Three years ago, Greek collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos, having amassed more than 500 artworks by 220 artists over two decades, decided to stop collecting. Last September, he told Artsy, “My collection is big enough and important enough that it requires attention to what will happen to it in the future.”
He’d already said—in 2014, in an interview with a Greek newspaper—that he’d be giving his collection to institutions. Today, he announced the fate of some 350 artworks by 142 artists, as well as an innovative arrangement for those works.
In addition to giving 140 pieces to Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) and 110 to Tate, he will give around 100 works to be shared by the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
“This arrangement makes me very happy because it is the realization of a conviction that I have,” Daskalopoulos said in an interview. “I wanted these works, which are important artworks of the last 30 years by some of the most prominent artists in the world, to become more accessible to a wider public.”
Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong called the arrangement a “home run.”
Recently, there has been more collaboration between museums on individual acquisitions. One such deal saw a large Sam Gilliam painting get jointly acquired last year by the Dia Art Foundation and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. But there would appear to be no precedent on this scale for an entire portion of a collection being shared.
“That makes it something of a milestone,” said MCA Chicago director Madeleine Grynsztejn.
“This is something that I think is the inevitable future of a lot of museums. We are facing industry standards that are increasingly unsustainable, and an art market that continues its meteoric rise beyond the fiscal capacities of most museums,” said Grynsztejn, speaking of the partnership with the Guggenheim. “A partnership at this scale will model a direction for collection gifts in the future….you get twice the scholarship, twice the public,” and the museums can share logistical expenses like storage costs. “It’s a win win win for the philanthropist, the public, and the museums.”
Daskalopoulos, who was born in 1957, started out in the Greek food industry and eventually founded the Greek investment firm DAMMA Holdings SA. He began collecting art in 1994, and became known for his acquisitions of large-scale sculptures and installations spanning the 1970s to the 1990s, by a global array of artists including Matthew Barney, Lynda Benglis, Paul Chan, Robert Gober, David Hammons, Mona Hatoum, and Mike Kelley.
He has appeared numerous times on the ARTnews annual Top 200 Collectors list, and has described his collection as focusing “on works that explore the human struggle to create and leave a mark during our short, fragile lives.” Because of the scale and difficulty of the artworks, he said, his collection is “not an easy one… It would be too heavy for any museum to carry and care for.
“I was never afraid of size or material or artwork,” he added. “It was buying artists that may not fit in my home. And that was another reason why the collection would have a better future if it was broken up between museums.”
For both the MCA and the Guggenheim, the artworks in the collection fill in some holes. The MCA Chicago is getting its first artworks by Gober, Chan, Ghada Amer, Karla Black, Sarah Lucas, and Rebecca Warren. The works will enable the MCA, as Grynsztejn put it, to “tell a proper story of the 1990s.”
For the Guggenheim, Armstrong said, the Daskalopoulos holdings are helpful in two ways: they are “highly complementary to our current holdings” and they are “enormously helpful in recalibrating the collection toward female artists in particular.”
He pointed to a group of works by Joseph Beuys and early pieces by Gilbert and George, as well as “crucial pieces” by Mike Kelley, on whose work the museum was “a little thin.” The gift will also include the first pieces in the collection by Rosemarie Trockel and Lucas. Other boons to the collection are a cluster of Kiki Smiths and a tranche of Matthew Barneys that, Armstrong said, could well make the Guggenheim the museum with the greatest collection of Barney’s art.
Daskalopoulos serves on the boards of both institutions. He has been on the Guggenheim’s board since 2009. Prior to that, in 2003, he made a joint acquisition with the Museum of Barney’s sculpture Chrysler Imperial (2002). A promised gift, it now belongs fully to the museum.
In 2011, the Guggenheim’s Bilbao branch showed works from Daskalopoulos’s collection. In 2017, he endowed a curatorial position there for contemporary art, which was filled by Katherine Brinson.
He joined Chicago’s board in 2016; his connection to the city goes back to his studies at Northwestern University. Last year, Grynsztejn was cocurator of the inaugural exhibition at a 70,000-square foot space funded by Daskalopoulos’s NEON foundation as a new cultural center. At the end of this year, Greece’s Hellenic Parliament will take over the programming.
Daskalopoulos has served for a number of years on the Tate board. And the EMST is a hometown institution. Founded in 2000, the EMST got a permanent home in Athens in 2015, but didn’t fully open until shortly before the pandemic. Daskalopoulos has been generous with the institution in the past, donating money to help it acquire artworks. The works from his collection that are going there are primarily by Greek artists.
“I hope I inspire some more people to move along those lines,” Daskalopoulos said of his donation arrangements. “I think collectors should invest the same kind of energy that they have put in collecting into thinking about the future of their collection.”
He added, “My partner in life, she said to me that, you know, this is not the end of your collection. This is a beginning of a new life for it.”