This Danish Mega-Collector Launched His Latest Private Museum in Brooklyn
Installation view of “The Red Bean Grows in the South," at the Faurschou New York, 2019. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging. © Faurschou Foundation.
“The warehouse was just one huge room,” Jens Faurschou said, “and it was full of Chinese shoes.” He was describing the original state of a building in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood that, after an extensive renovation in collaboration with architecture and design firm studioMDA, is now a stunning, 12,000-square-foot art institution run by his Copenhagen-based Faurschou Foundation. No evidence of the building’s previous function as a storehouse for mass-produced footwear remains; the single-story structure’s elegant, minimalist façade merely hints at the fact that massive sculptures by the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Paul McCarthy are the newest commodities hanging out in the former commercial space.
Faurschou—an intensely soft-spoken 59-year-old Dane whose silver hair and beard lend him the appearance of a younger Donald Sutherland—arrived in New York with an impressive résumé of past projects. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he ran a gallery in Copenhagen, before going on to launch the Faurschou Foundation in 2011 and co-found the Copenhagen Contemporary museum in 2015 (he’s now involved primarily as a board member). When Faurschou was a dealer, life was just as busy, but it was a different sort of hustle: selling, schmoozing, art-fair-hopping. “Now it’s all about the shows—and also collecting,” he said. “When you see something you can’t live without, then it’s stressful, because you have to finance it. But you always manage, if you really want it.”
Portrait of Jens Faurschou. Image courtesy the Faurschou Foundation.
Installation view of Paul McCarthy, CSSC, Frederic Remington Charles Bronson, 2014–16, in “The Red Bean Grows in the South", Faurschou New York, 2019. Photo by Ed Gumuchian. © Faurschou Foundation.
Some of the things Faurschou hasn’t been able to live without are included in “The Red Bean Grows in the South,” the New York institution’s inaugural show, on view through April 11, 2020. It’s a nuanced and thoughtful exhibition, far from a parade of a deep-pocketed collector’s trophies. (Most everything on view is from the foundation’s collection, with the exception of three works on loan.) There are certain Instagram-friendly crowdpleasers, like a bright-pink Tracey Emin neon, but for the most part, the work on view is difficult, even aggressive.
The show’s centerpiece is Edward and Nancy Kienholz’s The Ozymandias Parade (1985), a massive mixed-media work replete with flashing red, white, and blue lights; upside-down horses; and grotesque military men. Around the corner, there’s a Robert Rauschenberg assemblage from 1981–82 made in the wake of John Lennon’s assassination—“one of the most violent pieces I have seen” by the artist, Faurschou said. It’s paired with Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1971/2003), which jumbles patriotic footage with imagery of war and bloodshed, all set to an ironic, upbeat soundtrack.
Installation view of Edward and Nancy Kienholz, The Ozymandias Parade, 1985, in “The Red Bean Grows in the South," at the Faurschou New York, 2019. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging. © Faurschou Foundation.
Elsewhere, there’s the seductively surreal Omer Fast film Continuity (2012), which tells the story of a married couple whose soldier son, returned from the front, may have helped commit minor atrocities. And Faurschou’s initial inspiration for the exhibition came from two intense, downbeat works he owns: a lurid Paul McCarthy sculpture that riffs on the visage of Charles Bronson, and Georg Baselitz’s painting Mit Roter Fahne (With Red Flag) (1965), showing a forlorn soldier, ragged and shoeless.
Faurschou and his foundation already have footprints in Copenhagen and Beijing, as well as a temporary space in Venice. New York seemed like the obvious next step. “It’s such an energized city, and to have a permanent presence here is a challenge,” Faurschou said. “There’s so much competition.…The bar is probably higher here in New York than any place else in the world.”
Installation view of Ai Weiwei, Two Figures, 2018, in “The Red Bean Grows in the South," at the Faurschou New York, 2019. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging. © Faurschou Foundation.
His team had initially been scouting possible locations in Harlem, before looking across the East River to the traditionally Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint. Faurschou is fond of pointing out that he didn’t even know where or what Greenpoint was at first—clearly, he never watched Girls—but he was soon struck by the area’s unique character. The newly opened Faurschou Foundation outpost is tucked on Green Street, just off bustling Manhattan Avenue. After visiting “The Red Bean Grows in the South,” one can easily get a tattoo, see more art at a real estate office that doubles as a gallery, take in a metal show at Saint Vitus, and enjoy a $29 hanger steak at Le Fanfare, all within a few blocks. From there, it’s just a short bike ride over the Pulaski Bridge to MoMA PS1 in Long Island City.
Faurschou plans to stage about two shows a year at his foundation’s Greenpoint location, with all exhibitions organized and curated by his team in Copenhagen. Nothing is confirmed as of yet, but he anticipates a forthcoming exhibition could be devoted to a body of work by the Chinese figurative painter Liu Xiaodong that he made after visiting Greenland. Like at Faurschou’s outposts in Beijing and Copenhagen, programming here will include a mix of solo projects and group shows.
Faurschou New York. Photo by Ed Gumuchian. © Faurschou Foundation.
“We are working on several things, but we also like to have the opportunity to be spontaneous,” he said. “That has always been in our genes.” Faurschou also runs a virtual-reality art company, Khora Contemporary, which has produced VR experiences in collaboration with artists like Christian Lemmerz and Paul McCarthy. While that venture is entirely separate from the foundation, he’s leaving the door open to possibly show the occasional VR work in the space. Right now, he said, Khora Contemporary is working with McCarthy on a follow-up piece that he promised will be “mind-blowing.”
Admittedly, some may be anxious about the arrival of Faurschou Foundation to Greenpoint, seeing it as a harbinger of future gentrification. The area, while rapidly evolving, has yet to succumb to the fate of Williamsburg to the south, with its Whole Foods and Apple Store. But Greenpoint’s newest art space seems committed—at least on a surface level—to blending in with the existing fabric of the neighborhood. Can authentic Polish pierogies and massive paintings by Cecily Brown and Anselm Kiefer co-exist within the same five-block radius? For now, at least, they can.