On the boards of some of the most important museums from the MoMA in New York to the Tate and Design Museum in London, Dakis Joannou is one of the world’s best-known collectors and philanthropist. Since 1983 the two Deste Foundation headquarters have been hosting exhibitions of the trendiest artists, from Cattelan to Martin Creed. And Jeff Koons suggested him the razzle dazzle camouflage for his boat
The approach to the Guilty project was quite unusual. Instead of wor- rying and wondering about style, shape, size and things like that, we decided with the architect Ivana Porfiri to put everything we needed, spaces and functions, on a platform. We chose one hull that already existed and started adding spaces. We ended up creating a strange shape that looked like a container, which then ended up looking like a warship». Laughs Dakis Joannou, a Cypriot shipbuil- der and one of the world’s best-known collectors and philanthropist who has been working with artists and curators since the 1980s, and now serves on the boards of some of the most important international museums from the New Museum to MoMA, to the Met in New York, and the Tate and Design Museum in London. For ten years he was chairman of the Inter- national Directors’ Council at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, where he is now an Honorary Member, while the Deste Foundation he established in Athens in 1983, and which today has two venues, one in the capital and the other on Hydra Island, is supporting contem- porary art projects with international artists, architects, designers, and curators.
«When I founded Deste Foundation, I meant to create a place for dialogue with the contem- porary, with everything new, vibrant, and interesting that was manifesting itself in contem- porary art. I invited young artists and curators to do projects in Athens. We are extremely flexible, attentive to what artists have to say in the present. We don’t make long-range plans, we work on projects, and sometimes we even change direction. The idea is to have the free- dom to follow the most interesting aspects of the contemporary».
Continues Dakis Jouannou who built Guilty, a 36-meter yacht together with architect Ivana Porfiri and Jeff Koons, «Once we decided on the dimensions, proportions, and spaces, we di- scussed what color to paint the boat», the collector remembers, «I talked about it with Jeff Koons. I asked him for an idea for the yacht. Jeff immediately proposed this concept of pain- ting her with a World War One camouflage, the razzle dazzle. At that time I didn’t even know what it was.
Above, two installation views. Kaari Upson’s exhibition Never Enough (left) at the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, in Athens, and (right) Jeff Koons’ Apollo at Deste Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse, in Hydra, 2022. Front page, Dakis Joannou. Previous page, Jeff Koons’ Apollo Wind Spinner, (2020/2022).
The Guilty artworks were designed specifically for each room. On board there are contemporary design pieces, to which we juxtaposed some others from my Radical Design Furniture collection of the 1960.
We looked it up on the computer and came up with this pattern used by the British navy to camouflage ships in the middle of the sea, a pattern of geometric figures and colors that confused the shape, the size, the distance of the boat. At that point, I proposed it to Ivana Porfiri the architect I worked with on the project. Ivana opened her computer and showed me a similar image. They had magically the same idea. Was it a sign of fate? I asked Jeff if he would like to do it and he gladly accepted».
Dakis Joannou has spent his whole life with artists, curators, museum directors, many over the years have become friends: from Jeff Koons to Maurizio Cattelan, Jeffrey Deitch, Urs Fisher, Massimiliano Gioni, Sarah Morris to Matthew Barney, while his exhibitions at Deste have always celebrated the contemporary, from Everything That’s Interesting Is New (1996) at the Athens School of Fine Arts, curated by Jeffrey Deitch, (the coolest and most informed curator in NYC at the time), to Monument to Now, the show which was part of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Cultural Program, curated by Dan Cameron, Jeffrey Deitch, Alison Gingeras, Massimiliano Gioni, and Nancy Spector. Iconic, unmistakable, assertive, Jeff Ko- ons’s blue, black, and yellow pattern for Guilty evokes the invention of British officer Norman Wilkinson, and the idea of 1960s Pop Art printing pixels by Roy Lichtenstein. In contrast to the pattern of the exterior, the interior is white, essential, minimal. Here the space is divided into large, bright rooms made to accommodate guests and artwork.
«Having defined the environments we had in mind, we worked on the interiors. The main space, the living room, is an open space large as the entire width of the boat, lit on two si- des by wide continuous windows on the water level, so that it almost feels like being on a sailboat. The furniture are contemporary design pieces, to which we juxtaposed some pieces from my Radical Design Furniture collection of the 1960s. The Guilty artworks, on the other hand, were designed specifically for each individual room; I didn't take works that existed> explains Dakis Joannou.
He is a master at engaging artists in site-specific projects beginning with the Hydra Slaughterhouse Project, the commissions for the old slaughterhouse overlooking the sea on Hydra Island across from Athens, where Guilty is often seen moored in the ancient natural harbor of the Greek island. «I started coming to Hydra in the early 1980s. We were fascinated by this magnificent and unique island. I liked it so much that I bought a house there. The slaughterhouse in Hydra always fascinated me; it was an out-of-the-way, mysterious place where the sea water was always red. After it was decommissioned it took ten years to make an agreement with the city of Hydra to use it», says laughing again Dakis Joannou with a huge painting by Josh Smith behind him.
Hydra Slaughterhouse Project opened in 2008 with a double exhibition by Mathew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton, then it was the turn of Maurizio Cattelan’s We, who left the slaughterhouse exactly as it was, placing in it its newest work We, emphasizing that sinister air, and the passage between life and death. Roberto Cuoghi created Putiferio, where he first molded in clay and then cooked on fire hundreds of crabs on a full moon night. Urs Fi- sher did a great sculptures project on the rocks, and then, last summer, Jeff Koons transformed the slaughterhouse into a contemporary and mystical place by evoking Apollo and the Greek mythology and installing a gigant Wind Spinner on the roof.
The conversation returns to the yacht: <Cecilia Alemani curated the artworks for the boat with works by Martin Creed, David Shrigley, Urs Fisher, Sarah Morris, Ricci Albenda, Richard Jackson, and Doug Aitken. For the living room we asked Sarah Morris to create a wall painting version of one of her paintings Guilty, which is part of the collection, she made a new and much larger version with black tones instead of red. The British artist Martin Creed did Feelings, a blue neon light sign. Doug Aitken desi- gned the yacht flag», continues Dakis Joannou, class of 1939, Master’s degree in engineering from Columbia University in New York in 1964, and Doctorate in architecture from the Uni- versity of Rome in 1967.
«Artworks for boats are very different from artworks for houses. The boat is always in motion and the works have to go along with the motion both as static and as perception, even people move differently on a boat, there is a fruition of the work that has the times and modes of a space that is floating and swaying on the water», explains the collector, thunderstruck by Jeff Koons’ work One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank in New York in 1985. He put a reserve on the work and confirmed it after meeting with Jeff for a few hours in his studio. «That was the be- ginning of a friendship, of many projects with Koons, up to Guilty in 2008, and then Apollo in Hydra last summer».
Collecting is his life, as he said in the occasion of the exhibition of his collection at the New Museum in New York. «Collecting is, for me, an adventure, a set of different ‘lived’ experiences, a constant flow of meeting, talking, listening, looking. It is an act of understanding and par- ticipating. And within this never ending involvement with ‘what is happening,’ the moments when I see exciting works for the first time constitute some of the highlights of my life».
Right, installation view of yhe exhibition Urs FischerYes at Deste Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse in Hydra (2013). Front page, installation view of We by Maurizio Cattelan at Deste Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse, Hydra in 2010.