Rare displays of sex and death

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Rare displays of sex and death

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The “Francois Pinault Collection: Agony and Ecstasy” exhibition at SongEun ArtSpace includes, Damien Hirst’s “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” (1994-2003)


Eros and Thanatos, or sex and death, are a human obsession, so it is fitting that they be the subjects explored by four of the world’s most provocative contemporary artists in the ongoing exhibition “Francois Pinault Collection: Agony and Ecstasy” at SongEun ArtSpace in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

One of the most arresting exhibits on display is the creepy installation titled “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” (1994-2003) by British artist Damien Hirst. It comprises four vitrines arranged in the shape of a cross, with each containing a real bull’s head stabbed with knives and sitting in formaldehyde.

Less grotesque but no less thought-provoking is the “Balenciaga” photo series by American artist Cindy Sherman, which shows the artist dressed up as various middle-aged women in luxury clothes and heavy makeup. With their exaggerated expressions of enthusiasm and telltale wrinkles, the women seem to be desperately fighting the flow of time as they edge closer to decrepitude and death.

Also featured is the “Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilona” by American artist Jeff Koons, which depicts a moment of passion between the artist and his wife at the time, Hungarian-born Italian porn star Ilona Staller.

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Jeff Koons’ “Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilona” (1991), Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #462,” (2007-2008) from the “Untitled (Balenciaga)” series


Elsewhere, we see sculptures of manga characters with exaggerated sexuality in “Hiropon” and “My Lonesome Cowboy” by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

At 22, the number of works on display is not large. But they provide a glimpse of the signature styles of the world’s hottest contemporary artists.

The works are from the collection of Francois Pinault, a major shareholder in Christie’s auction house and founder of business group PPR, which has as subsidiaries luxury fashion brands such as Gucci and Balenciaga.

It is the first time that a selection of works from the collection of Pinault, one of the world’s most influential art collectors, has been exhibited in Asia.

Francesca Amfitheatrof, the curator of the exhibition, explained that the show’s title “Agony and Ecstasy” was inspired by Hirst’s butterfly diptych and Irving Stone’s biography of Michelangelo that was derived from the Renaissance master’s correspondence.

“Michelangelo’s depiction of man is a striking example of the power of art,” she said. “To all four artists represented in this show, the human body becomes both subject and medium.”

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Hirst’s “The Kiss of Death” (2005) and Koons’ “Dutch Couple” (2007) Provided by the gallery

The exhibition starts on the second floor with Murakami’s works, which “expose the Otaku culture’s obsession explicitly,” according to Amfitheatrof. On the third floor are Koons’ works, which hover “on the boundary between art and real life” and Sherman’s photos, which are “at the same time attractive and repellent.”

The highlight of the exhibition are the works by Hirst on the fourth floor. Most of the works on display indicate the artist’s obsession with the theme of death, which has been the driving force of his art since he appeared on the art scene in the early 1990s as one of the Young British Artists or YBA.

Here, the bull’s heart penetrated by a dagger in formaldehyde in his “The Kiss of Death” shares space with the painting “Turn Away From Me,” which is reminiscent of the British painter Francis Bacon’s (1909-92) dark and distorted portraits.

“These pieces are talking about violent death,” Amfitheatrof said. “The painting reflects the artist’s shock after Angus Fairhurst, his friend and fellow YBA, hanged himself in 2008. It was influenced by Bacon, who has been a constant inspiration to Hirst.”

She continued: “Hirst allows us to stare at death, to celebrate it and to fear it all at the same time. By freezing the moment of death and immortalizing it, he allows us to approach and understand death and to also celebrate life.”

Jeff Koons reflects on his art

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Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, one of the world’s most celebrated artists, said that the three of his works chosen for an exhibition in southern Seoul are a “good choice” to help viewers understand his art, though they don’t include his recent signature pieces - balloon-like steel sculptures with highly polished surfaces.

The “Agony and Ecstasy” exhibition at SongEun ArtSpace shows three works by the 56-year-old artist selected from the Francois Pinault Collection: the marble sculpture “Bourgeois Bust ? Jeff and Ilona” (1991); the oil painting “Dutch Couple” (2007); and a flat sculpture with a mirror-like surface entitled “Olive Oyl (Red)” (2004-09).

“The reflective aspect of Olive Oyl is very true to the reflective qualities of my [steel] sculptures,” Koons told reporters during a press preview on Friday. It was his second visit to Korea.

