Guilty Pleasures

Linda Yablonsky on Dakis Joannou's new exhibition and yacht


Left: Collector Dakis Joannou and Lietta Joannou. Right: Dakis Joannou's yacht “Guilty.” (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

There are three kinds of power in the art world. One comes from money, another from fame. Then there is the power of art itself to provoke emotion. All three were on jubilant display last Monday and Tuesday in Athens, as Greek construction tycoon Dakis Joannou introduced one hundred or so select artists, dealers, curators, and fellow art patrons to the latest incarnation of the Joannou Collection and the christening of “Guilty,” a thirty-eight-yard-long yacht with a razzle-dazzle finish by Jeff Koons.

These temptations made the prospect of an expenses-paid trip just too irresistible. How much harm could it do to submit to the charms of the bourgeoisie, if research required it? As a Joannou guest, I was taken to the Semiranis, a candy-colored, acid dream of a hotel (one of several that the collector owns in Athens) and shown to a bungalow by the pool. There I found some familiar faces: artists Ashley Bickerton, Ricci Albenda, and Roberto Cuoghi lounging about with curators Ali Subotnick and Cecilia Alemani. All had played a part either in the decor of the yacht, which is loaded with art and overdesigned furniture, or in “Fractured Figure: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection,” the current show at Joannou’s Deste Foundation, organized over the past few years by Jeffrey Deitch with Massimiliano Gioni, who arrived late in the day with his Wrong Gallery compatriot Maurizio Cattelan, a Joannou favorite.

Whenever you put a group of art-world personages together for a few days in one another’s exclusive company, it’s going to start feeling like a Shriner’s convention at some point—or maybe summer camp. The hair comes down, and everyone gets a new best friend. (At one point, even archrivals Larry Gagosian and Deitch buddied up. “He thinks it would be a good idea for me to open a gallery in Rome,” Deitch said.)

Left: Artist Jeff Koons and designer Ivana Porfiri. Right: Dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian.

Some guests that evening, who included globe-trotting dealers Marian Goodman, Emmanuel Perrotin, Carol Greene, Marianne Boesky, and Eva Presenhuber; collectors Marion Lambert, Dinos Martinos, and Maja Hoffmann; and Tate director Nicholas Serota and Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf chose to speed-walk through the exhibition, a creepy affair replete with enough macabre sex, death, dismemberment, and disillusionment to feel threatening. “These are dark times,” the sunny Joannou told me. “The artists recognize that. We should, too.”

Urs Fischer had “fine-tuned” the installation, as Deitch put it. (Fischer also designed the large-format, two-volume catalogue.) The other artists present that day took the time to examine each work. “I don’t get this,” Bickerton muttered about a John Bock installation. “I love this,” he said of Paul McCarthy’s flesh-colored Paula Jones, which Joannou had bought directly from the studio. (It consists of table-mounted fiberglass renditions of certain politicians—half-human, half-pig—giving each other a royal forking.)

Cattelan provided the sobering finale, All, a row of gray marble body bags laid out on the floor (eat your heart out, Carl Andre), also purchased from the studio. The piece did not refer to a specific incident, Goodman said; more than one person named it Cattelan’s “masterwork,” the one that would “kick his career to a whole new level.” Still, Cattelan had plenty of dystopian competition—from Gregor Schneider, Kiki Smith, Pawel Althamer, and Andro Wekua, as well as Bickerton, whose corpulent fiberglass torso, FOB, tucked into a small room at the entrance between Terence Koh’s white-chocolate “mountains” and Koons’s convex chrome Moon, made up the show’s most inspired ménage. “You know what FOB means?” Bickerton challenged Deitch, Joannou’s longtime consultant and Deste’s chief curator. “Fresh Off the Boat?” the dealer replied. “First On the Beach,” said Bickerton, a dedicated surfer who lives in Bali.

Left: Artist Roberto Cuoghi. Right: Dealer Marian Goodman.

