Divide And Rule
Deciphering the mind of Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is the king of kitsch. Bringing together his experiences selling brightly wrapped sweets and a fascination for Dalí’s Surrealist tricks, he focuses on the trivial productions of postmodern society and turns them into revered objets d’art. Basketballs, vacuum cleaners, and cuddly teddy bears have all been the focus of his attention. He’s making Pop Art’s satirical point: exposing the superficiality of consumer culture and revealing how seductively its artificiality can be sold to us. But his works also turn the “ready made” – a fundamental Modernist concept – into a crowd-pleaser. Duchamp is given Disney appeal. This is what makes him the most successful US artist since Andy Warhol.
To some, Koons remains the living epitome of the naked emperor. He is barely a real artist, declared critic Robert Hughes; just a grotesque manipulator of the markets, with the “slimy assurance ... of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida”. But, bar an early 1990s slump when critical consensus rounded on his ‘Made in Heaven’ show (a series of pornographic photographs of the artist in flagrante with his luscious then-wife) and dismi dismissed him as a burnt-out talent, his prices h have remained as elevated as his self-belief. In 2007, his “Hanging Heart” metal ball balloon sold for USD23.6 million (RM76 m million), a record for any living artistN artist at auction at the time.
Now the 58-year-old is about to stage a triumphal tour. This year, a retrospecti retrospective spanning his 35-year career and incorporating incor 120 of his works – paintings, prints, photographs, drawings, and sc sculptures – will visit New York and Paris. Whatever line this retrospective draws under his career, Koons has yet to run o out of steam. Even as he seems assured of his place on the contemporary scene, he appears to be striving to cement his name into the art-historical canon. Recent works toy with the imagery of Classical sculpture, a sign perhaps that the Pop Arts supremo is moving into loftier aesthetic spheres. ‘Jeff Koons’ is at the Whitney Museum of American Art (www.whitney.org) until October 19 and the Centre Pompidou from November 26 to April 27, 2015. www.centrepompidou.fr
Jeff Koons in his Manhattan studio
“Puppy” at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Cat On A Clothesline, 1994-2001
Hanging Heart, 1994-2006