So far, the most thoughtful review I’ve read of the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney is by Thomas Micchelli of Hyperallergic Weekend. It starts well, noting that excepting the vacuum cleaners, “…The rest of the work, however, with few exceptions, reveals itself to be as thin, puerile and derivative as the artist’s harshest critics would expect. But to take Koons’s art to task for the hollowness at its core is shooting fish in a barrel — a truism that leads us nowhere.”
Most of us have been content to dismiss Koons, blame his fame on loose money and people lacking taste, shake our heads and leave it at that. But not Micchelli, who continued:
…The endgame it presents is that of a once-aspiring culture — the dream of a bold and unruly American art, symbolized by the Whitney’s audacious Marcel Breuer building — collapsing into philistinism and sentimentality, a surrender to the leveling forces of consumerism.
At the same time, its exaltation of kitsch is unapologetically legitimized by a corporate art establishment invoking an aesthetic that’s more than 100 years old, rooted in Marcel Duchamp’s readymades (which were invented in the run-up to the First World War) and refined by Andy Warhol a half-century ago. Koons’s contribution to this entrenched tradition is his unmatchable verisimilitude and material finesse, qualities that enshrine a strain of American provincialism — measuring the success of a work of art by its resemblance to its subject — against which proponents of Modernism have been struggling ever since Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded her museum in 1914.
It goes on, with good analysis using several choice words, including: “fussy meticulousness,” “clunky obviousness,” “puzzling capriciousness,” and “faux-democratic,” among many others.
I recommend it to Koons’ fans and detractors alike. Whether the latter like it or not, Koons is “important” enough to know about.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Whitney