Friday, October 17, 2014

Last Chance: Jeff Koons’ Show and the Whitney Museum

The hot art exhibit of the summer in New York— “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective”--is about to close on Sunday, Oct. 19, and that will also be the end of the Whitney Museum as we know it. The Whitney will move into its new building in the meatpacking district and leave the iconic Breuer-designed building at Madison and 75th to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to use as a satellite space starting in the spring of 2016.
I’d already seen Jeff Koons’ gigantic, flower-covered “Split Rocker” at Rockefeller Center.  I even knew that the four-story-high structure was meant to represent a toy that had half the head of a rocking horse and half the head of a dinosaur. But I hadn’t been able to make it to Koons’ show at the Whitney until September 10th, when I finally saw it with some friends who had come all the way from Minnesota. 
I was familiar with Koons’ art— I’d written, at the time of Michael Jackson’s death, about Koons’ sculpture of Michael with his chimpanzee Bubbles, which sold for  $5.6 million in 2001 but would sell for much more after the death.
I saw one of Koons’ balloon dogs on the roof of the Met some years ago. (It’s made out of stainless steel, but it looks so much like a balloon that you really, really want to touch it to make sure.)  Last year the orange-tinted balloon dog sold for more than $58 million dollars, making it the highest price ever for a living artist.
And Jeff Koons, fifty nine, is really living.  I was aware that one room in the show was devoted to “Made in Heaven”-- giant-sized paintings of Koons having sex with his ex-wife, the Hungarian-Italian porn star Ilona Staller, known as “La Cicciolina”, who, when their brief marriage was over, took their son Ludwig back to Italy, where she has also served as a member of Parliament.  A long and painful custody trial ensued and Koons’ bitterness at losing his son is often echoed in his art (or is it just a longing for Koons own boyhood?)  Looking at his art, you realize the man, like Peter Pan, never grew up.
The review of the Whitney show in the New Yorker rightly called Koons “The most original, controversial, and expensive American artist of the past three and a half decades.”
There are plenty of critics who hate Koons’ work, and a lot of their comments are apt, funny and understandable. But I was won over by the humor and whimsy of his latest sculptures and paintings, which seem to have a spirit of fun and fantasy while at the same time mocking the kitsch and the commercialism of the things that he is parodying.  
The best thing about seeing Koons’ exhibit at the Whitney—for me anyway—was watching the visitors (and even the guards) interacting with the art.

Koons’ newest, and I think funniest, piece of sculpture is the gigantic “Play-Doh” which The New York Times critic  Roberta Smith  called “a new, almost certain masterpiece whose sculptural enlargement of a rainbow pile of radiant chunks captures exactly the matte textures of the real thing, but also evokes paint, dessert and psychedelic poop.” 
This pile of Play-Doh is dated 1994-2014.  He worked on it for 20 years! Mr. Koons, says the NYT critic, “spends much money and often ends up inventing new techniques to get exactly what he wants in both his sculptures and his paintings, which are made by scores of highly skilled artists whom he closely supervises.”
This is "Hulk (Organ) 2004-2014" and the organ really works
It was recently announced that, because the Koons retrospective at the Whitney is so popular—more than 250,000 people have seen it, making it among the highest attended shows in the museum’s history—that the director of the Whitney has decided to stage a 36-hour marathon, keeping the Whitney open from 11 a.m. Saturday, October 18 through 11 pm. Sunday Oct. 19. 
"Dog Pool (Panties) 2003
If you’re anywhere near Manhattan, I suggest you go to the Whitney marathon and buy a copy of the catalog.  There will be special activities, the bookstore and restaurant will stay open all night and, according to The Times, the director  "confided that Mr. Koons may make an appearance in the dead of night and be on hand to sign catalogs.”  (Maybe someday his signed catalogs will go for big money like his art!)

But if you can’t make it to the marathon, here are some scenes of what you missed—New Yorkers and art lovers interacting with and trying to figure out Jeff Koons’ very expensive art.

"Balloon Venus"


CJ Kennedy said...

Did you see this article that the show was vandalized?

by Joan Gage said...

Hi CJ! I did see that there was graffiti on the wall and it sounds like a wild party that last night. I'm sorry I missed it!