8363 - Maria Cox donates art collection to Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville


Frank Stella, Singeli VA II, 1977.
Maria Cox collected modern and contemporary art with her late husband, Donald, throughout their marriage, building an impressive selection of works by Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston, Joel Shapiro, Frank Stella, Keith Haring, Malcom Morley, Jasper Johns, and many more.

Now, she has donated The Donald and Maria Cox Collection to the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural institute of the University of North Florida. Highlights include Mitchell’s 1986 painting “Chord III,” two paintings by Guston, a bronze sculpture by Shapiro, and Haring’s “Two Dancing Figures” sculpture.

The gift by Maria Cox, a MOCA trustee for 12 years, represents an acceleration of a planned bequest set in motion with the Coxes’ 2004 gift of 48 works, which are some of the most active and educationally valuable objects in MOCA Jacksonville’s Permanent Collection. The current gift, valued at about $5.8 million, includes another 50 artworks that have even greater significance. The 98 objects in the entire Cox Collection include 16 paintings, 27 sculptures, 52 works on paper, one photograph, and two pieces of ephemera. Cox has also created The Donald and Maria Cox Fund by pledging a gift to help support research, conservation, access, and future growth of the Permanent Collection.

“Maria Cox’s generous gift transforms MOCA’s Permanent Collection,” said Ben Thompson, acting director. “These important works by top-tier artists bolster the strength of the Permanent Collection, dramatically increasing its significance, and will provide joy, education, and scholarship for generations.”

The Permanent Collection guides and enriches MOCA Jacksonville’s exhibition offerings, as well as providing a lasting, year-round resource for the community. MOCA endeavors to create a Permanent Collection of significant depth, scope, and quality to be used for exhibitions, study, and scholarly research—all tools that foster education, awareness, and experience with contemporary visual art. Cox’s gift propels the Museum towards its goal of creating a high-quality collection with areas of distinction that will help define the institution regionally, nationally, and internationally.

“Donald and Maria easily could have selected a more established and well-known institution in New York City where they built their careers, so why MOCA Jacksonville? Their choice indicates to me what really drove their collection from the very beginning—simply the love of art,” said Charles Gillman III, chair of the MOCA Board of Trustees and president of Cumberland Woods, LLC. “Now, her wish is to share that joy with others. At another institution, her gift would have to compete with many other significant works for exposure from storage. And once their works were curated into an exhibition, they would be competing with myriad other great art offerings about town for an audience. The Cox gift is all about exhibiting the art and foregoing the fanfare. Now, it's up to MOCA to prove to our local constituencies the exceptional value of this gift that has come to us here in Jacksonville."

The Coxes began collecting in the 1970s, a very “alive” time in New York for art.

“We saw an enormous amount of art—galleries, museums, studios, in New York and traveling,” Maria Cox said. “Don and I mostly agreed on selections. If we didn’t agree, we didn’t buy it. In New York, sometimes on a Saturday, we might have visited up to twenty-eight galleries. There was so much going on in the galleries and the museums uptown, midtown, SoHo, and then Tribeca and further east and south. It was always good to go to a museum along with the galleries; it sharpened the focus. It made a good comparison of what could stand up to the museum quality.”

Donald Cox, who died in 2006, was a Virginia Tech graduate in chemical engineering whose forty-three-year career as a senior vice president and director at Exxon included responsibilities in Europe and throughout the world. After retirement, he served as president of The Teagle Foundation, trustee and president of the American Federation of Arts (AFA), trustee of the American Academy in Rome, a member of the Whitney Print Committee, and emeritus trustee at Polytechnic Institute of New York University and Bluefield College in Virginia. He also served as a director of the Emigrant Bank and Neuberger Berman.

Maria Cox, a Cornell University graduate, worked with architectural and interior design firms in New York, Boston, and San Francisco before establishing her own New York interior design firm in 1968 where she did commercial, institutional, and residential projects. She shared a warehouse space with five architects with whom she sometimes collaborated. Early designs included work on the Opera House and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. She was an associate member of the American Institute of Architects, an affiliate of the AFA, and a longtime trustee of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. She holds degrees in landscape design and horticulture from the New York Botanical Garden. In 2002, she won an award from the Florida Native Plant Society for her native garden at her Ponte Vedra Beach home.

“The Cox gift will greatly strengthen MOCA’s Permanent Collection, considerably enhancing the Museum’s outreach and education efforts,” said Preston Haskell, founder of integrated design-build firm The Haskell Company and a former chair of the MOCA Jacksonville Board of Trustees. “It’s a great statement about MOCA and the community to have Maria and Don Cox, who could have gone anywhere, to choose Jacksonville and to choose MOCA as the principal benefactor of their generosity.”

The Cox Collection includes 60 artists previously not represented in MOCA’s Permanent Collection. In 2015, MOCA conducted in-depth research on the Permanent Collection, which includes painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, photography, ephemera, time-based media, mixed media, and artist books. To guide future acquisitions, the curatorial staff identified wide-ranging themes under which more than one discipline can be categorized.

The works in The Donald and Maria Cox Collection underscore some of these, including The Evolution of Mark-making, in which the mark is an extension of the artist’s mind, motivated by an impulsive and intuitive process between the artist and brush, and (Re)presentation, which pays homage to the Realist art movement yet elevates a variety of art-making practices, including but not limited to assemblage, portraiture, appropriation, or even photorealism and photo montage.

“Gifts comprise more than 70 percent of MOCA Jacksonville’s Permanent Collection,” Thompson said. “These objects hold great value for the Museum and the community. We hope others will consider donating artworks of high caliber and great educational value in the future.”

P. Scott Brown, an associate professor of art history at UNF, will work with his fall Methods class to catalog the Cox Collection. Students will research the objects and write essays that will be published on the MOCA Blog and used in didactic materials at the Museum.

“The Cox gift represents a unique and wonderful opportunity of the sort that UNF's partnership with MOCA now makes possible for our students,” Brown said. “The junior and senior art history majors at UNF will be studying the Cox Collection this fall, working on the kinds of serious, professional problems that students at many universities never have the chance to experience before they enter the real world: working face to face with real artworks, helping to interpret their importance to the museum, its visitors, our community, and the city of Jacksonville.”

To celebrate this transformational gift, MOCA Jacksonville plans to exhibit a selection of the new objects in “Breaking Ground: The Donald and Maria Cox Collection,” September 24 through January 8, 2017. Curator Jaime DeSimone leads a Coffee Talk with a Curator program discussing the gift on November 12.