The Karpidas officially opened last night with an invitation-only party, but “opened,” in this case, still means it’s private. The public can come by appointment only, with a special emphasis on educational groups (much the same arrangement exists with several other private collections). The Karpidas Collection was assembled by London-based collector Pauline Karpidas and her Dallas-based son Panos and his wife, Elizabeth (she’s the executive director of the Karpidas Family Foundation). The collection, the foundation and its offices are now housed in a new, 6,000 square foot building on Hi Line Drive. Plucked from the more than 1,000 items in the collection, 41 artworks are now on display in the inaugural show, ‘Empathy & Love’ — selected by Gavin Delahunty, Dallas Museum of Art’s curator of contemporary art.
The Karpidas building has fat, white columns out front with a blue-tile tower at one end. The color scheme and look suggest both Art Deco design and sunny, Aegean islands. The Mediterranean feel is accentuated by an interior, tree-filled courtyard, and it’s a natural association, given that since 1996, Pauline Karpidas has invited artists to visit her place on the Greek isle of Hydra (the new building also has a hall of black-and-white photos from their idylls on the isle). The blue-tile tower is called the ‘Art Sanctuary’ and, on the inside, it features a big, bright, bold (and permanent) installation of six paintings of Greek gods and goddesses (Hermes, Artemis, Apollo, Zeus, etc.) by David Salle. With the exception of that sanctuary on the end of the second gallery, the two spaces are conjoined twins — long but big enough to hold sizable pieces.
Pauline Karpidas began collecting in the ’70s, and Delahunty said, for this first show, he wanted to give some sense of the range of the family collection. So ‘Empathy & Love’ opens with several works by YBAs such as Sarah Lucas (“the bawdy, boozy, British artist,” as ‘The Guardian’ called her) and Tracey Emin (in other words, some of the same Young British Artists in the Goss-Michael collection). But ‘Empathy’ quickly reaches back to Nan Goldin‘s notorious, candid photos of New York boho life in the ’70s.
Beyond that, there are Andy Warhol silkscreens, a Chris Ofili (complete with fecal subject), George Condo’s carnivalesque oil paintings (notably his ‘Cracked Cardinal’ from 2004, a defining work) and both an oil and a pastel by John Currin. Famous for his beautifully meticulous, Old Master techniques in the service of self-consciously ‘trashy’ figures that are often simultaneously risque, whimsical and grotesque, Currin makes for a perfect, poker-faced counterpart to Condo’s sideshow amusements.
Delahunty says the majority of the Karpidas collection concentrates on paintings and photos — including two by Laura Olsen and a trio of paintings by Nicola Tyson, both of them Delahunty favorites. But amid all the oils, the curator made sure to include four sculptures by Urs Fischer, right spang in the middle of the first gallery. He’s cleverly assembled an installation out of them, with two partial figures (both an arm and a head) on facing pieces of furniture with a lit, incandescent light bulb swinging between them, as if someone just swatted it.
The whole scene is like a mini-party gone wickedly wrong (the head-and-arm on the couch is either being strangled or choking on something). Given Fischer’s predilection for often violently distorted or corroded figures, it makes perfect sense: Delahunty has given these four a narrative, with a tiny bronze of a mouse on the floor adding a dash of dark humor. Even the rodents in Fischer’s world aren’t doing well. You choose: He’s either on the attack or suicidal.
The plan, for now, is for the Karpidas Collection to put on two shows per year. So far, the selections look very au courant and of exceptional quality — not just art-world darlings but distinctive pieces by them.