an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Koons: One Big Show In More Ways Than One

Koons interviewI’ve never seen a press preview like the one I attended today. The Whitney was unveiling its Jeff Koons retrospective. When I arrived, safely 10 minutes or so after the doors opened, the line of press people extended around the corner. Inside was packed too. Some of us went straight to the galleries; then there was a program.

After Whitney director Adam Weinberg spoke, Donna DeSalvo, the chief curator and deputy director for programs, and exhibition curator Scott Rothkopf took center stage too — and then, when it was time for Koons to speak, all the TV cameras (many) went up and so did most of the cell phone cameras in the room.

Koons didn’t say much worth noting, IMHO, except perhaps that he was now focused on the future and had three decades left to continue his work. (Koons is 59.) He added that he hoped people would “find meaning” in his work.

Weinberg said the Whitney had “spared no expense to match his vision,” referring to Koons and the exhibition. Weinberg explained that visitors can walk chronologically through the show (bottom floor to top) and noted that “contradiction is an essential element of his work.” DeSalvo noted Koons’s foresight and said that “in many cases, Jeff has had to wait for technology to catch up with his vision.” (For example, getting those basketballs to be suspended in a vitrine required the help of a Nobel prize winner.)

The exhibition spans the time frame of “35 years ago” to “literally works finished last week,” DeSalvo said.

Let me stipulate: I am a skeptic when it comes to Koons. I refer you to the recent New York magazine piece by Carl Swanson, which is well worth a read and which said, among other things:

Koons is, by the measure of sales of new work, which is the money-mad art world’s only objective measure, the most successful living American artist, but he has never before had a museum retrospective in New York, his home base for 36 years. And it’s clear that, for him, one is not enough. “Even though the Whitney has given me the Breuer building, there still isn’t that much space,” he says, explaining why he’s staging these two simultaneous shows after such a long hiatus. …

…[BUT] What’s new in the Gagosian and Zwirner shows is that he’s trying to place himself in art history—quite literally, by placing art history in his work—dragging classical statues onto the canvas or casting them in plaster. His references this time are Picasso and Praxiteles. 

I have seen only the Whitney exhibit, not the two new gallery shows, and the best thing I can say about it is that is is beautifully installed. Kudos to the Whitney on that score. On the other hand, I’m still not convinced of his merit, and I look forward to other peoples’ reviews (I’m not writing one).

For now, I’m going to let readers judge. Whatever your opinion going into this, you should have a look, if you claim to be interested in art. Here are some pictures from the exhibit:

Koons gallery 2


Koons gallery




Koons -A


Koons -Venus


Koons torso


  1. abigail says:

    Koons is a self-made hype, and a very successful one at that. But the art is for amateurs, and there is a reason why so many of his collectors tire of it. I’m just very, very sorry that the Whitney, so desperate for money and audience, allowed itself to fall so low.

  2. In your second photo I see the sculpture of the couple on a bench with puppies, an image that Jeff Koons stole from photographer Art Rogers. Photographs are protected by copyright. (see link below for more details). Koons lost in court and the Rogers case is usually cited for the failure of Jeff Koons’ “fair use” defense. The court readily found that the sculpture was a “substantially similar” copy of the photograph. The court reiterated the established legal standard that copyright infringement does not require “literal identical copying of every detail” and that “small changes here and there are unavailing.” Art Rogers has taken our family portraits for decades. He is a wonderful artist. The toll the lengthy and costly law suit took on Art in fighting Koons was awful. Shame on you Jeff Koons. Shame on you.

  3. P.S. excerpt from the link about the Rogers vs Koons lawsuit…. “Koons removed Rogers’ copyright notice from the card, and then gave it to his Italian assistants, with instructions to duplicate it as closely as possible in sculptural form.” Despicable practice.

  4. koons is an artist imagined out of a steven king novel

  5. If I didn’t know better – I do know better, don’t I? — I would think Koons was perpetrating a clever parody of the current art market situation. Or maybe he is just a eight-figure Thomas Kincade.

  6. Tom Brand says:

    Can I be brief in my art comment on Jeff Koons? The aesthetic value of his work never rises above “silliness”.
    Grow up Koons!

  7. Stew Mosberg says:

    The art world, by which I mean the “taste makers” who add multiple zeros to the pricing structure, get what they deserve. Koons, by and large is America’s answer to Damien Hirst, if that is any measure of success, than we are a beacon, if it is a measure of great, ever lasting art, than we are all doomed. Praxiteles, indeed!

  8. Michael M Thomas says:

    In sixty-plus years of looking and learning about art, and for a brief youthful period, trying to make it, I can’t recall encountering anything like Koons. Some of his materials are beautiful and beautifully worked, and some of his work would make (has made) fetching garden and lawn ornaments, but beyond that, what’s the point? The images are usually someone else’s (the “Balloon Dog” was done at my children’s birthday parties long before Koons was a gleam in Mammon’s eye). I guess art is what you can get away with. And what you can get away with is a function of the market’s knowledge and sensibility – which right now strikes me as pretty low.

