Of all the recent openings in Los Angeles, the Jeff Koons show is the one most often brought up in conversation at the pool house in Westchester or over oysters at Fraice. To put it bluntly, it’s edgy to dislike Jeff Koons. Unlike USC alum Paul McCarthy who is also famous for using banality to explore deep philosophical issues, Jeff Koons receives very little love among Angeleno artists. The criticisms run the gamut, but essentially contain the same core issue — Koons’ work is just a pop art redux with the slick edge of custom sign painting. The show at Gagosian in Beverly Hills found Jet Set fully expecting to leave with a similar opinion.
What struck this writer first and foremost was that the paintings look completely different in real life than they do in reproduction. One becomes immediately aware that the artist is thinking about the life of the work beyond the initial experience of the beholder, essentially creating graphic paintings that only read as figurative in print. In this exhibition, the viewer is the artist as well as the connoisseur, as we are coached to look at reproductions of female bodies equally as sources of life, wonderment and frustration. The works are at first seemingly less painting and more photography, although their meticulous surfaces were no doubt crafted with the finest technical hired hands money can buy. There are moments of pure visual pleasure contained in even the smallest segments of the enormous (274.3 x 37.2 cm) canvases. The benday dots themselves are all hand-painted and overlayed with flashes of seemingly spilled paint. Upon closer inspection, the splashes are in actuality tiny faded brushstrokes running across the slightly imperfect red, yellow, and blue dots. Momentarily the dots become pure pattern resembling a fine Japanese imperial flag design or a Jim Isermann wallpaper design.
This writer finds herself surprised by the level of intent and content latent in the paintings and feels a genuine sense of compassion for the artist. The work seems absorbed in the surface of sex and glamor itself as the paintings in person are ultimately flat experiences. The images are only illusionistic in reproduction. One can’t help but feel that Koons (like many people) feels locked out of the actual experience of intimacy, preferring the simulation of intercourse via electronic media. Oh well, on to the new Spa 7 medi-spa at Burke Williams in Pasadena for my free consultation. I guess it’s hard to make art or anything else today without the implicit comparison of this actual experience, especially with that of a model in a magazine faking it for an audience. One might guess for Koons, and really all people in contemporary art, that the virtual is as significant an experience as the actual…and the blurring of the border between the authentic and the paid-for is as blurry as Lisa Rinna’s lip line[.]
Jeff Koons: New Paintings is on view at Gagosian Gallery, 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, CA until Januay 9, 2010.
This post was contributed by Mary Anna Pomonis.