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Maria Cox: ‘Art was our thing’

Maria Cox: ‘Art was our thing’

September 8, 2016 // by MOCA Staff

When they started collecting together thirty years ago, Donald and Maria Cox were drawn to contemporary art. When the Coxes built their house in Jacksonville in 1997, they quickly gravitated toward MOCA Jacksonville based on their passion for the art, artists, and ideas of our time.

After the announcement of Maria Cox's transformational gift of artwork worth approximately $5.8 million to MOCA Jacksonville's Permanent Collection, she shared some of the stories behind The Donald and Maria Cox Collection.

Learn more about the objects she donated during the Third Thursday Tour of Breaking Ground on September 15.

Maria Cox with Malcolm Morley Painting a
Maria Cox's donation includes Malcolm Morley's Salvonia MBG7160. Image courtesy of Ben Thompson.

How did you choose Jacksonville as the place you wanted to retire?

Friends, colleagues who had houses here. The beach with proximity to Jacksonville.

How did you first become interested in MOCA Jacksonville?

When we came here, we became aware of the Cummer and the contemporary art museum, then called the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art.

We sold our apartment in New York in 2004. We didn't have the space for more artwork here. My husband had been ill. I didn't know what to do, and then I thought of the museum, the contemporary one. Some of our New York friends were donating or thinking of future donations to the New York museums. I thought that our collection, though modest in relation, might be well placed here.

And so, we came to an agreement with George Kinghorn, the then director to donate forty pieces at that time and a promise gift of all the others (fifty-two more) at my death or before. It was stringent--that every piece be included. We also had a wall of 700 art books. We gave most of those then, and I'm giving more now.

Cox Collection Frank Stella Pergusa Three h
Frank Stella, Pergusa Three, 1982. Relief print, 70 . x 55 . inches (framed). Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Donald and Maria Cox. © 2016 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Why have you given so much of your time, money, and artwork to MOCA Jacksonville? What does the Museum mean to you?

The Museum is a place for everyone to see art, to be exposed to the art, and to get consumed by the art.

Art was our thing. Don and I were into art through the thirty years of our marriage, viewing and collecting, and after Don's retirement, more philanthropic work with the American Federation of Arts and the American Academy in Rome, and Don was on the Whitney Museum of American Art print committee.

That was our life in New York--the galleries, the museums, the openings, the art trips. Our friends were in the art world in New York and Dallas and Portland--all over. We travelled with them and saw many, many, many art collections all over the U.S.

And when Don and I travelled, we saw more museums and collections and met more collectors in Rome, Florence, Paris, London, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

How would you like MOCA to use this transformational gift you have bestowed on the Museum?

Just as a supplement to the whole collection, enriching the base, being there for everyone to see and experience, utilizing the mission of the Museum.

Cox Collection Joel Shapiro JS-439 j
Joel Shapiro, JS-439, 1981. Charcoal and gouache on paper, 22 1/8 x 30 1/8 inches (framed). Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Donald and Maria Cox. © 2016 Joel Shapiro / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

How did you first start collecting art?

Art was always part of life. I grew up at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I knew by heart where [Pablo Picasso's] Guernica was. The museum became a meeting place for us. It was our entertainment. My sister and I took art classes there and went to the movies there, The Thin Man and others.

My parents were architects. My sister became a sculptor, and I am an interior designer. My first year at Cornell was in architecture. I graduated in liberal arts with an art history major.

Growing up, I had a print of Picasso's Blue Boy above my bed.

The first piece I bought for myself was a Josef Albers print, a yellow square, early on when I was working for a design firm.

What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection and why?

Don and I mostly agreed on selections. If we didn't, we didn't buy it.

I've lived with them longer now. They became the fabric of my home. I had a book, The Power of Art, that I just gave to the Museum, and now I'm experiencing the power the art had in my home.

The art was so dominant! Only to realize it so vividly now that it's gone. The rooms are more approachable. Now anyone could visualize his or her own furniture and furnishings here.

The art filled, sated the picture. 

Cox Collection Joan Mitchell Chord III f
Joan Mitchell, Chord III, 1986. Oil on canvas, 77 x 44 inches. Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Donald and Maria Cox. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Could you tell us some stories about how you acquired a few of the pieces in the collection, such as Joan Mitchell's painting Chord III?

We had been at the Venice Biennale or Art Basel with the American Federation of Arts group, and we went on to France with some friends. We went to Vétheuil to the studio of Joan Mitchell. The studio had previously been [Henri] Matisse's. There were two buildings in the hills of Vétheuil. She must have lived in one and worked in the other. I forget. I remember her two large labradors roaming around.

We had met Joan Mitchell in New York and at the opening of her exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

We knew of her work from Xavier Fourcade's, where we saw some of the large works. On one visit to the gallery, I went through his whole collection of slides of her work through the years. I saw the growth, the thread, and the highlights of her work.

In Paris, we went to the Galerie Jean Fournier, and that is where we saw and purchased Chord III.

Cox Collection Malcolm Morley Salvonia MBG7160 g
Malcolm Morley, Salvonia MBG7160, 1994. Oil on linen, flags, 49 x 68 inches. Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Donald and Maria Cox. © Malcolm Morley, Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.

Have you ever met any of the artists in your collection? If so, could you share some stories?

Yes, all the time. We met many of the artists in their studios, at parties, and at openings. At Paula Cooper Gallery through Paula and Douglas Baxter, we knew Joel Shapiro, Jennifer Bartlett, Alan Shields, Jasper Johns, and Michael Hurson. And at Betty Cuningham Gallery, John Walker and Jake Berthot. At Grace Borgenicht Gallery, Giorgio Cavallon. In Amsterdam, Jan Dibbets. We became good friends. I'm a godmother to Richard Templeton, one of Betty Cuningham Templeton's sons.

What would you like the community to know about this gift and the collection?

That it is given with love. I'm happy to have the art at the Museum for all to see and experience--that the Museum is richer for it, increasing the opportunities for all to see and experience.

I keep harping back to exposure. I don't ever push any art upon anyone--I'm in favor of just providing the exposure and letting anything happen as it may. And immediacy (liking something right away) is not always the point. Freedom is everything. Art is exciting!

Cox Collection Philip Guston Untitled k
Philip Guston, Untitled, 1971. Oil on paper mounted on panel, 31 . x 39 inches (framed). Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Gift of Donald and Maria Cox. © The Estate of Philip Guston, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.




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