established artists, and selected exclusively from the collection of one of its own wealthiest, and fully-established trustees to fit the dream - or the reality - which once described the New Museum.

The outrage doesn't stop with the Joannou takeover. The same Times piece tells us that the cozy NM/Joannou/Koons project will "inaugurate an exhibition series called 'The Imaginary Museum,' which will showcase the best private collections of contemporary art from around the world that are rarely seen by the public."

Those contemplated museums may be imaginary, but the real institution we used to look to for excitement is fast disappearing, if not already gone.

If the New Museum had to fit something into their calendar at the last minute, why not pick some emerging curators to pick some emerging artists and fill all those floors with excited visitors who won't stop thinking and talking about art. (In fact, the directors should be doing this anyway, with deliberate planning, and not as a desperate solution.) The art they're inviting into Marcia's rooms belongs in the older museums she critiqued for their cowardice, and if big collectors can't yet part with their stashes, but still want a larger public to see it, let them invite that public into their homes, as so many have done for years in Miami, Berlin or elsewhere. If they're afraid the carpets will get messed up, tell them to rent a hall. We'll all come - after touring my fantasy show of emerging art at the New Museum.

ADDENDUM: I had originally wanted to make this a very short post, not trusting my anger, but now I can't resist linking to this publicity piece which appeared in Artforum last summer. I already knew about the Koons-styled Joannou yacht, but it was through seeing this beautiful, satirical flyer/poster piece by Pedro Velez that I was directed to the article which had inspired it. Velez says that we can each use his image as we please, adding: "it's a public piece of art..." Now there's a concept.

It helps to have seen the Artforum images first (if you have the stomach for them), but here's Velez's poster:

poster by Pedro Velez from "Dakis Joannou and the Yacht that Conquers" (2008)

I just had this thought: Maybe it's all a joke, that the whole project could be a way for Koons to have a laugh with us all. If so, I doubt the Museum is in on it.

[top image from joeren's blog; bottom image from the artist]

Great post, I can't say I'm surprised, I was uptown last Wednesday for the opening of Alan Kaprow's 1961 "Yard" as reconstructed by Wiliam Pope.L,. Outside later, I witnessed Richard Flood, as he emerged from a huge Black SUV (the new limos of choice) and thought, "why would this guy bother coming to a crap-hole studio in Brooklyn when he could be chauffeured around in luxury by some European money-bags?"

[note: Richard Flood has been Chief Curator of the New Museum since 2005 - James Wagner]


if big collectors can't yet part with their stashes, but still want a larger public to see it, let them invite that public into their homes, as so many have done for years in Miami, Berlin or elsewhere.

I completely agree and the Rubell and the Margolis collections are examples of making a private collection available to the public without using a non-profit to bolster its claim to 'proven historical value'. I think Eli Broad really began this trend when he blurred the lines between museum and collection space by funding the construction of BCAM as part of LACMA, with the public Broad Art Foundation acting as the intermediary.

Instead of occupying the New Museum in such an inappropriate manner perhaps the slate of private collectors should open their collections to curators to encourage loaning, instead of circumventing the whole curatorial process with such a lame premise as having Koons pick his favorite works. While Koons is invariably an important artist, I find his recent work, highlighted at BCAM, awful. Sorry.

Anyway, if Joannou wants to display his collection in a non-profit, perhaps he should create a public foundation first like the Broads and loan it out avoiding this conflict.


This development at the New Museum doesn't strike me as an aberration of practice, so much as an aberration of discretion about something that has always gone on at some level. I don't know about its financial structure, but whether the New Museum receives public funding or is merely exempt from taxation as a nonprofit, society at large is paying for them to turn a particular strain of contemporary art history into a canon as its curators see fit. This strikes me as a kind of corporatism, akin to farm subsidies and the underwriting of oil exploration. If you look at the germane economics, you would predict that such arrangements would begin to operate irresponsibly given enough opportunity to do so. I think we have finally reached a point in the art world that the collectors have more credibility than the museums, allowing the collectors to act about like we'd expect them to, and obliging the museums to launch into full-blown apologetics about the quality of the art on display and the purity of their scholarship and curatorship as they launder the value of the private collection on their walls.

