Some consider him the greatest contemporary God of our times, some simply deny his pure existence. I am yet to decide which group I fall into…
It is not an easy task to write a review of the Whitney Museum’s closing exhibition featuring Jeff Koons’ Retrospective, knowing that all the mainstream media has done it from all angles already.
What I offer here though, is a down-to-earth, digestible version without being paid, without being a curator or being a professor of arts. I want to ‘review’ this controversial display from the ordinary museumgoer’s point of view.
Let’s start with the basics: Who is/was on display? Yes, it is not a shame if reading Jeff Koons‘ name you are not ready to respond with full confidence. After-all museums are not only for viewing what we already know, but to discover new names, new forms of arts, new impressions. Jeff Koons is a provocatively controversial artist in his mid-50s. Born in Pennsylvania, today he works both at his home town and in New York.
In a nutshell it is enough to know that he is close to dadaism with his readymade pieces and surely got some direct inspiration from the pioneering Marcel Duchamp. What’s more to know is that being controversial here or there, Knoos is still the only artist ever, who was able to sell one of his art piece for $58 million, beating all records for a living artist. So you can like him, or you can hate him, he most probably will not care and he is definitely rich.
Moving on with the basics: Where is/was Koons on display? Yes, we need to say a word on the venue as well. The full-fledged Koons was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art that is focusing on alive modern artists in all forms.
Now that we covered the who and where, we can enter the building and discuss the what:
The display was dispersed along three floors and the formation of the exhibition certainly deserves a thumps up. It was easy to follow, easy to go with the flow and it did not require anyone to get dizzy in order to avoid missing a ‘masterpiece‘.
If you happen to enter an exhibition displaying an artist, whose biography is not something that you would easily introduce to anyone, don’t be lazy and opt for the audio tour. It not only will save you the hassle to read the handouts or hanging descriptions everybody seems to fight for, but it will also give you such behind-the-scene information that might want you to dig even deeper after your visit.
The first room showed hoovers. Yes, hoovers, as piece or art. Right kick-off, isn’t it? Here you are already faced with the just dilemma whether Koons is being absolutely cynical towards art and art-viewers or actually he really means what he does. He argues that hoovers were part of his childhood, so they represent his mother, his memories and work, but also they reveal sexual annotations. I don’t know how to feel about it. There is a fine line between kitsch and innovative soul.
I will skip the step by step, room by room, hand in hand walk but be assured that Koons is a diversified, multilayered somebody, who got guts and negligent confidence to do and show whatever. From framed and layered photoshop posters, to glossy paintings, household appliances, flammables till twisted children’s toys and pornographic images.
Besides the many other attributes revealing once again that museums have no deeper functions than churches, meaning: you must attend if you want to uphold to a status, yet your first word leaving the sacred place is a curse at your neighbor, I was dumbfounded how many kids were at the museum. I just didn’t get it. Parents saw the little cute dogs on the Whitney posters and thought Koons is the greatest family activity? Negligence is bliss, but not all the times. I saw the blushing and surprised ‘let’s get out of here‘ looks, when suddenly a giant poster appeared showing pure sexual act. Pure frivolity.
Going further with the Koons controversiality, the vulgar sexual snapshots were featuring him and his later-to-be love. Where is the borderline between arbitrary exhibitionism and art? (by the way Made in Heaven would be the official indication for these pictures)
I don’t need to have kids or feel prude to just walk away from those pictures that I believe any curator should be brave enough to say no to. There is no problem with nudity and the display of the beauty of love and body, but sometimes you just have that feeling: ‘No, thank you, this is not art, this is spitting on my face, while I am devoting my time to you…’ – I certainly walked away.
‘Breath in: optimism, breath out: death’ – this is how the artist approaches the flammables … Easy like Sunday morning in a flourishing garden. Not sure this should really make Koons the Koons he became…
The daily objects (telephone, toaster) represent an other section (officially named as The Pre-New, The New series), where you need to maintain an open mind. And while, yes, we tend to pass by our used object and take them for granted, protesting that displaying a toaster in a vertical posture is a form of art is truly self-serving and not more. Period.
