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John Morrissey, In Search of Post-Feminist Girlie Art

By Carol Kino
Art Basel Miami Beach
December 2006

He wants to say, "Yes. I am a genius."

Ask John Morrissey why he collects, and he's likely to talk about cultural importance. "I want to have historically significant paintings on my walls," he said. "I want to be able to say, 'Yes. I am a genius. This is my trophy.'" His collection is sexy, substantial and especially rich in the work of young women -- including Hilary Harkness's all-girl Boschia fantasies; Su-en Wong's nude self-portraits and Carol Bove's Playboy drawings.

Now 38, Morrissey began his romance with art while in law school at Georgetown University, where he developed a habit of flipping through art magazines in the library during study breaks. "What's easier on the eyes than to look at images after reading boring and tedious cases?" he asked. By the time he passed the bar, he owned two Keith Haring prints and was itching to buy more, and maybe some Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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Luckily, his first job took him to Florida, where he became friends with Jason Rubell, who had just opened a gallery on Lincoln Road. "I told him about my interest in Haring and Basquiat," Morrissey said. "His response was, 'You're not going to be able to make an impact.'" Rubell advised him to go for young and emerging artists instead, and Morrissey has never looked back.

His first major purchases were four paintings by Karin Davie and a big chalkboard piece by Gary Simmons, all from Rubell's gallery. Then he moved on to buying in New York, just as the art market was emerging from the early 1990s slump. His early purchases make a savvy snapshot of the era: three Karen Kilimnik drawings, three Jack Pierson word pieces, two paintings each by Sue Williams and Brad Kalhammer, and one each of Cecily Brown and Inka Essenhigh.

These days, Morrissey likes to discover artists while they are still in school. He invested in Ted Mineo's food drawings and Elif Uras's fantasy scenes just after the artists had emerged from MFA programs, at Yale and Columbia respectively. He began snapping up Natalie Frank's allegorical nudes while she was still at Columbia.

He's a fan of what he calls Post-Feminist Girlie Art -- artists like Harkness, Wong and Frank, who are "reveling in a woman's physicality from a woman's perspective," he said. He's dubbed another trend he sees as Urban Chic -- a concept that covers Kehinde Wiley's baroque hip-hop portraits, and Mickalene Thomas's sequin-and-rhinestone-studded paintings, which explore African-American female identity.

Morrissey prides himself on doing his own legwork. "There's no way I call someone on the phone and say, 'What should I buy next?'" he said. He discovered Frank by reading about her on Artnet and in The New York Times, then checked her out exhaustively with dealer and artists friends, as well as a Wall Street Journal reporter who called to inquire about his Mineos. Four paintings later, he is now running his new interests past Frank. "Who knows the art better than the artists themselves?" he said.

Most of his purchases have appreciated wildly; he bought a Cecily Brown painting from her second show in 1998 at Jeffrey Deitch for $11,000. "One just sold for $968,000 from the same show and the same size," he said proudly. "I'm the envy of every broker around here. Why switch to stocks and bonds with that kind of appreciation?"

"My goal in life is not to own a million pieces of artwork -- one day I'd like to own maybe 10 paintings by 10 of the most substantial painters during my life."

Meanwhile, he rotates his holdings in and out of storage. For the most part, his guy artists, like the California-based talents Todd Hebert and Ben Peterson, are kept in his Clematis Street office in West Palm Beach. He keeps the Post-Feminist Girlie work at his home four blocks away. In his bedroom hangs his current piece de resistance: five photographs of naked women from the ex-Yalie Katy Grannan's Poughkeepsie Journal series. It's nice, Morrissey said, to "have these not entirely unattractive half-clothed women eyeing you from every corner of the room as you're falling asleep."


Article Source: Kino, Carol. "John Morrissey, In Search of Post-Feminist Girlie Art." Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2006, p. 48B.


Photo to the right: Sleeping Beauties

John Morrissey wants something 'historically significant' on his walls in Palm Beach.


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