I don’t want to have to write about Jeff Koons on this blog. But, I met this young guy at a wedding reception yesterday. Quite a nice chap. Intelligent. Ambitious. He told me that he was doing a thesis on Jeff Koons. A doctoral thesis. An academic postulation. What a waste of time. What a misguided use of energy.
Now, you may or may not know that Jeff Koons is a middle aged American artist. He’s doing quite nicely, thank you very much. The piggy (see photo below) sold at an auction at Sotheby’s for 1,875,750 USD in November 2001, and it is only one of an edition of three copies.
Jeff Koons is better known perhaps for his puppy. Sorry, that is Puppy, with a capital P. That’s a 13 m tall dog sculpture made up of a metal scaffolding structure, constructed to hold over 25 tons of soil, covered with horticultural plants and watered by an internal irrigation system (see photo above). Again, this work of art exists in a number of mutations, and the one we know best here in Europe sits outside of the Museu Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Unfortunately, this one has not sold yet to a barmy art collector, and I had to suffer seeing it when I visited Bilbao a couple of months ago. Not quite true. I did not suffer. Nor did I suffer when I saw the puppy dog for the first time, some seven years ago. It might be quite pleasing on the eye, quite fun. Like one enjoys a hedge or a tree that a garden lover might have trimmed into funny shapes in his or her front garden. But art? Hang on a minute.
Jeff Koons’ Puppy was first exhibited in the USA at New York City’s Rockefeller Center. First created in 1992 for a temporary exhibition in Germany, Puppy was a contemporary artwork that catapulted Koons’ marketing skill to new heights.
The thing is, I do not think that it is art. Standing outside of a museum does not make a plant object an art piece. Nor does a phenomenally high auction price make it art. Nor anything.
I do not want to deny Mr. Koons the label of art or artist. He can be whatever he wants to be. But I challenge him or his collectors any time and any day that what Jeff Koon produces, or has produced for him by others, is art, or is significant in art terms.
Jeff Koons was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1955. His work is easily recognized for being banal to the absurd, in fact, the piggy shown below is even called Banality. Koons’ earlier works from the late 1970s were mass-produced inflatable flowers and toys placed carefully on mirrors. You might remember the inflatable sculptures he did, or the one showing Michael Jackson playing with a monkey. You might also remember having seen some of Koons’ slightly provocative objects and paintings portraying the artist in explicit sexual positions with his then wife, Hungarian born actress and erstwhile member of the Italian parliament, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Their marriage was short lived; a son was born to them but now lives with the divorced mother in Rome.
The point I am trying to make is that, to me, Jeff Koons’ work epitomizes all that in my opinion is wrong with contemporary art. It is just form and no content. It is all superficial; perhaps it constitutes an icon but there is no message behind it, at least none that artists such as Andy Warhol or others would not have expressed or exhibited earlier and better.
I think that Jeff Koons is not an artist, but a non-artist. He likes to quote names such as Marcel Duchamp and others without ever grasping the difference between a Dada urinal as a statement of art and a super-sized flower puppy dog as a symbol of sillyness and banality.
I feel sorry for all of us having to endure such empty promises under the label of art. Are we all just too scared and timid to call trash just that, trash? Even 1,875,750 USD trash is just that, frightfully expensive trash.
I rather give credit to whom it is due. I can’t quite remember the guy’s name, but an Austrian Herrgottsschnitzer actually hand carved the Banality piggy (as seen above), when commissioned by Mr. Koons. I wonder what his fee might have been for carving the three little piggies. Now, he has demonstrated a solid craft and an exceptional skill. Perhaps this craftsman warrants a thesis or two, but really, not the man with the flower terrier.
The second Puppy photo (below) shows the same Bilbao terrier at a different time of the year, this time in full bloom.
Nice dog. Nice flowers. No art. No thesis.