Entering the next room, where a basketball was balancing at its equilibrium in a forced manner (officially named as Equilibrium series) was interesting and at least I can say that I have not seen this before. Though, the artist wants you to believe that the ball is holding up in pure water, don’t believe to your eyes – that is not possible. He, upon consulting with Nobel Prize-winning physicist, added a little salt to trick us but eventually this shall go down as well…(creating a new piece of art, I bet).
Where the exhibition became more interesting was the commercial section (officially
named as the Luxury and Degradation series), where he aimed to demonstrate how we are seduced by the different stimulations; let it be a commercial ad, alcohol or even art. We wait for their great impact on our life, and then they turn out to be fake promises.
Beside the posters, stainless steel sculptures intended to give the false feeling of luxury, mesmerizing all, yet giving no real value to life. This series has a philosophy that I could relate to and fully consider as an art form that should be at museum displays. Thank you! A mirror to the society, a mirror to us – Koons does it with a a great sense of cynicism once again.
At the Statuary series, his most famous piece is the Rabbit that is once again taped with the most diverse tagging: being sexual, cute, simple, empty…The Rabbit leaves it up to you who you want to see. I am sure the adults, who dragged along their kids thought it was cute, I thought it was scary.
Another emphasize must be given to Koons‘ self-portrait that stood proudly among the stain steel pieces. A little odd way of presenting himself but does not come as a surprise anymore; ‘like me or not, I do not really mind’ was the first expression I choose to read from him. The official explanation was not less hesitant: was he enjoying his orgasm? Was he acting as celebrity? Questions are many, answers are random: still it is ART.
Passing by some child-friendly mirrors, which were certainly hard to get across due to the next emerging form of fine-art, called selfies with art pieces, then observing the so-called antiquity series that left little impression on my wanderings, the Banality series was something that Koons deserves the prominent title as Artist.
This section lined up a stimulating pieces, among others, Koons‘ most well-known: Michael Jackson and Bubbles. It bears the following explanation: Koons aimed to challenge the notion that modern art is difficult.When he made Jackson, they both were the Gods of their own field, as he explains: (and this I found very appealing from an artist, and does make me want to call him that way) whatever you respond to embrace them; objects can excite you or motivate you, but they have no art per se. Art comes from you; the art annexed to the objects is what is inside you. So just embrace what you enjoy…
Entering to the last room – or at least I left it as last – was an astounding second. Regardless of how you left the room, the first moment must be written as an accomplishment to Koons . The room displayed his famous ballon-imitation, a giant yellow stain steel dog (aimed to represent the pureness of humanity and the depth in our life), the truly amazing Boy with Pony, where the use of color and technique justly elevate Koons among the greatest names (though he seems to have obtained a comfortable chair already), an oversized
heart (another favored selfie option) and one of his most recent works, the Play-doh.
This latter one surely doesn’t help the primary dilemma, whether Koons is an artist or a fearless exhibitionist with good connections and a supportive karma.
Play-doh was inspired after his son’s plasticine creation that reminded the artist how much freedom children have when it comes to expressions. The abstract but detailed interpretation is actually more than it looks for the first sight. It took 20 years to finish (it was labeled as ready in 2014 June). It consists of separated aluminum pieces carefully crafted on each other, never to break the smooth flow of creativity. They were then colored and made realistic by adding the cracks and scratches. Simply fascinating.
This is what the Whitney Museum offered and though silent and loud (or rather) visible protests were taken against Koons and the surrounding fuss, the last day of the exhibition was unquestionably full and the queue to the ticket office seemed never to end.
Taking the last photo shots, I left the rooms and started to think how to come out from my Koons-dilemma…
Art is subjective that is a known axiom. So is that we are all different.
Though I tend to lean towards a yes in the argument whether Koons is a real, pioneering artist; yet, I am not sure if his boundless celebration is not one of the many manipulated acts…
Jeff Koons is a name to remember, but perhaps, to remember with a selective memory…
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