I went to the MCA in Chicago earlier this week with my youngest brother and a friend of his. He’s an art teacher and she’s an artist, so they were particularly excellent company. I ditched them for lunch because she is really cute and I wanted to give him a chance to chat with her without his big brother hanging around. I was surprised to find that the primary exhibition was a Jeff Koons retrospective. The three of us had a very interesting conversation in the gallery. My brother knows a lot more about Koons than I do and was an informative guide. I can’t say that I find all of Koons work empty and bereft of soul, but the vast majority of it is. The display of pornographic images was crass and sophmoric and the same words could be used to describe the ceramic statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. This ceramic and gold leaf monstrosity sold for millions of dollars, the most expensive statue ever sold until Koons sold other absurdities for even more. Since himans scrawled on cave walls, the work an artist produces has inevitably increased in value over time meaning that the artist was usually paid next to nothing for a piece they may have spent hundreds of hours in creating wheras dealers and collectors could accumulate fortunes in the trade of these art objects. Koons may be the first to reverse this equation. It is difficult to conceive that a century from now anyone would pay the equivalent of six million dollars to own ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’. Good for him. There are a few Koons pieces that I like. I am especially fond of ‘rabbit‘ and was very pleased to see it included in the collection. If you are one of my longtime readers you will remember that I would use an image of the ‘rabbit’ statue to play the character of ‘god’ in my ‘Artcrime Ink’ comic strips. People used to complain that he was creepy and unnerving, which is exactly why I chose that image. For me, ‘rabbit’ may be the finest piece Koons has produced because it exemplifies modern pop art. It is silly and mysterious at the same time. Here’s the old strip where I introduce ‘god’.

4 Responses to “artcrime”

  1. lol…I think Koons actually is commenting on pop culture and the vaccum that is the “art world”. The porn is actually his real life wife (who is a porn star) – the airbrushed photos are not about being serious. It is more a commentary. I went to the exhibit with my father – artist/teacher and learned some really interesting things about his work. Might be interesting to read a bit deeper. The price of Michael Jackson piece fits in perfectly with what Koons is trying to say about pop culture and idol culture.

  2. lara-
    I thought of you when I saw a Westermann piece there. I completely agree with you about Koons, I just don’t think there’s anything terribly significant about his art other than the vast amounts of bank he’s managed to make from it. Artists have been snapping at the hands that feed them for a long, long time. Koons statement is essentially, ‘you want garbage? I’ll give you garbage!’ Still, I do think ‘bunny’ is brilliant.
    I miss you lots. Let’s do get together this next week sometime.

  3. lol indeed lara. Although I would amend your comment to read idol and idle culture. I’m not sure our pop culture has moved in a positive direction in a while. Art, literature, politics, perhaps have moved a bit. I’m not sure about religion but pop culture certainly not.

    As a theologian, I love what his art says about what we elevate. The early church used gold leaf to gild pictures, idols, that they actually thought were incarnate of God. Koons gilds Michael Jackson and Winston uses Koons to represent God.

    To steal a phrase: art doesn’t repeat, it rhymes…

  4. I suppose the thing that bothers me the most is that he doesn’t paint his own paintings. I’m not at all bothered by him using craftsmen to put together his designs and calling it his own, but it tweaks me that he puts his own name on the canvases. The old masters would have apprentices doing varnishes and such, and in various Eastern traditions artists collaborated on paintings-one specialized in hills, another in trees, and so on, and of course I appreciate the Warhol Factory approach as I am an unabashed fan of Andy Warhol and was when it wasn’t cool to be so. I don’t even know if it is now but I don’t care. I like what Andy did. But it all had soul. Koons is a Biggie-sized Diet Warhol. Four times the size with none of the calories. It’s almost the same flavor and you get used to the industrial solvent aftertaste quite quickly.

    Of course, taking both your points that this is exactly what his art is trying to reflect then this means that he has achieved his goal with stunning accuracy. And I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I say that ‘bunny’ is one of the most emotionally affecting pieces of modern sculpture I’ve seen. It doesn’t hold a candle to Michaelangelo, but there are few modern pieces that grab me the same way. Upon first seeing it you almost can’t help but smile but after a few moments you almost feel nervous being in the room with it. It has presence. So, I certainly can’t say that all of his work is soulless; perhaps ‘bunny’ devoured the souls of the other pieces.

    Kenny, I had never thought of it conciously quite like that before, but I think the aesthetic impulse that made that choice would be in harmony with that connection. When I decided I wanted ‘god’ as a character in the strip I simultaneously knew what image I wanted to use to represent it, and the way you describe it makes me sound a lot smarter than I am, so I’m going to run with that. I’m not the first person to notice that shopping malls are like modern pagan temples in a lot of ways, or that our materialistic culture isn’t much more sophisticated than any other once you strip away the material. Koons expresses this as eloquently as one can, I suppose. What rubs me wrong is that I think he is cynical and that his thesis is essentially negative. I feel that he is sneering at not only his audience but the rest of humanity. I don’t know if Andy actually said it, but Lou Reed sang the lyric ‘is there beauty in ugliness, or is it playing in the dirt?’ as if Warhol did, and for me that is one of the fundamental aesthetic questions to be asked when one is making art. It is easy to be sloppy and thoughtless, it is easy to screech and swear, and it is easy to act important and deep while doing any of these things and more. It is damned difficult to make something honest without being masturbatory, truthful without being obvious, or beautiful without being cloying. It is hard to make something new. It is easy to adapt business models. I don’t think that art can save the world, but that art is one of the things that makes the world worth saving.

    The original title of this post is ‘Private Art is Still Heavenly’, which is the name of a series of paintings I’ve been doing for a decade of so. Lara has one of them. I have the rest. It’s probably a good thing that you has that one as it is the one I would most like to repaint (just to improve the image, dear.) as it was one of the earlier pieces of the series and I wasn’t fully satisfied with my technique. However I am very satisfied with the recent portrait I did of you so I will let that one lie (unless you would like the painting to look better, of course. Seriously.) I’m on a break at the moment talking to you, but otherwise I’m burning the three am oil listening to Coltrane and doing the underlying collage work on the seventh piece in the series. It’s the other half of my self portrait that was the first in the series from eight or nine years ago. Anyway, the point is that the last image I pasted on was of ‘bunny’ on the cover of the MCA program. The one just before that was a postcard I bought in St Augustine, Florida when I happened to be hanging with you, of all people, Kenny. It’s the ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ card that I grabbed the image for ‘BB’ that I use in the strip. The point is, I suppose, that yes, Koons is a better artist than I’m giving him credit for here in words, and that his work provokes thought and reaction, which is a laudable achievement on its own merits.

    And really, I’m not jealous of the money. I totally get how rad it is to get somebody to pay you millions of dollars for ridiculous statue of Michael Jackson and his monkey. It’s the painting thing that bugs me.
    I love you guys. Goodnight.

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