A collector of artists
Dakis Joannou was born in Cyprus to an industrialist father with construction projects throughout the hellinistic region. In 1974, following a Turkish invasion, the elder Joannou moved the family to London, and then to Athens. By then, Joannou had begun working with his father, and their international network of businesses included hotels, real estate, and shipping Coca-Cola products. With business booming, the younger Joannou waded into the art world, but not by collecting—he was staging shows at the Athenaeum InterContinental. This led him to set up the Deste Foundation (deste is the Greek word for “look”), which he incorporated in Switzerland, for tax purposes.
In Geneva in the early 1980s, Adelina von Fürstenberg, the founder of Geneva’s Centre d’Art Contemporain, introduced Joannou to a young art advisor who worked for Citibank, Jeffrey Deitch. The young New Yorker was a habitué of the galleries in the burgeoning East Village scene, and in 1985, he brought a visiting Joannou to Meyer Vaisman’s International With Monument gallery on East 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. It was the first major solo show for an artist named Jeff Koons, who was working on Wall Street to fund his increasingly expensive sculptural experiments. Joannou was taken by the most daring of them, from 1985: One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), the first of the iconic floating basketball sculptures. He asked Veisman to arrange a studio visit, and after speaking with Koons, he bought it—for $2,700, or a 10-percent discount off the asking price of $3,000.