At the Met's Jasper Johns Show, Big-Name Collectors Come Out of the Closet

Look closer! Photo: Patrick McMullan

Don’t skip the wall labels at the Met’s “Jasper Johns: Gray” blockbuster. We don’t mean the text asserting that the show is moody, intellectual, and groundbreaking — which it, surprisingly, is. We mean the tiny letters that tell you who owns what’s on the walls.

While such info is usually hush-hush — “Private collection” is the norm — for this show, collectors seem to be eager to come out of the closet as Johns fans. Robert Rauschenberg owns the artist’s 1960 silvery Flag. Thriller author Michael Crichton is the owner of the famous 0 Through 9. Hedge-fund king Steve Cohen shows his A Critic Sees (a wry block of plaster with eyeglasses attached), while rival Kenneth Griffin — a supporter of the Art Institute of Chicago, which organized the show — gets the only color piece in it, Johns’s seminal 1959 False Start. (Griffin bought it from David Geffen for $80 million two years ago.) Agnes Gund and Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld are also proud, and disclosed, owners of pieces in the show.

The names on the wall almost beat out the star power of last night’s packed opening: Si Newhouse, Henry Kravis, Joan Didion, Caroline Kennedy, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Chuck Close, and two of the museum directors rumored to be in the running for Philippe de Montebello’s job: the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Anne d’Harnoncourt and the Art Institute of Chicago’s James Cuno.

Why were typically shy art owners suddenly willing to go public? It has to do with having the guts to buy one of Johns’s quieter, more insider-y works, said Essex House Hotel art curator Katherine Gass (long of the Curt Marcus Gallery). It shows you are “in the big boys' club.” —Alexandra Peers