“Old masters are the most powerful”

Chuck Close with his collection

Chuck Close with his collection

From a NYTimes article about what famous artists collect. I want to ask Koons, if art is just about sex, what’s up with the word “transcendence”?

Jeff Koons
When Jeff Koons speaks about the “biological” subtext of his art, he’s alluding to the sexual references embedded within. (Think of the hoses and tanks of his vacuum cleaners, the crevices and shanks of his stainless steel balloon figures.) When Koons looks at the art he collects — old and modern masters including Picasso, Dalí and Courbet — he sees much the same thing.

The composition of a William-Adolphe Bouguereau nude that welcomes visitors to the Upper East Side townhouse he shares with his wife, Justine, and their six children is “vaginal,” he says, while a Manet painting of a boat displays “aspects of boat gender.” (To Koons, ships are metaphors for sexuality.) The Picasso portrait in his living room combines the faces of two women. “The whole thing is phallic.” In his bedroom, where nearly every painting — by Poussin, Magritte, Fragonard and more — is a celebration of desire, another Picasso depicting the artist making love is “about conquest, both artistic and sexual.”

If it seems as if he has a one-track mind, let it be said that the art in his possession affects his whole being. “I think art is about transcendence and consciousness, making connections to things in the world.”

Chuck Close

The living room of (Chuck Close’s) NoHo apartment doubles as a gallery for Dutch, Flemish and Italian old masters like van Dyck, Rembrandt, Titian and Tintoretto, as well as for African art.

A white marble bust of Hadrian, carved from life in the second century A.D., sits near a window, while a gilded Italian altarpiece, dated 1310, hangs over a Gerrit Rietveld cabinet. “When I studied Greek and Roman art,” Close says, “I didn’t know or care who the subjects were. Now I’m thinking, Hey, who’s Hadrian? Turns out he was a gay emperor. And a pacifist.”

Close, who is 73, . . . says, “I’m not acquisitive.” Yet on either side of an interior hallway are dozens of portraits, small drawings, photographs and paintings, many by artists Close has painted. They include Willem de Kooning, Eric Fischl, Cindy Sherman, Irving Penn and Alex Katz, as well as Jacob Lawrence, Diane Arbus and Man Ray. Most were trades, though a cut-paper collage by Ray Johnson was a purchase. One section of the work is blank, removed by the artist after Close requested a 20 percent discount. “Contemporary art is the most overpriced, overvalued stuff — thank God,” he says. “But old masters are the most powerful.”

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