[Originally published in Patron magazine]
It’s been noted that Kenny Goss is shy. It’s true. And, given his charm and looks, that’s perplexing. Even with a case of bed head he looks like a hybrid of Eagle Scout and Armani model. When we met for an interview, he padded around his Highland Park home—which could easily double as an art gallery—offering me Diet Coke and fidgeting a bit. Well, I totally got it. I was nervous, too. I’ve done a few stories on the Goss-Michael Foundation and found it so stunning that it made me feel as if Dallas had morphed into a trendy outpost of Uber civility. Everything at the Foundation is perfect: the napkins, the installations, the flower arrangements, and the artist’s presentations—everything.
While I’ve had brief conversations with Kenny, I had wanted to ask him questions about his penchant for collecting YBAs (Young British Artists) for a long time. I was as curious as anyone about how this epicenter of art from the “sceptred isle” had magically landed on North Texas turf. Its arrival seemed about as probable as snagging an asteroid with a catcher’s mitt. And, as it turns out, while it arrived via circuitous and unexpected routes, its acquisition was conscious and deliberate. Apart from rare exuberant outbursts, each work has been chosen with the same degree of care deployed by a bonsai specialist when snipping limbs.
Goss was born in Brownwood and worked his way through college by assisting at “catered parties for rich people.” The irony of this, of course, is looming and humorous in retrospect—but it also speaks volumes about willpower, sheer tenacity, and (let’s face it) the ability to acquire lots of dough. “I saw the art on the walls in these homes and I knew one day I wanted to live like that and have art on my walls, too,” Goss says. Well, mission accomplished. He landed a sales position and leveraged his bright smile and business acumen into a Texas-sized fortune. Thank goodness for Dallas, he opted to spend a hefty portion of his acquired spoils on art. The media reports that its worth ranks “in the millions of dollars.”
His home is a miniature version of what one finds at GMF—for example, Damien Hirst pieces, including a “fly painting.” He shrugged, “People say, ‘Doesn’t it drive you nuts when the flies fall off?’ It doesn’t bother me at all. You just sweep them up and that’s part of the process.” Goss isn’t cavalier about disintegrating artwork. He simply understands the new world of British art that stumps many, just as it angers and delights others. Some view it as the seeds of Armageddon and others find it to be the cutting edge of a braver new world.
Goss is low-key about most everything—except art. The conversation can slide along, but mention an artist—almost any artist—and his neck straightens and he looks like the alert and intelligent guy you knew in private school (dressed in Brooks Brothers) who got perky about the laws of physics. Goss’s taste is broad-ranging. In his youth he loved Warhol and now he confesses to a fondness for John Singer Sargent’s Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) and The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. The latter is housed in London’s National Gallery, where Goss is a frequent visitor. “I love to go and look at older work, but I also love Francis Bacon.” When he says this he beams. For readers who haven’t done their homework, Margaret Thatcher famously referred to Bacon as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures.” Born in Dublin of British parents, he’s known as a figurative painter with a bleak existential streak. Bacon came up in our conversation multiple times. A little research will reveal that one of his works, Triptych, 1976, described as “a landmark of the 20th-century canon,” was sold at Sotheby’s for over $86 million. The Moueix family, producers of Château Pétrus wines, sold it to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Sotheby’s, the swankiest of wines, and Russian billionaires conjure a rarified picture. It seems uppity. Well, you can jettison that. Goss has done it all and led a life of privilege, yet he’s anything but arrogant. He grew up in circumstances that defined “dysfunctional” and moved on to a highly chronicled affair with a pop star but he’s still a guy with a fairly simple story. Namely, he loves art as much as anyone loves anything. Among his favorite artists and closest friends is Tracey Emin. Famous for rocking the art world with her work My Bed, she also produces prints, videos, and neon sculptures that spill self-revelatory verbiage with abandon. She comes across as a combo of artist and wounded healer. It’s easy to see one’s own ravaged psyche in her work. So it’s not surprising that she and Goss would become fast friends and that he’d relish collecting her work. She’s monumentally real and so is he. However, while Emin is known for “wearing her heart on her sleeve,” Goss remains more opaque. He’s guarded.
Just as you can know an artist through his or her work, perhaps it’s an easy jump to assume that you can know Goss by looking at his collection. After all, he declared in one interview, “It’s autobiographical.” One of his favorite pieces is A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling (solo) by Angus Fairhurst. It’s a huge bronze depicting a gorilla sans one arm. The lost appendage lies just beyond the giant ape’s body. It’s a visceral revelation of how we operate emotionally versus how we’re supposed to behave as rational creatures. We all walk around frayed, ripped, and torn. Fairhurst had the heart to portray it and Goss had the wisdom to purchase it.
Taken further, Goss does seem to delight in the monetary aspect of collecting. He pointed to a Damien Hirst piece above a bed and said, “One of those just sold for $725,000!” He wasn’t bragging. He was merely delighted at the numbers. I can relate, and so can most people, if they’re honest. After all, driving an Aston Martin is more fun than a spinning around town in a Mercury. Money is thrilling and Goss gets that. When it translates into work in his home and at the Foundation, he begins to glow—for him, it seems to fuel a greater high-octane response than numbers with a lot of zeros posted on a ledger. Think of it as money given “a local habitation and a name” versus the fantasies of a disembodied Wall Streeter.
These days Goss divides his time between New York, Dallas, and London. He’s also increasingly focused on philanthropic efforts. The Foundation sponsors generous scholarships for students, contributes mightily to AIDS benefits, and hosts one arm of the Platinum Trust. The latter is an organization that supports and nurtures charitable groups and nonprofits worldwide. Its global reach extends to UNICEF—in fact, the interchange between the charity and the Foundation is overseen by Joyce Goss, the Foundation’s executive director. All of this, however, is a second tier to the Foundation’s most essential mission. Kenny puts it succinctly: “Art should not be just for rich people.” That young man who catered parties is still very much alive and active and doing his part to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to see what’s going on in the global art world. And for those few who exhibit a claustrophobic, fishbowl approach to culture, well, Goss’s taste in the acquisition of groundbreaking art not only shatters the bowl—it crushes the shards. Love it; hate it; Dallas has become an unrivaled venue for this level of artwork. It’s a stellar example of personal pain being transmuted into something worthwhile and good—great even—for the world at large. It’s an understatement to say that most people would have done less laudable things with their money.
But it gets better. Linder is the artist chosen by the Foundation for its upcoming exhibition in the fall. Born in Liverpool in 1954, she’s known for (mainly) female nudes depicted with their faces blocked out by opaque rectangles, stereo equipment, televisions, or even vacuum cleaners. It’s a mixture of glammed-up lingerie (or lack thereof), retro sound equipment, and buttons and dials that substitute for genitalia. Some of her work is almost pornographic—but it stops short of the purely banal. It’s a vector into our culture and the ways in which sex, the human body, and the disparate stuff of the marketplace collide. Food, cars, lipstick, and thigh-high boots—along with the aforementioned “equipment”—all become part of Linder’s photo collages. It promises to be a controversial show. It will push buttons and boundaries—and that’s what Goss loves best.
He states that he’s interested in “creating a collection of works by artists that inspires individuals to forget where they are coming from and focus on creating a better future.” Goss adds that “art should have no cultural or sexual boundaries and, ideally, the same should be true of our civic life.” In other words, he, like Linder, is pushing the proverbial envelope. Whether you’re with him or think his shows represent the last calls made before the demise of Western civilization, he’s happy with your decision. It’s a tolerant approach. Put simply, people could learn a thing or two from the man—and his art.