New York's newest private museum is tucked away in Brooklyn
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New York's newest private museum is tucked away in Brooklyn
Jens Faurschou during construction of the Faurschou New York in Brooklyn, on Sept. 9, 2019. First he took Copenhagen and Beijing. Now, the Danish dealer-turned-philanthropist is debuting his blue-chip collection in the borough’s Greenpoint section. Charlie Rubin/The New York Times.

by Ted Loos

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Jens Faurschou grew up on the Danish island of Funen, to parents who weren’t big art-buyers but who had a ceramics collection. No, he did not come from money. “Not a dime, unfortunately,” he said.

He had a formative experience going to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Copenhagen, where three works struck him with particular force: an Edward Kienholz, an Yves Klein and an Arman.

Faurschou, 59, studied economics in Denmark, and then in the 1980s started making visits to New York, where he did his first art deal.

He learned a lesson: He liked stretching his limits. And on Sunday, the Danish dealer-turned-philanthropist is opening his third exhibition space as the newest member of New York’s private museum club. The museum, Faurschou New York, sits on a quiet street in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn and reflects the personality of its patron: It is reticent in one sense, forceful in another.

Offering about 12,000 square feet of exhibition space in a converted industrial warehouse, Faurschou New York debuts with “The Red Bean Grows in the South,” a show featuring 17 mostly blue-chip artworks by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, Paul McCarthy and Tracey Emin.

Faurschou (pronounced Fauer-skoe) established the Faurschou Foundation in 2011 with his first wife, Luisa, after decades as gallery owners focused on international contemporary art. The foundation opened two spaces, in Beijing in 2011 and in Copenhagen in 2012, before the couple divorced. Now Faurschou solely owns and funds the foundation. “It’s me,” he said simply.

In addition to supporting its own exhibition spaces, he underwrites artist projects and shows at museums, and was a co-founder of the Copenhagen Contemporary art center in 2015.

Most of the works in the opening exhibition of Faurschou New York are from the foundation’s collection. “We wanted to show who we are,” Faurschou said as construction was underway on the Brooklyn project, which was delayed several times.

The opening show, on view until April 11, takes dreaming and longing as its theme. The title comes from a Chinese Tang Dynasty poem, highlighting Faurschou’s strong connection to the country and its art. Two of the works are by Chinese artists: Cai Guo-Qiang’s “A Boat With Dreams” (2008) and Ai Weiwei’s “Two Figures” (2018).

Pride of place in the largest, skylit gallery is given to an outsized installation by Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz, “The Ozymandias Parade” (1985).

Alfred Weidinger, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany, has collaborated with Faurschou several times and received loans from him. “He likes to show works in a very minimalistic, clean way, with a focus on the art,” Weidinger said. He added, “Jens is very shy. He speaks through his collection.”

Faurschou was an art dealer for about 25 years before transitioning in 2011 to European philanthropy, and his collection now numbers some 400 mostly contemporary works.

He acknowledged that he occasionally deaccessions work from his personal collection, and does consulting work from time to time to fund his exhibition spaces, which are all free to the public. He said that none of the works in the foundation’s shows were for sale, and that he wasn’t making money from the exhibitions in other ways, either.

Faurschou wouldn’t say just how much he spent on the Greenpoint project — he rents the space, which is registered to Green Art Holdings, an LLC with an address in the Channel Islands. (The purchase price was $18 million in 2017.) In terms of size it is on par with the biggest commercial galleries in Chelsea.

“We’re making shows because that’s actually what we love to do,” he said. “It’s become a passion to make exhibitions.”

The “we” indicates a family affair: On collecting he consults his second wife, Masha, and on exhibitions, which are curated in Copenhagen, he works with his two sons, Christoffer and Christian, and his daughter, Tasha. There’s a skeleton staff on hand in New York for operations.

The artist Shirin Neshat — a friend of Faurschou’s for 20 years, whose work was recently shown at the foundation’s Copenhagen space — said that his move away from running commercial galleries did wonders for him.

“I think he feels relief at not having to deal with the day-to-day business aspect” of being a dealer, Neshat said.

Faurschou, who dealt in both the primary and secondary markets, agreed with that assessment. “When you’re a gallerist you have to make sure your artists have bread and butter everyday,” he said.

Not that he didn’t enjoy doing it. Faurschou recalled negotiating in the 1990s with Ernst Beyeler, a Swiss dealer who founded one of the world’s most acclaimed private museums, the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland.

“I sold him a Munch,” Faurschou said of a landscape painting priced at around $2 million. “I bought a Baselitz from him and tried to bargain — but in two years he didn’t move one cent. Eventually we just agreed.”

He picked up that Baselitz, the 1983 painting “Die Dornenkrönung” (“The Crowning With Thorns”), for around $250,000, later selling it. He also recalled the enjoyment of brokering a package deal for five Picassos and two Miros, at a fire-sale price of around $1.5 million, to an eager German buyer in 1994.

Faurschou New York is one of several private art museums in the city, along with J. Tomilson Hill’s Hill Art Foundation in Chelsea; Glenn Fuhrman’s FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea, and the Brant Foundation in the East Village. Hill, a billionaire investor, advised Faurschou — or anyone starting an exhibition space for that matter — that identity is all: “You have to establish a clear brand for the mission.”

For his part, Faurschou said that one differentiating factor is the size of the works he collects. “What’s special about us is that we buy big installations,” he said. “I don’t know who buys more.” One of the most recent is Doug Aitken’s room-sized installation, “3 Modern Figures (don’t forget to breathe),” from 2018.

“I like that they take you completely in,” he said of the large works. “You become part of the piece.”

The Faurschou Foundation’s location is certainly distinct, on a block that is a study in Brooklyn gentrification. There’s a pizza place and an astrologer, but also sleek new residential buildings.

After looking at spaces in Harlem, Faurschou landed three years ago on the Greenpoint location.

“I fell in love with this building,” he said. “What I love is the big footprint with few columns — it’s what I am used to from Copenhagen and Beijing.”

The die was cast. Aitken, whose work was shown at the foundation’s Beijing branch earlier this year, said that the low-key building was in keeping with Faurschou’s approach: “He doesn’t do a shrine to himself with a starchitect. He’s more about a flexible, international network of ideas.”

The delays encountered in finishing the Greenpoint space did not seem to faze Faurschou, who recalled the many hoops he had to go through with permits and permissions to get his Beijing museum up and running.

“You have to be damn patient,” he said. “And then things come alive.”

That his latest venture is in New York resonates for him. “I came here first in ’84 and it was a culture shock,” he said, especially when a friend brought him to the East Village to see a performance piece that involved extreme body piercing and attracted the attention of the police.

“That piece moved my borders,” Faurschou said. “That’s what art does.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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