American artist


Jeff Koons Retrospective

Jeff Koons,  Tulips , 1995–98. Oil on canvas; 111 3⁄8 × 131 in. (282.9 × 332.7cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, Tulips, 1995–98. Oil on canvas; 111 3⁄8 × 131 in. (282.9 × 332.7cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Whitney Museum in New York City. Admittedly, I had never been to the Whitney which I know is a crime. But, alas, I finally made it there and what a memorable experience!

First, to discover that Marcel Breuer is the architect was exciting to me, as he's one of my favorite Bauhaus designers. The impression that the building makes is a unique one: there's a heaviness to the structure that balances the open space given to the artwork itself. Dark, intimate stairwells and elevators give stark contrast to light emanating from each, airy floor. 

Beginning at the top level, we meandered amongst the Basquiat's, Johns', Calder's, Haring's. To see such a concentrated amount of influential artists in one setting was...awe-inspiring. Is there a better word? It's a type of silent excitement that escapes through the form of sparkles in your eyes because you have no words.

And just as I thought I couldn't be more impressed, the Jeff Koons retrospective. To be fair, I wasn't a big fan of Koons' work, from what I knew of it. Although I had appreciated the effect he has on gathering a young, contemporary audience (energetic, vivacious, fashionable), I guess I just didn't really get it, to be honest. So what, this guy makes these metallic balloon-looking things and cartoon-ish sculptures that are a little bit PG-13?

However, one of my favorite themes in life is to be proven wrong. And thank god, right? If I stayed stuck in my mind and my opinion, how am I supposed to learn anything? My, oh my did this Jeff Koons restrospective teach me a thing or two.

If you aren't familiar with Koons work, I highly recommend visiting, it's a fantastic resource for all things art, with a modern interface that makes learning and discovery of new artists, mediums, and movements a breeze. In summary, his body of work impressed me with its cohesiveness. Yes, there's a vast range of mediums, ideas, themes, and yet, I see progression. To see Koons' work in his earlier years compared to later years really demonstrated (to me) a sense of learning, of advancing, of pushing personal boundaries and goals. He stays grounded in his convictions but uses that as a base to try new ideas.

I learned about the play between materials and medium versus final execution. To read about Koons' consideration of expensive, luxurious materials used to create everyday objects intrigued me. It begs the question, what makes anything valuable? I can't help but think that Koons is teasing us a little bit, "Hey it's an animal balloon, but that's gonna cost you a couple million." That's funny and fresh.

Koons and sex. I'd gather that Koons is a business man. What sells? People love gimmicks, so here's a golden Michael Jackson. People also love sentiment so maybe let's combine some childhood toys and objects with works of fine art. And what else sells? Sex sells. I think the same tone Koons uses to market any of his art is achieved in the same approach with his more obviously sexualized pieces. He does it in a humorous, glaring way. To me, it was funny and awkward and can't that also be true of sex? When we talk about anything sexual regarding art, we tend to think so traditionally: Matisse's "Blue Nude" or Michelangelo's "David" just because they feature naked bodies. In American culture where it seems that the lines of sex, sexuality, sensuality seem to get tossed into the same pool, I think Koons tries to have a conversation about the differences. Maybe I'm just reading too far into it. But when Koons tells me that a vacuum cleaner has parts of the female and male anatomy, then mentions the words, "sucking and blowing", will I ever be able to look at vacuum cleaners the same? Have we sexualized the everyday or are we just out of touch with it?

Infinitely interesting. A million questions, and that's what good art does.