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Goss-Michael Foundation: The Young British Artists Are Coming, Take 2

by Jerome Weeks 18 Nov 2010 7:37 AM

Kenny Goss fell in love with the Young British Artists, the once-provocative, now-fabled generation from the 1990s that shook up the London art scene. Which is why the Goss-Michael Foundation has some 500 artworks in its collection — and now, a bigger, more ambitious home for them. Jerome Weeks reports.


Kenny Goss and Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain (2007) by Damien Hirst (courtesy SFGate)

Five years ago, Kenny Goss and his partner, pop-singer George Michael, opened a commercial art gallery in Dallas. What has since become the non-profit Goss-Michael Foundation debuts its new home this week, and KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports it’s a much bigger, more ambitious space.

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Kenny Goss was 19 years old before he’d even set foot in a museum. He says his interest in art was sparked when he was a working-class kid putting himself through the University of North Texas.

Goss: “I used to cater parties. And I’d look around and I’d think, ‘One day I’m gonna be like these rich people [laughs]. But it wasn’t about that. I’d say, ‘Now, they collect art,’ and I loved the art.”

In the 1990s, when Goss was first living in London with singer George Michael, he discovered the Young British Artists. The YBAs were a loose-knit group, many promoted by collector and gallery owner Charles Saatchi in a series of shows. Several YBAs became celebrities by galvanizing the London art scene at the time.

In fact, Goss credits George Michael with encouraging his start in collecting. Goss’ cheerleading supply company had been bought up by a competitor. And Goss decided to leave.

Goss: ‘George was like, ‘What is it you want to do?’ And I said, well, it’d be fun to do this. And he said, OK. I think that your partner, your parent, anyone – that’s what it’s supposed to be about is pushing people forward and supporting them. So he’s hugely supportive. And now I have, arguably, one of the biggest art collections in the world. It’s been the most rewarding thing in my life.”

[ambient sounds] The building that will house a small part of Goss’ 500-piece collection was once a door handle company in the Design District. Now there are forklifts and workers transforming it for the opening. Outside, it’s a nondescript warehouse. Inside, it will feature some of the landmark works that have inflamed British public opinion the past 15 years.

There’s Marc Quinn’s giant nude statue of artist Alison Lapper and her infant son. Lapper was born without arms. Nearby, there’s a 10-foot tall glass tank custom-built by the people who supply SeaWorld with aquariums (top). It will contain one of Damien Hirst’s infamous animal sculptures from his signature “Natural History” series. A cow’s carcass, riddled with arrows (reportedly shot by Hirst himself with a crossbow), will be tied to a post in the tank and immersed in a 5 percent solution of formaldehyde and de-ionized water. Hirst calls it Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain.

The Goss-Michael’s inaugural exhibition in its new home will be something of a ‘greatest hits plus preview.’ It will feature selections by YBAs (many of whom are now in their 40s) previously shown at the gallery. These include works by Hirst,   Michael Craig-Martin, Angus Fairhurst, Tim Noble, Sue Webster and Richard Patterson (who lives in Dallas). Along with these will be works from what Goss says will be future shows, including ‘The Obituary Series’ by Adam McEwen (right).

Goss says his non-profit foundation can display what many family museums can’t. It specializes in provocations and in pushing sexual boundaries. These works even push physical and technical boundaries.  They’re often big, unconventional and demanding. Associate curator James Cope (below) says that’s a chief reason the Foundation moved out of its previous home, a much smaller storefront near the Crescent.

Cope: “Every time we did a show, we’d have to knock down a wall or take out a door. And Kenny and George, they want to do more monumental shows and show works from their collection that we couldn’t do in our old space. This space gives us so much more possibilities.”

The possibilities include displaying the permanent collection in one gallery while the second gallery houses new shows. There are potential fundraisers, special events and collaborations with the nearby Dallas Contemporary, now that Peter Doroshenko is executive director there.

[sounds of walking]

Cope: “On the left is the staff offices, kitchen, fully-functioning kitchen. We hope to do different functions and events.”

Weeks: “Bar mitzvahs?”

Cope: “Yeah, bar mitzvahs, lots of plate-crashings on the floor.”

All of this could be seen as another wealthy patron flaunting his taste in shock tactics. But Goss is very serious about the art, about bringing today’s international, much-talked-about artists to Dallas, a city he sees as finally entering the contemporary art world in a significant fashion. He’s hired a leading art consultant/dealer, Aphrodite Gonou, to curate his collection. And Goss doesn’t cherry-pick simply the high-profile, headline-grabbing pieces. He supports the artists themselves, purchasing 6 to 10 works from each. He makes sure he buys a new one so the money goes to the artist and not an auction house.

Goss sees his foundation as a way for these artists to gain new exposure in North Texas, while North Texans – even working-class 19-year-olds – can encounter contemporary, controversial artworks they might not have a chance to otherwise.

Goss: “I firmly believe that this YBA group and also the British contemporary artists are some of the most influential artists in the world. And it really became my passion. If, you know, if I’d just been like rich people, I’d just have been disgusted with myself.”

Tim Noble & Sue Webster, The Sweet Smell of Excess (1998) assembled in the kitchen (left) and illuminated