Thursday 26 June 2014

JEFF KOONS at The Whitney, & Rockefeller Center, NY.

One of the most famous & popular living artists today, last year, JEFF KOONS also became the most expensivwhen his orange Balloon Dog sculpture sold for $58.4 million at auction. 
Tomorrow his major 35 year retrospective opens at NY's Whitney. Taking over 5 floors, (more space than the museum ever devoted to any single artist, including Rothko, Hopper or Georgia O’Keeffe,) it's the final show before the Museum moves down to its new building in Chelsea. Also this week his large scale public sculpture with real flowers, Split-Rocker, is unveiled at the Rockefeller Center. 

Making art out of kitsch & ready mades since the 1980s, Koons has been slammed by some critics, praised by others. Now Popeye, a Gorilla, Hulk Elvis, the Pink Panther & other toys (luckily he has 6 kids) join his early radical vacuum cleaners & footballs in glass vitrines.    

The overall effect is seductive, shiny & big. Koons loves glitter; loves colour. He also loves giant-size kittens & big bows, and all that sentimental stuff so appealing to the public.  "He's making rich people buy this shit" was one comment at the crowded opening.  And true enough on the second floor we find  Banality, a series of man-sized kitsch figurines unveiled in 1988 which made Koons the neo-Pop god that he is today. Memorable in its ormulo gold is Michael Jackson & Bubbles, 6 feet of porcelain. 
Koons is a Chicago graduate. Arriving in NY in 1976, he got a lowly job at MoMA, There is saw  Duchamp.  Skint, he began making art out of cheap inflatable toys. The rest is history!

I first saw Koons in action at the 1990 Venice Biennale. A master of publicity, this soft spoken, clean-cut guy with the choir-boy face had attached himself to La Cicciolina,  the controversial soft porn star (& MP - only in Italy!)  Making art as well as wopee, his Venice Aperto pieces depicted them having it off in various poses. Looking at the images on show at the Whitney one sees how young he was. Now 59, older, wiser & richer, his recent work is larger, more shiny but based on ancient Greek & Roman antiquity. 
He may now use advanced CT scans & digital imaging, yet Metallic Venus is just as shiny as it walks a fine line between low & high art, original & copy, traditional & modern.  Above all he celebrates excessive commercialization; merchandising at its peak. 
 Koons at the Whitney
Going chronologically from ground up, each gallery is devoted to one theme or subject: 13 in total: Luxury, Made in Heaven, Easyfun, Ethereal, Celebration etc. All simple concepts and greeting card words. He says there is no hidden meaning in his work.  

Totaling 150 works, (he has 100 assistants) they range from 1979 Inflatable Flowers & painstaking super-realist oils of food  to minimalist mirrors like a red  Kangeroo 1999 created after his disaster with the soft porn Made in Heaven pictures and sculptures. 

He married La Cicciolina in 1991. It ended badly when she abducted his son. The Easyfun mirrors were a reaction to these problems, and are his only later move away from his beloved over the top baroque style. 
Amid all the fancy frolics, these crisp, cool animal faces stand out, as do the early 1980 pristine neon & vacuum cleaners in their antiseptic chambers. "Won't guess what kritics are gonna say. But lines will be around the block every day. Krazy art world," comments Phyllis Tuchman Until 19 October. 

To coincide with this, Koon's weird 37ft high outsize flowering sculpture, Split Rocker, (a giant toy horse adorned with 50,000 plants) is at the Rockefeller Center while Sothebys, who have recently gone retail, show a $8m orange Elephant. 

The Koons artworks in the Whitney retrospective are worth a cumulative $504m!

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