Art World Report Card, April 3, 2014

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Kenny Goss.
Photo: Patrick McMullan.

Art the Size of Texas
Can one man make a difference in the art world? Bring Marc Quinn's blood head sculptures to Texas and, well, maybe.

Art collector Kenny Goss, along with singer George Michael, his former lover and current art-collecting partner, have generated something of a “Bilbao Effect" for Dallas, goosing the city through contemporary art. Their aggressive collecting, often of difficult material by British contemporary artists, has changed a few tastes and raised a few eyebrows. On Friday April 4, Goss, along with artist Richard Phillips and actress Jerry Hall, hosts the MTV: Redefine charity art auction. It's the kick-off to a dizzy week of events culminating in the sixth annual Dallas Art Fair, which opens to the public April 11.

But while Dallas, where Goss lives when not in London, is already known for some active contemporary art collectors, his are no tasteful Ellsworth Kelly geometrics. The Goss-Michael Foundation has pushed the borders of what is to be shown down South: Those grisly, beautiful blood heads; a Damien Hirst calf slaughtered by arrows; Sarah Lucas's vividly realistic penis sculptures.

“I believe if you collect an artist, you have got to collect in depth, and I buy a lot of the artists' most difficult works," he says. Those are often some of the artists' favorites, he adds. Texas can be provincial, Goss says, but people who don't like the works don't have to come. Mostly, he's been pleasantly surprised: He expected a negative response to a sexually explicit Tim Noble-Sue Webster work, but didn't get it. Meanwhile, he and Michael have had an impact, he brags: “When we started there were a couple of Damiens (Hirst) in the whole community and now there's a ton of them."

The collector, whose fortune comes in part from the cheerleading equipment boom, says he got the art-collecting bug “when I first moved out to LA in 1990—but some of the stuff [I bought] was horrible, stuff to match my furniture." Then, he met platinum-selling pop star George Michael, known for recording “Freedom," “Faith," and “Careless Whisper," among other huge hits.

“When I met George, that's when I started meeting that artists' lot: Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin," says Goss. Michael Craig-Martin became a good friend, he adds. The couple's collecting began in earnest. A decade ago, they opened the Foundation, a contemporary art space on Turtle Creek Boulevard. “The first show we did was a Tracey Emin show… we do quite significant shows."

Most of his works are bought from dealers—Jay Jopling and Sadie Coles are prominent purveyors—rather than at auction. And, for the British artists he supports, “I try to buy from every show." As for favorites, when asked which British artist is underrated and likely not to remain so, he answers swiftly:  “Mat Collishaw."

The biggest change in the art world since he started collecting? “The prices have gotten ridiculous." Goss was at Art Basel a little over a decade ago when it hit him: As a child, he had never lived in a house worth more than $50,000 and he was about to buy a Bridget Riley for five times that. Even worse, the dealer had given him just an hour to decide. “What am I doing?!" he asked himself, but moved fast. Goss still loves that Riley, a stripe painting from her Egyptian series. Since then, he's spent up to about $7 million on a piece, he says.

The co-collectors haven't sold works, except for ones by American and German artists when they decided to focus on British ones solely. The YBA's is a sector of collecting that they are well aware has gone in and out of fashion—“flavor of the month" Goss notes—but their commitment remains. They can't sell works, he laughs, because, “these people are really good friends of mine, I'm afraid to hurt their feelings."

He also remains “best of friends" with his partner of nearly two decades, particularly because the foundation has kept true, says Goss, to Michael's philanthropic goals. The April 4 auction, rich with 100 works by Julian Schnabel, Richard Phillips, Sarah Lucas, Angel Otero, etc. is available for online bidding on Paddle8. His personal requests to artists and dealers have resulted in some good works, says Goss. The goal, he says, is to raise a $1 million each for MTV's AIDS-education charity, Staying Alive, and for local art space Dallas Contemporary.

 

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Left: Jean-Michel Basquiat T-shirt. Right: Sarah Morris T-shirt.
Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York. Copyright 2014 Sarah Morris.

Exit Towards the Gift Shop

“It's a Japanese retailer; their sizes run small."

A PR person tells me this uncomfortably as I lift up a zippy, tiny, Uniqlo T-shirt in the Fifth Avenue flagship store of the mega-retailer.

Uniqlo, the fourth-largest clothing company in the world, and the Museum of Modern Art's retail division are partnering on a new spring line of merchandise. Images by both classic modern and emerging contemporary artists are displayed on shirts, bandanas, tote bags, etc.

The MoMA designs are based on the works of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Jackson Pollock, along with Ryan McGinnessJack Pierson,  Lawrence Weiner, and Sarah Morris. The ones by the living artists are, effectively, limited-edition: If they don't sell, Uniqlo will move on to other artists. (Uniqlo promises an update in June on the line's top sellers around the world, which should offer something of a new read on the art market.)

And while we went initially to bemoan the crass wedding of shopping and the art experience, basically, they're pretty cool $19.99 T-shirts. Uniqlo presents them in a huge and elaborate, almost museum-like display. The three-story main store is located down the street from MoMA—and, perhaps not coincidentally, is open later than the Museum.

As of last May, the retailer is the exclusive, multi-year sponsor of MoMA's Friday night free admission program. In a statement at the time Tadashi Yanai, president and CEO of Uniqlo's holding company Fast Retailing (Forbes lists him as the richest man in Japan), said, “MoMA is my favorite museum in the world. I hope that together we can grow and deepen our relationships with the general public."

The company plans a massive expansion, that will see it operating 200 stores in the US by 2020, but retail analysts have been notably critical of Uniqlo's ability to re-size for Americans. And some of the marketing has apparently already been lost in translation.

The new line of art-branded gear is titled SPRZ NY (“Surprise New York"), but visitors to the launch kept saying "Oh, spritz," as if MoMA was involved in some new perfume launch. Perhaps next year.

Opportunity Knocks
Kudos to Hyperallergic for noting that, when influential performance art biennial Performa heralded a prestigious-sounding writers-in-residence program, it buried the lede, so to speak. The year-long program, which involves completing four to six assignments, is unpaid. Performa nonetheless suggests applicants have a graduate or post-graduate degree. Sounds like an unpaid internship, the online mag concluded.

Follow Alexandra Peers @LoisLaneNY or contact her at [email protected]