After a somewhat arduous journey to New York’s Manhattan Island I arrived at the Jeff Koons Whitney Retrospective last week. It is truly; in every way, with no doubt, Jeff Koons. The exhibition is everything you have ever heard (or known) about the pitchman/artist; everything! Koons touts his work as a celebration of banality but the irony is the show itself in spite of the scale, shiny mirror sheen and pop/art references is largely itself an actual bore. It is also the most important exhibition in the world at this time and will only be seen in museums in two other countries. The Pompidou Center in France and the Bilbao in Spain will also house this extravagant behemoth of a retrospective.
Koons has never really intended his art for anyone other than the one or point zero-zero one percent. In that he has succeeded like no one else. He sustains the record for the highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist ($58.4m.) The pieces are essentially a point for bragging rights for the owners. “Look; I own a Jeff koons…see how rich I am!” Koons is the tailor selling the emperor his new clothes while the emperor is well aware and enjoying the con.
There is a refined; assembly line precision to the works. I also; at times, had the feeling of walking through a very high-end Walmart. Especially around the Hoovers encased like a Damien Hirst Shark and the floating basketballs. “Pick-Up in isle six!” At other times it seemed like a huge yard sale; somewhere to unload a huge amount of expensive “dust collectors” or garden shop plaster academic style yard sculptures in order to purchase newer, statelier, brighter ones. As I walked through the Koons retro I couldn’t miss seeing a small probably six or seven year old girl skipping through the galleries in a state of contentment and glee. I imagine it gave her the feeling of navigating her way through the objects of some fairy tale giant’s collection of porcelain nick knacks. In her mind she could have been an extra in one of Disney’s films like “Honey; I Shrunk The Kids” or “Babes in Toy Land.”
There was another young woman, probably in her twenties posing in front of selected pieces for her father. She was intent on getting the look and stance of a sculpture that looked like an enlarged dime store toy gorilla. She then did the same with the image of “The Incredible Hulk” represented in a painting. When I say her heading for a Koons’ original from the “Made in Heaven” series I was reluctant to look and quickly moved on. I can only imagine what she did in front of it. “Made in Heaven” is a series of pornographic photo realist paintings and sculptures by Koon’s of Koons and his former Porn Star wife in totally explicit and erotic poses. Is there nothing that is not for sell or display by Koons?
People were enjoying the exhibition in many ways. Photo flashes were a constant and it was quite the circus for many jockeying for position in front of and around various selected works. I have to admit that I have enjoyed the work of Jeff Koons in other venues. I have seen his work at The La County Museum of Art, SFMOMA and at Gagosian’s Miami Basel booth last December. Each time Koons was immersed amongthe works of other contemporaries including John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger and Chris Ofili.
It gave a balance to what Koons is attempting with his art. That is besides making tons of money. His is a reaction to the concept and idea of art. He has gone beyond other artists into the forces behind the perfected viewing and purchasing of art as commodity. When looking for anything deeper in the work we are literally confronted with a mirror reflection of ourselves and the surrounding objects. Imagine a carnival funhouse set of mirrors with Koons serving as the narcissistic barker and we the rubes.