Meanwhile, guests like Gagosian, Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi, and Simon de Pury seemed more engaged by the cocktail mixer on the roof. What is an art event these days, after all, if not a bonding ritual? Art was the main topic of conversation, though other matters did come up. “You know what's wrong with guys like Jean Nouvel?” inquired the jovial Tony Shafrazi. “They never think of putting a window in the bathroom. I mean, the smell!”

After a Dionysian sunset, we were all loaded into vans and taxis and taken to Joannou’s home, where a ton of art—by Richard Prince, Piotr Uklanski, Christopher Wool, Wangechi Mutu, Cindy Sherman, Seth Price, and Chris Ofili, to name a few—was on view. The marble conversation pit of a reception area alone was a veritable hall of contemporary sculpture fame: Charles Ray’s giant woman in a blue dress, a Robert Gober drain, Koons’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles, and one of his “Equilibrium” tanks, the work that made Joannou so crazy for young art in the first place. (His Koonses now total forty-eight.) There was also a suite of delicate pencil studies of costumed female figures by a more recent discovery—a forty-five-year-old native Athenian named Christiana Soulou, who starved herself prior to making them. “I had to destroy the image of myself to get to the bones,” she said. (The drawings represent her recovery.)

After helping themselves to the lavish buffet dinner, guests gathered at long tables on the terrace overlooking Athens, beside the lap pool. “I really shouldn’t be here,” Serota confessed, casting an eye at Gagosian. “I’m supposed to be installing a Cy Twombly show that opens next week.” I sat with Goodman, talking about the diminished American presence at Art Basel the week before, where Europeans, particularly Russians, as well as Chinese and Indian buyers, flexed all the muscle. “I’ve seen this coming for a long time,” she said, then introduced me to Panos and Sandra Marinopoulos, who later treated me to a view of their smart collection of photography—most of it American.

Left: Artists Maurizio Cattelan and Urs Fischer. Right: Collectors Maja Hoffmann and Jean Pigozzi.

After dinner, Albenda stole the show by partnering with Andrea Rosen Gallery director Laura Mackall and tearing up the dance floor—actually a skylight over the sculpture pit—at the feet of Koons’s red Balloon Dog. In fact, the house DJ got everyone on their feet, including Hoffmann, Presenhuber, and Gioni, who danced together wildly by the pool. Surprisingly, all the ouzo did not keep anyone from showing up on time the next morning—OK, it was nearly noon—to see the yacht. “Is that a Koons or a Lichtenstein?” asked one wag in my van as we drove into a marina that Joannou told me he had bought outright the week before.

The yacht’s exterior did look like a Ben-day dot painting, but, Koons said, it was based on a World War I camouflage pattern designed to confuse rather than hide. The dizzying, chromatic graphics did make the unusually jutting planes of the ship, designed by architect Ivana Porfiri, hard to make out on the water. The touchy-feely interior was all mirror, silver leather, and dyed materials. “Isn’t it wonderful how you just want to touch everything on board?” Koons asked, smiling. (“He sounds so much like Ronald Reagan!” Bickerton said, in a whispered aside.) The decor also included a lot of art, curated by Alemani, including wall paintings by David Shrigley, another by Albenda, and Guilty, an unusual text painting by Sarah Morris bought because, well, Joannou said, “I had to.” The yacht already had the name. “Guilty,” he said. “It just seemed right.”

Left: Jeffrey Deitch. Right: The “Guilty” group.

Left: ARTCO founder Cary Leitzes, Simon de Pury, and dealer Marianne Boesky. Right: Andrea Rosen Gallery director Laura Mackall with artist Ricci Albenda.

Left: Artist Ashley Bickerton and Dakis Joannou. Right: Dealer Alberto Mugrabi.

Left: Dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Sotheby's Lisa Dennison.

Left: Dealer Massimo De Carlo. Right: Sarah Morris's Guilty.