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A Steel Mogul's Fascination With Koons's 'Cracked Egg'

27 July 2013

Growing up during the Soviet era, 11-year-old Victor Pinchuk stood, transfixed, before Rembrandt's "Prodigal Son" in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. "I collected stamps at the time, and I had a stamp of it," he said. "But it was wonderful, the power of the original." While the Ukrainian went on to make his fortune in steel, he started collecting drawings by Russian avant-garde masters Natalya Goncharova and Pyotr Konchalovsky, and later he added a native son, David Burliuk, the Ukrainian founder of Futurism. Since 2005, Mr. Pinchuk, now 52, has focused mainly on contemporary art—buying and exhibiting it. During the Venice Biennale, his namesake foundation opened its own collateral show. Sitting in the creamy cabin of his boat, Mr. Pinchuk recently discussed some other artists he is eyeing. Below, an edited transcript.

—Kelly Crow

"I recently met some Chinese artists, and they are brave. Younger, Ukrainian artists aren't brave enough yet—they make pieces about local problems, but I want them to think bigger, globally. Sometimes I try to get artists from my country in a room withDamien Hirst or Jeff Koons so they can ask questions and grow. But my favorite Ukrainian artist right now is the photographer Sergey Bratkov. He is really working at a high level. In 2000, he made a series of photos at a Ukrainian women's military school. It isn't politically correct to say, but these women in uniform are so sexy and so aggressive. I have one of these images in my office.

Olafur Eliasson is also one of the most visionary artists I've ever met. He is from Denmark and Iceland, and his focus is nothing less than the entire universe. He is best known for building those huge "Waterfalls" around the harbor of New York. I recently asked him to create some installations—including a bridge containing mirrors—for my new steel mill.

I also have a strong collection of Jeff Koons's works, including "Cracked Egg." It's a big sculpture of a violet-colored egg, broken into two pieces. I saw it first in London at the Gagosian Gallery on the 10th anniversary of the day I met my wife. Violet is such a powerful color, a perfect mix of the cold of blue with the heat of red. For one year I tried to buy it, but the gallery didn't know me. Now they do.

Another personal connection I have to this sculpture: I am a trained metallurgical engineer, specializing in pipe production. So I told Jeff that I loved that he cracked this "Egg" because it allowed me to see how thick it is. With pipes, it all comes down to diameter and wall thickness. For the first time with a sculpture, I got to feel both sides of one. You can't do that with a Rodin."

A version of this article appeared July 27, 2013, on page C14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Steel Mogul's Fascination With Koons's 'Cracked Egg'.

Author: Kelly Crow
Source: The Wall Street Journal