Hi James,

Did anyone really believe that the New New Museum would be anything like the old one? The overhead of the institution is hefty, the board, the curators and the directors are all connected to the current moneyed operatives that move the business of the art world, and its investment potential as a new player in the New York culture game is unlimited. There is even talk in MAN's interview with Lisa Phillips of the difficulties regarding the Museum's "permanent collection" - which may be signalling further real estate expansion. This is how the art world works. Art, as Dave Hickey pointed out in his recent SVA speech, is the last thing on anyone's mind.

"That's what the New Museum is: We're an entrepreneurial institution. We don't feel we have to accept or receive things in a formulaic way."

This are business terms - not Art terms.

This reminds me of the recent Damien Hirst sale, where he was part of a consortium purchasing HIS OWN WORK. It's about time for the art market to be subject to regulation a la the SEC.

Some years ago on Ed's we mentioned regulation and got slammed for it. I bet this idea of regulating the arts has more appeal outside of NY.

I was looking at yet another art foundation/not for profit/organization/slush fund and I saw that a real estate company was a major sponsor.

I know everyone is tired of hearing that the tip of the spear always breaks off, that artists and other "marginal" (ad disposable) groups can transform neighborhoods from bodega filled havens for drugs, crime, urban culture and dollar stores into condo filled paradises for cosmopolitan children of the bourgeoise -

but isn't it time that artists were offered ceritfication as real estate agents? In the past I know it was popular to be an artist/taxi driver or an artist/plumber/drywall enthusiast, but now? Location scouts, set dressers, party planners, cocktail waitresses and other exciting careers await!

I think artists could start their own not for profit foundations.
All it takes is a brand name backer, whom I'm sure would be given a small allowance for their name.

I've been looking at a number of foundations online - their web sites are good to bad corresponding to the amount of money they attract and whether their audience is Upscale or Urban - both code words I am becoming familiar with.

The parties (to give back - No, THANK YOU!) show a direct correlation as well, leading me to suspect the old chestnut "that it takes money to get invited".

Like the Crones and Colitis Foundation, which is a leading cause of death in this country, I think it behooves us all to give more so we can get more.

Some of the most high profile public art exhibitions and projects have been "self funded" and purport to be good for the local economy. Others receive matching funds and then throw under or unpublicized private VIP parties.

More invidious to the art world than vapid Fashion money , this real estate economy is one strange attractor that people need to organize over or commit sepuku, either way. I second the motion.

how about a little respect for the inderdisciplinarity we all celebrate; besides the obvious coolness of the most important artist of the last few decades doing a curatorial project, Dakis' primary operating function is not as a trustee or collector but really as a crucially involved director/curator himself. don't deal in generalities: Dakis is a unique case. i know from working with him. He is the most energetic and creative director of a foundation ever, and defies being stuck in the same category as... well, as anyone really.

i did a show at his DESTE foundation in 2004 called PANIC ROOM and every aspect of the project was creative teamwork. besides being intimately involved in the selection of the works, he had great ideas about the hang of the show, the central piece for the show, and he himself came up with the brilliant idea of making the catalogue 1:1 scale, where 11" square of each work in the works on paper collection was reproduced with a complete index in the back. it's an innovative solution to the difficulty of making a works on paper catalogue for works ranging from a couple centimeters to a couple meters, and it was the crux of the project.

he and massimiliano gioni and ali subotnik and maurizio cattelan are a creative team who have done many things in the past, and a strong basis for a positive collaboration with the new museum. having him organize a show there is going to be the best project they've done yet, and viewing him as just another rich, manipulative collector abusing a public institution is laughably absurd.

"I am not a crook"

Laughably absurd? Or strangely resonant? Many of the artists Koons will curate into a show are the same names we see in magazines. Does might make right? No, and neither does print. SO hey, welcome to the democracy we were promised. Public funding lady, it's where you have to talk to the locals.

