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Four decades of Jeff Koons

— August 2014

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Jeff Koons, Made in Heaven,1989. Lithograph on paper on canvas; 317.5 x 690.9cm ARTIST ROOMS Tate & the National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund & Art Fund 2008.

Cassone's correspondent Tom Huhn visited New York's Whitney Museum of American Art to report on the big Jeff Koons retrospective currently pulling in the crowds

The art of Jeff Koons provokes a nearly Hegelian formula regarding the relationship of a historical moment to its symbolization as art: Every modern era gets the outsized, larger-than-life artist and showman it deserves.  Our moment, for better or worse, could not be more perfectly realized than it is by ‘Jeff Koons: A Retrospective’, the final exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Madison Avenue location, which surveys four decades with 150 works.  When the exhibition ends on 19 October, The Metropolitan Museum of Art takes possession of the Marcel Breuer building while the Koons show travels on to the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Guggenheim Bilbao.  The Whitney is to reopen in 2015 in a building currently under construction in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district.

Koons’ genius, if you will, lies in the very particular combination of flat affect and exuberant surface.  This combination is located promiscuously in the works themselves, in the personality of Koons, and is to be found even between Koons and each of his works.   No doubt Koons picks up the flat affect from Andy Warhol,  the artist  with whom he is most often linked, but this linkage obscures the fact that Koons appropriates nearly as much from the strategies of Minimalist art and Conceptualism, especially the former’s successful ‘emptying out’ of the seeming interiority of sculpture as well as its fetishization of surface.  

Koons’ success can thus be seen as the result of very clever repurposing and resurrecting of key elements of some of the most powerful art of the 1960s and 70s: Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism.  One of the best examples of this is Play-Doh, a new work that exists as a monumentally sized pile of multicoloured chunks of what appears, uncannily, to be made of the actual substance.  Here we can’t help but feel the Pop joy of recognition of the everyday object – or in this case substance – made into a monument to its own entirely recognizable surface.  The pleasure we take in this expansion of our own capacity for sensuous recognition is almost too alluring; on a day I visited the exhibition the security guards had closed off a couple of the galleries because too many patrons were touching the sculptures.

And it’s just here, in regard to this allure of surface, where Koons departs from Warhol.  Warhol famously explained that the beauty of certain everyday consumer items lay in the fact that everyone gets the same bottle of Coke or can of Campbell’s Soup.  We might call this the egalitarianism of consumerism.  But Koons instead makes everyday items precious, both figuratively and literally.  Consider the precise allure...  Cassone subscribers click here to read on.

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