American artist Jeff Koons wows again in a new exhibit at the Beyeler Foundation outside Basel, Switzerland. Divided into three parts – the new, banality and celebration – the show is unapologetically trite but wholly seductive.
The 57-year-old American artist has called some of his production a Trojan horse -- and when looking at any of Koons' work it's easy to imagine that he uses his art as a kind of trick to subvert commonly-accepted assessments of value and quality.
Playing tricks on art was considered shocking when Koons started out. Many critics had a go at his work, calling it trite and banal. But by now everybody knows that what emerges from his Trojan horses is banality, even the enshrinement of the banal. And Koons himself has become one of the most famous artists of our time. His name is arguably as well-known as Picasso's.
Other things that tumble out of Koons's Trojan horses are the iconic, the monumental, the smooth, the mirror-like, the Baroque, and the highly artificial – all with a Pop Art feel. Yet once that list of components comprising the artist's universe has been compiled, something else becomes apparent: it's not that simple. Which doesn't mean you have to like it – but it does mean that Jeff Koons's art is worth checking out in a new light.
Artist as seducer
Walking through the exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation, another characteristic becomes spontaneously apparent: Koons is a seducer – and a cool one, no doubt about that. And that isn't a reference to his "Made in Heaven" sex games series featuring then-playmate Ilona Staller, a.k.a Italian porn star Cicciolina. Those scandalous bits of art are nowhere to be seen in the Beyeler show and it's no loss.
The exhibit focuses on three big groups of work: "The New" (1980–1987), "Banality" (1988) and "Celebration" (since 1994). What's striking is just how many of these works have somehow ironed themselves into our visual vocabulary even if we've never actually seen the originals before.
What that means is that Koons's highly mediatized work has already found its place in the collective consciousness. He has successfully achieved his mission of creating art for everybody: according to him, "art should have as big a political impact as the entertainment industry, movies, pop music and advertising." Just what political concept underlies the gilt porcelain figure of Michael Jackson with his chimpanzee Bubbles is unclear – but what is very clear, is that the sculpture is as well-known as Jackson's songs.
Jeff Koons has the fascinating ability to appropriate things and insert them into a new context of values. Take the images of Hoover vacuum cleaners belonging to "The New" group. He somehow manages to take the admittedly attractive forms of these everyday items and -- by combining them with very precisely placed neon tube lighting -- turn them into minimalist sculptures. Without these transformations of the ready-made leading the way, the art of somebody like Damien Hirst would be unfathomable.
A strong sense of concept
In "Banality," Koons celebrates the cult of the banal by turning kitsch (or what commonly passes for it) into art. Here the trickster reappears in the deliberately ill-interpreted appropriation of the work of Marcel Duchamps. Koons's pleasure at provocation is heightened by giving it a Baroque twist to the point of sometimes imbuing the work with a sacred quality.
"I use Baroque to show that we are in the realm of the spiritual, the eternal," says Koons. "The Church used Baroque to manipulate and seduce, but in return it gave people a spiritual experience."
It's also entirely possible that Koons uses words like "spiritual" and "eternal" in a Trojan way too, banalizing them the way he does his objects: the things he says tend to be similarly smooth and excessive. But there's a system to it, and despite all the hype and glamour, a strong sense of concept.
Smooth, mirror-like, excessive characterize the third and most exciting group, "Celebration." Here we see Koons not only as a sculptor and a painter but as a technologist: complex technology is used to create this art. It is very far from the mass-produced, and takes a long time to produce after considerable development and experimentation. But unlike early 20th century Futurists, Koons isn't using this technical perfection to celebrate the beauty of a racing car or a bomb: he celebrates the beauty of balloons shaped like dogs, fake Easter eggs, and artificial flowers.
The sheer size of these harmless items turns them into benign monsters, and stretches the concept of sculpture. They mirror not only themselves but the space, visitors, light, architecture -- one thing becomes many, and the final effect is highly seductive.
Rounding out the show are some large paintings -- slices of pie, fake tulips, party hats -- that work along the same principle of hyper-perfection and reveal something quintessential about Koons's art: the beauty of banality has become a fetish.
Until September 2, 2012 at Fondation Beyeler www.fondationbeyeler.ch.
Read the original article in German
Photo - ocad123