Jeff Koons, Woman in Tub, 1988. The Art Institute of Chicago, Stefan T. Edlis Collection, partial Gift to the Art Institute of Chicago 2005.472 © Jeff Koons.
The current exhibition Jeff Koons at the MCA in Chicago is apparently Koons’ first major US museum survey in fifteen years. If you were wondering what Koons had been up to all this time then here it is. The show features a full range from his early pussy sucking photographs to later less caustic (in fact almost pointless) paintings of perfectly emulated kitsch. It’s a pleasure to see it all but these days it’s increasingly the big shiny things that dominate.
Ironically for Koons, these huge stainless steel sculptures that are perfect and buffed and take forever to produce apparently don’t make any money because they and the team of people he has working on them cost so much in the first place – though this somewhat of hard to believe as one sold recently for 15 million. If it is true then perhaps there is some justice in the world as it would seem that the vast majority of his recent works don’t really merit that kind of monetary commitment and if anything he deserves to be trapped, at least for a little while, in a financially retarded eddy of fickle public fancy.
Jeff Koons, Moon (Violet), 1995-2000. The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection. © Jeff Koons.
But, that said, even the paintings these days are archetypal; they look the same as everything else. This weird mix of Warhol, De Kooning and Lichtenstein. They are inoffensive and very collectible, very placeable. Despite their simplicity and unfortunate normalness however, it is admirable that they are actually painted, versus screen or laser printing methods. Regardless of the fact that he has a guy working under him who can do inflatable’s, a guy who can do the Lichtenstein thing, and a porn guy, he is striving for a sense of authenticity which is admirable. This need for the right look after all is what defines Koons and to achieve it his assistants work from pantone color samples, matching everything exactly. There is no room for error, no risk taking, its just business. He doesn’t paint or make anything and he’s very upfront about it. He wants everything to be produced so that it has this kind of playtime feel to it. Right from the beginning he has favored the aesthetic of professional production.
Jeff Koons, Liberty Bell, 2007. Courtesy The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens. © Jeff Koons.
In his defense he has always exhibited a natural inclination towards that and is not simply suddenly marketing himself that way because he now realizes that everybody’s going to love it. However, it seems that within this winning and justifiable formula of his that he has found room to be greedy. His act–his personal act of the innocent– in reality doesn’t really hold any water at all as he must be conscious of his own success and the ease with which a life time of vendor dedicated production can facilitate new work.
Someone wrote something about dépêche mode once that really rings true. A writer said (and we are paraphrasing here) that “the reason so many depressed kids like dépêche mode is because its inclusive music. It’s well oiled and depressing and it’s open for everybody. Its representative of everybody’s pain we all know what they’re talking about its not some particular problem, it’s always love or something like that and that’s really the secret to their success.” This theory applies to Jeff Koons in a very similar way, its inclusive work. Everybody has a relationship to these baby objects and these innocent and/or squeak clean factory finished images that he puts up; it’s not like Hirst where you could feel offended.
Installation views of Jeff Koons at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, May 31 – September 21, 2008. Photos © Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Photos by Nathan Keay.
But at the end of the day no-one really needs to see the show, we’ve all seen it before at Sonnabend, and if you haven’t, just have someone tell you what it was like. Any big exhibition that goes up, or any big artist that splurges themselves somewhere, it’s not for the art insiders, it’s for everybody else who wants to go and gawk and ask “how much did this cost? For real?” Anyone that’s inside the game has seen it, is wise to it and is over it.
On a different point, did anyone notice what a bad job they did with the catalog? One piece is photographed on a piece of plastic. They didn’t even get it to the museum and photograph it, they just shot in it the studio where they fabricated it – how fucking tacky, they really did a shit job.
Exhibition runs through September 21st, 2008
For more information please visit: www.mcachicago.org