Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Jeff Koons At Chicago's MCA

The wise world of contemporary art has decided to put on a Jeff Koons retrospective, the first one in fifteen years. We can talk about my ironic or contemptuous or worthy use of the word "wise" some other time--for now let's just peruse the issues. Then we can talk. And talk. And argue.

I for one have to confess to not being totally familiar with Koons' work. I mean, I knew of him before and beyond his recent work with Gap, but not by that much.

I've read two opposing views of the Koons exhibition so far. The first was in the Chicago Tribune. It's quite harsh:

Its 60 sculptures and paintings show Koons as ideal for a time when buying art no longer is related to looking and talk about art has replaced what actually is present in the objects. The talk was characteristic of American artists in the 1980s who created a kind of work known as Neo-Geo, which involved strategies of appropriation and parody. Koons and others transformed objects from the everyday by putting them in a different context. Such appropriation acknowledged that artists could not create anything new or original.
The review concludes with this:
The verbiage obscures completely what goes on in the objects, and the objects themselves fail every known test for quality...The only thing reassuring in this atmosphere is that few of the idealistic young get into art wanting to be like Jeff Koons.
On the other hand, we have a review from today's Washington Post Style section which is absolutely impressed with Koons' vision and execution. This review just fleshes out one of those really simple facts of art. It says that Koons' art is successful in giving viewers new perspective on the world--exactly what good art ought to do:
With Koons, it's as though we're seeing objects from our own everyday world transported to a distant place where they have been transformed and reused to vastly different ends, then brought back down to us again without a key to their repurposing, leaving us with no choice but to use them as art. No wonder this show can leave a viewer reeling. Almost every object in it works like a Duchampian ready-made, but at many unearthly removes from its original function. It's as though Duchamp's urinal-become-fountain-become-sculpture were uncovered eons from now, and reused yet again to house a sacred relic. Then buried. Then re-rediscovered and presented as superb ancient art. The object's artistic aura might have been preserved, even increased, with time and its reuses, but its meanings would have become so layered and remote that they could never be deciphered.

It's said that art can take you outside yourself. Koons makes art that transports you 100 million miles.
Now, besides the use of such interesting art critique words like "repurposing," there is in fact plenty of interesting points in these two reviews regarding art in general.

Here's one obvious question: Is taking everyday objects and moving them into a new milieu eye-opening? Is it inventive? Or is it uninspired and lazy?


In case you're into this kind of thing, here are a couple of interviews.

Photo from Koons' website.