The work of Jeff Koons is largely defined by the interaction of opposites. He takes the small and makes it large, he toys with the boundaries between high and low art, he makes the transient permanent. These oppositions have also defined his critical reception - being lauded by some as revolutionary while others see nothing more than capitalist crassness. This retrospective of Koons's work, including 14 pieces never before exhibited in the
I couldn't think of a better place to have a dialogue about art today and what it can be.
Koons's great strength, and where both the comedy and profoundness of his art lie, is in re-contextualising the found to make it new. Through these clashes of space, theme, time and medium, he pulls ideas that often run parallel to each other into conversation, and moreover, purposefully brings his audience into close contact with both the everyday and the canonical.
The inclusion of reflective surfaces in so much of his work, most famously achieved through his large, stainless steel renderings of inflatable objects, demonstrates a preoccupation with involving the viewer in the art. Each reflective surface present acts as an intermediary between the many different extremes at play - they don't simply reflect the viewer, but also the other work in the gallery and the gallery setting itself. If we begin to consider reflections of reflections, the connections made are endless.
The sculptural works on display are imposing in an unexpected way - they possess a kind of terrifying beauty that certainly comes in part from the feeling of dissociation accompanying small-things-made-large. When viewing the Gazing Ball sequence, I couldn't help but think about Wolfgang Iser's Reading Process - which though primarily concerned with the written text, can be translated to visual art. Iser's idea is that any text or artwork has both an artistic and an aesthetic pole (the artistic being what is created by the artist - the piece on display, and the aesthetic being what is realised by the viewer - what the piece makes them think and feel). This means that the work (in total) is never identical to either the object alone, or one person's opinion - it must lie halfway between the two. So when Koons says
I like to think that when you leave the room, the art leaves the room. Art is about your own possibilities as a human being. It’s about your own excitement, your own potential, and what you can become. It affirms your existence
he is in almost full agreement with Iser; the viewer is integral to the art and gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless object. The more people that see the art (for once, taking photos to share on social media is encouraged) the more intricate and nuanced the pieces' meanings become.
That said, it's worth respecting that Koons doesn't want his works to seem complex, and it's true; to the individual viewer they don't have to be. There is something quite refreshing about leaving a gallery knowing what you liked, and that this action of liking was enough. But though Koons resists, perhaps superficially, that his works possess any deeper meaning, his reliance on personal connections (however fleeting) bestows his work with a weight that transcends silliness. His works become vehicles for connection between people and art, between art and art, people and people, and the past and the present. Maybe in isolation his 'banal' objects aren't important, maybe his pieces alone really do have no meaning - but it's undeniable that the connections they facilitate do.