The Koons Effect

July 23, 2014

photo 3-2Thirty five years of inflatables, naked ladies, colored mirrors, basketballs, vacuum cleaners, and cartoon animals have gathered together for the first time. The menagerie of sculptures and paintings range from super-sized shiny to blandly ubiquitous, at times cerebral and at other times really in your face. He’s an extrovert who often makes somewhat uncomfortable comments about inflatable toys, like “The sexual power of the imagery was so intoxicating to me visually that I had to have a drink.” We are enchanted by his prolificness, his whimsy, and his celebrity. Collectors and speculators throw gobs of money at him for enormous metal Popeyes, lobsters, and balloon dogs. I’m talking, of course, about Jeff Koons whose first New York retrospective is currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is a celebration of an artist’s uncanny ability to make metal look plastic and Michael Jackson look white.

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Made in Heaven

I care not for his large-scale fully detailed “Made in Heaven” paintings of himself and former wife/porn-star in the act of, well, I’ll just call it love making. What I do enjoy are the works from his 1980s “The New” and “Equilibrium” series as well as his 2013 “Gazing Ball” series. In the 1980s Koons was less cartoon and more conceptual. The Hoover vacuum cleaners became Duchampian readymades for the artist and stand now like relics in vitrines, lit with the dim yellowish glow of fluorescent lighting. In other vitrines are perfectly suspended Spalding basketballs in clear liquid. The iconography of this simple spherical object represents an era in American culture when NBA players were more than celebrities, they were gods. Fast-forward through the kitschy crayon-colored phases and we arrive at Koons’ Gazing Ball series, another grouping of gods, which debuted at David Zwirner last spring. The series includes white plaster replicas of ancient Greco-Roman mythological figures balanced with reflective cobalt blue glass orbs, or gazing balls. In a recent W Magazine article Koons says, “When looking at a gazing ball, one of those reflective balls that people have in their yards, you experience transcendence; the ball becomes everything. It symbolizes affirmation, generosity, sense of place, and the joy of the senses.” When it comes to works like Belvedere Torso (pictured below), Koons aims to connect his viewer with the age of high classicism, to create a dialogue between past and present about the ideals of pure form and beauty.

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Koons’ most recent sculpture in the exhibition is a giant mount of Play-Doh that looks good enough to eat (what? you didn’t do that as a kid?). Play-Doh took the artist – and his team – twenty years to figure out how exactly to capture the dualing grainy and smooth textures of the stuff while fabricating it from multiple layers of painted aluminum. It’s probably the finest example of Koons’ commitment to making monumental artworks that embody the playfulness and whimsy of childhood, for which he feels such nostalgia.

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And who doesn’t love the Balloon Dogs!?

Koons’ immediately recognizable artworks have spawned a number of collaborations for art objects, home goods, and fashion accessories, causing the Jeff Koons brand effect to trickle down the many reaches of commerciality. If you don’t believe me, just go stand in front of the new H&M Flagship on Fifth Avenue.

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H&M x Jeff KoonsBalloon Dog FigurineJeff Koons Split Rocker VaseJeff Koons Tea Set

Can’t get enough of Koons-a-palooza? Check out these articles and related events:

Jerry Saltz on Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons Split-Rocker

Jeff Koons objects and collectibles @ Gagosian’s shop

Fashion Loves Art: Jeff Koons + H&M


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