Powhida forgot to include P Velez?

So everyone and their mother can curate, except for Jeff Koons.

My thoughts:
The New Museum opened and quickly gave solo shows to Tomma Abts, Mary Heilman and Elizabeth Peyton. I think two of the shows may have even run at the same time. Pretty awesome and unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

Jeremy Deller and his bombed out car and conversation were at the NuMu, not collectible in the traditional sense.

As far as I know, they are the only museum in New York to offer an artists membership ($35 for a year unlimited free access. Not too many of us have press passes) This means I can see shows with a subway fare in my pocket. (Can't afford to jet off to Miami or Greece to check out private collections, sorry)

I'm interested in seeing this show to see works from this collection, curated by Jeff Koons. Why? Intellectual/Artistic curiosity. Purely. Sounds like some people are calling for censorship.

Also, worth looking at the number of museums (that house what's considered the history of Modern Art) we frequent that began as collections by wealthy, imposing collectors. The Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Moma. If we're going to talk about the influence that wealthy collectors (and galleries) have on museums, don't pretend it starts with the New Museum. At least they're being transparent about it.

The art world is (and has been for a long time, read your history) a tangled web of friendship, donations, money and plugging other people for your own gain. I mean, I'm not shocked when art bloggers review and plug the work of artists they collect.

Gina, take a look at Tyler Green's op-ed piece in the Art Newspaper for a larger discussion of why this really is a story.

You should also look at this front-page story in today's New York Times.

I did read those articles. I'm just saying, if we're going to go there, then let's go there.

I mean the layers of connections and dealing that go on at museums, that influence the careers of artists and the art historical canon and put huge profits in collectors pockets are dense at every institution. I mean from the rooms that bear the names of wealthy patrons (and collectors) to these member galas and openings where wealthy collectors, patrons, gallery directors, curators and artists rub elbows together, I mean lets not fool ourselves how business gets done. It's as though because they're private institutions, it's okay.

And although they are a public institution (to what extent, I'm not sure, they have things that are sponsored by Target on their website) lets not pretend that they are the worst offenders here. I mean one of the articles mentioned how other museums require a gift from the collector to make it legit. How does that make it legit? That just further canonizes the artist and increases the value of the work! At least the NuMu doesn't have a collection. I feel like the process of gift-giving weds us all to work forever, just so that other people can make money on it!

I suspect what bothers some people about this is 1)they hate Jeff Koons and anything he does. Is it any wonder he's become such a mythic figure? 2) they object to the kind of work Jannou collects, as being in a certain vein and they don't want any more attention directed toward the artists he supports. As for myself, I haven't seen a lot of these works, famous or not, except in reproduction. So I'm genuinely interested to see the work, take it or leave it.

I just feel like the the New Museum has been an interesting place to see work, whether you're into it or not. They have been attempting to create a space that is a part of the community, accessible to artists and more inclusive than their counterparts when it comes to the artists they show.

Nobody in the art world hates Jeff Koons and everything he does. Koons is not even the issue.

If you really want to go there further Gina, take a look at the 256-page book that was just launched this past Thursday (at the New Museum) called "The World of Giving," edited by Jeffrey Inaba and the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting (C-Lab), published by Lars Mueller publishers, initiated and developed in conversation with the New Museum over the past two years. Here's some more info about it:

The book investigates complex issues like this one and many more, and I would recommend, if anyone is really passionate about the topic, to check it out.

Full disclosure: I worked at C-Lab with many others on this book, and I won't get any money from it's sale. But I know the content intimately and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an interest in these issues, it's a very interesting book.

Marcia Tucker was a visionary and because of her progressive attitude I imagine she would have considered this complex issue with more intelligence than you have afforded it. The world has changed significantly since the 70s and contemporary art, more than any other field, needs to move with it, even ahead of it. Your argument is old and tired. Get with the (new) program.

you're totaly right , but , camon ! sinse when should we trust in any kind of institution ?