Koons said mirror-like surfaces have special meaning for him. “Mirrors demand your image,” he said. “If you leave ‘Olive Oyle,’ it remains empty. When you come back to it, it is made complete as a work of art with the addition of your reflection.”

Koons also talked about the other works, saying that “Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilona,” which shows the artist embracing his wife at the time, Ilona Staller, shows a mixture of desire and a sense of guilt. He said the painting “Dutch Couple,” which is covered with many layers of paint, is about the “yearning to have a dialogue.”

“To understand Koons’ art, one has to go beyond the kitsch or the ironic language,” said exhibition curator Francesca Amfitheatrof. “Koons uses this medium because it neither alienates nor speaks down to the viewer, thereby liberating the viewer and making the experience an instrument of empowerment.”

Koons also expressed his views about art collecting, saying that “Collecting is a gesture and sharing of viewpoints.”

He said that Pinault is a great collector who shares art with the public and that he does a fine job of protecting the works.

Collector’s choice is by heart

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Francois Pinault

Francois Pinault, a business tycoon and influential art collector, said he depends on his “eyes rather than [his] ears” when choosing art works for his collection.

“In other words, rather than following trends or listening to critics, I follow my feelings,” he told reporters in a press preview of the “Agony and Ecstasy” exhibition at SongEun ArtSpace in southern Seoul on Friday. “When my heart skips a beat, that’s the work I choose.”

Pinault was voted the most powerful figure in modern art by ArtReview in 2006 and 2007.

The show at SongEun features 22 pieces by four renowned contemporary artists - Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Cindy Sherman - from Pinault’s extensive collection of 2,000 works, which are kept at two museums he owns in Venice - the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana.

“For this exhibition, I’ve selected stars of the contemporary art world,” he said. “With Koreans’ interest in contemporary art increasing, I’d like to select less famous yet still important contemporary artists for my next exhibition to give Koreans a surprise.”

The 75-year-old tycoon said he started collecting art when he was in his 30s.

“Until I was around 30, I had not visited an art museum, as I was brought up in the countryside,” he said. “At first I took interest in figurative art, as most people do. Since then, I have broadened my horizons, shifting the focus of my art collection from Impressionist paintings and then Cubist paintings to contemporary art works.”

Asked why he focuses on contemporary art, he said, “I am an entrepreneur, so I’m always thinking about the future. In art, I also want to see the present and the future, so I’ve been visiting contemporary artists’ studios and collecting their works.”

Lee U-fan’s works are among the works by Korean artists in Pinault’s collection, he said. “He is not yet very famous internationally but he soon will be.”

*The exhibition runs through Nov. 19. Admission is free. The galley is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Go to Cheongdam Station, line No. 7, exit 9, and walk for 10 minutes. For details, call (02) 3448-0100 or visit www.songeunartspace.org.


By Moon So-young [symoon@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

크리스티 소유주 피노가 들고온 1000억어치 미술품

그가 고르면 유행이 된다 … 컬렉션 2000점 중 22점 국내 전시

프랑스 북서부 브르타뉴의 평범한 농가에서 태어났다. 미술과는 거리가 멀었다. 서른 살이 돼서야 친구 손에 이끌려 처음으로 미술관에 가 봤다. 19세기 말 이 지역에서 폴 고갱(1848~1903)과 활동했던 나비파(Nabis) 화가들의 전시였다. 아마추어 화가인 친구는 연신 감탄하며 “이것 좀 봐!” 외쳤지만 그는 “아무것도 볼 수 없었다. 이해할 수도 없었다”고 회고했다.

 15년 뒤인 1980년 그는 런던에서 처음으로 미술품 경매장을 찾았다. 나비파 화가 폴 세뤼시에(1864∼1927)의 작품, 그게 그의 첫 주요 컬렉션이었다. 이유는 “그림 속 노파가 우리 할머니를 닮아서.”

 오늘날 세계 미술계에서 가장 영향력 있는 인사, 패션사업의 거인 프랑수아 피노(Francois Pinault·75)의 회고다. 피노는 명품 브랜드 구찌·입생 로랑, 와인 명가 샤토 라투르, 프렝탕 백화점 등을 보유한 PPR그룹의 수장이자 세계적 경매사 크리스티(Christie’s)의 소유주다. 그는 2000여 점에 이르는 방대한 소장품을 전시하기 위해 이탈리아 베네치아에 미술관 팔라조 그라시(2006)와 푼타델라 도가나(2009)를 설립하기도 했다. 피노가 본인의 소장품 22점과 함께 한국을 찾았다. 3일부터 서울 청담동 송은아트스페이스에서 열리는 ‘프랑수아 피노 컬렉션:고뇌와 환희(Agony and Ecstacy)’전에 소개된다. 데이미언 허스트(46), 제프 쿤스(56), 무라카미 다카시(48), 신디 셔먼(57) 등 오늘날 미술을 대표하는 작가 4명의 국내 미공개 작품 22점이 나온다.

