Jeff Koons, GOMA, Edinburgh

There is a collection of works by Jeff Koons in Edinburgh at present, part of the Artists Rooms series touring Britain.  I came away wondering what is wrong with me as I just don’t get why he is so extraordinarily successful.  Reading reviews of his work over the years I realise that opinion is very divided amongst the arterati too.

Made in Heaven 1989 Jeff Koons (From Tate website)

This  picture is from Jeff Koons’ Made in Heaven series in which he and his former wife La Cicciolina pose in a series of intimate positions suggesting themselves as the ideal romantic couple in some way.  There was also marble bust of the two of them gazing longingly at each other garlanded with flowers.  The marriage didn’t last as long as the subsequent bitter divorce and custody battle over their son.

Caterpiller (with chains) 2002 Jeff Koons (from Tate website)

This caterpiller needs to be seen in reality to grasp just how skilled a reproduction it is..   it appears to be an inflatable swimming pool toy, hanging with plastic red chains from the ceiling.  It looks so lightweight that if a puff of wind were to catch it, or a passerby give it a nudge it would swing about.  This is not the case, it is an absolutely perfect replica cast in aluminuim and weighs a collossal amount so the ceiling in the gallery had to be strengthened to support it.  This is just one of a whole series of inflatable toys which Koons has had cast in aluminium.

Here is some information about Koons taken from the Tate Gallery website:

 “Koons won international recognition as a radical exponent of Neo-Geo, an American movement concerned with appropriation and parody. Following the example of Pop artists of the 1960s, Koons used his work to reflect the commercial systems of the modern world. He also referred back to the Duchampian tradition, appropriating an art status to selected products. …………. His immaculate replicas of domestic products, advertisements, kitsch toys and models exercised an enthusiastic endorsement of unlimited consumption, unlike the veiled criticism of some work of the first generation of Pop artists. Koons perceived Western civilisation as a driven society, flattered by narcissistic images and with a voracious appetite for glamorous commodities.”

Koons has said his work should be taken at face value, that it is not cynical, that it is optimistic, but I am overwhelmed with feelings of cynicism given the emphasis on polished advertising and self promotion combined with information about the staggering sums of money paid for his work.  I found an interview with him from 1986 (which is a long time ago I accept) in the Journal of Contemporary Art at this address http://www.jca-online.com/koons.html.  Here are some extracts from that interview with Klaus Ottmann:

Koons: I’m interested in the morality of what it means to be an artist, with what art means to me, how it defines my life, etc. And my next concern is my actions, the responsibility of my own actions in art with regard to other artists, and then to a wider range of the art audience, such as critics, museum people, collectors, etc. Art to me is a humanitarian act, and I be-lieve that there is a responsibility that art should somehow be able to affect mankind, to make the word a better place (this is not a cliche!).

Ottmann How do you see advertisement?

Koons: It’s basically the medium that defines people’s perceptions of the world, of life itself, how to interact with others. The media defines reality. Just yesterday we met some friends. We were celebrating and I said to them: “Here’s to good friends!” It was like living in an ad. It was wonderful, a wonderful moment. We were right there living in the reality of our media.

Ottmann: Do you consider the gallery the ideal space for your work?

Koons: I love the gallery, the arena of representation. It’s a commercial world, and morality is based gener-ally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery. I like the tension of accessibility and inaccessibility, and the morality in the art gallery. I believe that my art gets across the point that I’m in this morality theater trying to help the under-dog, and I’m speaking socially here, showing concern and making psychological and philosophical statements for the underdog.
 Journal of Contemporary Art

I do hope that this was all irony on the part of Koons..  but I am not 100% sure that it was.

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