Society

Jeff Koons, Mastering The Art Of Artificiality

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.

Konrad Tobler

BASEL - There was a time when he had to work as a broker to finance his art. Today, Jeff Koons is one of the hottest contemporary artists, and his art has been crowned with a new show at Switzerland's ultra-prestigious Beyeler Foundation outside Basel.

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

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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