신디 셔먼의 사진 ‘무제, 발렌시아가 시리즈’(2007∼2008). 네 명모두 명품 발렌시아가 제품으로 치장한 작가 자신이다. [연합뉴스, 작가 제공] 송은아트스페이스 유형정 책임 큐레이터는 “시장 거래 기록 등을 고려할 때 작품 가액이 총 1000억원에 달할 것”이라고 귀띔했다. 2일 만난 피노는 “미술품 컬렉션이 내 삶을 매력 있게 만들었다”고 말했다. 작품 소장의 기준에 대해서는 “귀의 들림이 아니라 시선의 떨림, 마음의 끌림에 따라 작품을 택한다”고 말했다.

 -언제부터 미술품을 수집했나.

 “40여 년 전부터다. 내 고향은 미술을 향유하기 어려운 시골이었다. 서른 살에 처음으로 미술관을 갔다. 다른 사람들처럼 나도 처음엔 접근 가능한, 뭘 그렸는지 알아볼 수 있는 작품에 주목했다. 인상파·입체파를 거쳐 아주 빠르게, 그리고 지속적으로 오늘날의 미술에 관심을 갖게 됐다.”

 -왜 미술품을 수집하나.

 “기업가로서, 동시대 미술에서 오늘을 보고 미래를 본다. 동시대를 사는 작가들의 작업실을 방문해 과거와 현재를 본다. 작가들의 작품이 세상에 메시지를 던지며, 세상을 바꾼 것처럼 내 삶 또한 예전보다 매력적으로 변했다.”

 -컬렉션의 기준이라면.

 “마음의 끌림을 중시한다. 귀의 들림, 즉 보통 사람들의 얘기, 비평가들의 평가 같은 것보다는 시선의 떨림, 열정에 근거한다. 덕분에 난 유행에 좌우되지 않고 작품을 선택할 수 있었다.”

 유행을 말하지만 그는 유행을 넘어서는 사람이다. 그가 선택하는 작품이 오늘날의 유행이 된다. 98년 크리스티를 인수했고 2006, 2007년 연속 영국 저명 미술전문지 ‘아트 리뷰’가 선정하는 ‘세계 미술계에서 가장 영향력 있는 인물’ 1위에 올랐다. 이번 전시에 동행한 제프 쿤스는 “피노는 보는 눈이 날카롭다. 작품을 보면 즉각 반응한다. 하지만 가장 중요한 건 자신이 예술을 통해 경험한 바를 남들과 나누고자 한다는 점이다. 단순히 소장품을 선보이는 데 그치는 게 아니라 예술을 통해 사람들의 삶의 반경을 넓히고자 한다”고 말했다. 피노에게 한국 미술에 대해 물었다. 답변은 이랬다. “이우환의 작품을 소장하고 있으며, 그와 친분도 깊다. 곧 세계적 작가가 될 거다.” 더불어 이렇게 덧붙였다. “한국의 젊은 작가들에게도 관심 있다. 그러나 예술엔 국적도 경계도 없다.”

◆전시 정보= 세계적인 현대미술 컬렉터 프랑수아 피노가 소장한 도발적 작품 22점 전시. 칼을 꽂은 채 포름알데히드에 절여진 소의 심장(데이미언 허스트), 과도한 성(性)적 묘사로 이름난 조각 ‘나의 외로운 카우보이’(무라카미 다카시) 등이 나왔다. 피노 컬렉션의 아시아 첫 순회전이다. 송은문화재단(이사장 유상덕 삼탄 회장) 주최, 3일부터 11월 19일까지. 무료. 02-3448-0100.

◆프랑수아 피노=1936년 프랑스 브르타뉴 태생. 고교를 중퇴하고 제재소로 시작해 PPR그룹을 창립, 자수성가한 기업인이다. 미술시장에서 ‘미다스의 손’으로 꼽힌다. 명품 브랜드를 잇따라 인수해 ‘브랜드 사냥꾼’으로 불리기도 했다. 2001년 포브스 선정 세계 억만장자 77위에 올랐다.
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