  9. Is Koons a fraud? Back in 1993, in a CBS ’60 Minutes’ segment “Yes . . . But Is It Art?” which exposed the fraudulence of much of the work promoted by the artworld of the time, Morley Safer in his own manner unmasked Koons. Here is Safer in a one-minute clip from his visit to Miami’s 2012 Art Basel that refers to both the 1993 segment and Koons: (Fraudulence in art? Though difficult to prove, there is no reason to believe that the arts are any more immune to such deceit than any other area of human endeavor.) – Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  10. Tom Brand says:

    Further comment about Koons:
    Most of my friends are part of the 99 per cent. And most are ticked off at the one per cent who cheat their investors and cheat us all with low wages and benefits. But take heart, there is one group that is fighting back by siphoning off some of their ill gotten gains. Sotheby’s and Christies are all too willing helpers in this regard, plus not to forget the New York galleries. These folks push stuff which they don’t even attempt to define as art – it’s only implied. This implication is the one per centers buy into with their big bucks. Apparently they have never heard the adage “buyer beware”. So. let’s laugh up our sleeve a while longer. The bubble will burst like Jeff Koon’s balloons!
    Tom Brand

  11. Koons’ pieces are easy to look at and fun to see. Perhaps the problem is that “fun” and “easy” are dirty words in the modern lexicon. It often seems that work with excrement and blood, or work that is completely impenetrable, gets the respectful attention of commenters, while work that is actually in the grand tradition of pleasing the audience gets dissed. Koons is probably not going to last in the pantheon of great sculptors, but it’s foolish to deny that his work is distinctive and often exquisitely finished. He’s a satirist on the order of Claes Oldenburg (who now probably ranks as an old master, with which I would agree).

    • Excrement and blood are the flip side of Jeff and his ilk … the low … both strains dominate the lowest art tiers. As long as the lowest of the low control “the attention machine” … we can expect more of the same. Until we, as a force, rise up and demand better … we can expect more of the same.
      Ron Hartgrove

    • An additional thought:

      Jeff belongs to both sides of the low coin. His London Bobbie and bear, the sweet side … his Made in Heaven series, the excrement and blood side. He covers all bases.
      Ron Hartgrove

  12. Kathryn Tully’s editorial on makes this point about the Whitney’s effort: “In short: Jeff Koons is famous and his art is expensive, so come and see it.” Apparently, the “look it costs a super lot!” Whitney media push is working, as even this RCA post is talking about the cost. Which equals: more free press.

    This exhibition may well be the $$$ diamond-encrusted Victoria’s Secret catwalk-bra event of the museum year.

    The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art offered a similar Koons retrospective in the summer of 2008 just before the recession hit. (Trying to view this from the perspective of cash, bucks, coin.) Similar press? Jason Farago of The Guardian on June 25th contrasted the ’08 and ’14 events and tossed in the tidbit that Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy a week before the ’08 Koons show closed. Farago however describes the ’14 show as an “orderly even hesitant” show — saying the surprise is “its modesty — no dollar signs. no star worship…” So, is the point the art, or the splash? Or, the media, and future prices? Or….as usual, perception?

    For contrast, hie over to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia this summer to view “the other” new exhibition that’s getting a lot of national press for its brilliance (NPR to WSJ) as a “landmark show” versus repeat pressadelic extravaganza. “The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cezanne” opened a week ago, has been embraced and even model/photographer/magazine publisher Helena Christensen graced the premiere. It moves to the partnering Art Gallery of Hamilton in Canada in the fall. But **crickets** here about that exhibition. My takeaway: Splash still talks, honey, and the Whitney flung its sprinkles knowing this. Work it, baby — because it works.

    • One qualifying note to your criticism: I live in NYC, not Philadelphia, so it’s natural for me to see more NYC shows and comment on them. That has nothing to do with my interest in Cezanne vs. Koons, which ought to be obvious to anyone who reads RCA on a regular basis.

      • Absolutely, you cannot be everywhere and see everything. I was thinking, though, more about coverage about San Antonio, Boston, SF, Cleveland, London etc topics covered here, if you see what I mean. As your blog is so readable because you do cover so much ground though as noted you are positioned in NYC.

        The point: in limited space and time, some shows do find a way to get more press and blog coverage than others — here, there and everywhere.

      • In terms of shows you’re able to discuss, I want to mention I enjoyed your article about Beauty Reigns at the McNay (posted June 15). Friends (Whitney/Koons fans, by the way) were just telling me they found the BR treatment to be wonderful. Thanks for sharing the information about it — I’m hoping to see it, and I hope you will be able to get there to see it, too somehow, and will provide your views if you do. As you wrote about Beauty Reigns in your post, “It’s hard to judge an exhibit from afar; you really have to see works in person. But I can’t get to the McNay, so I did look at the works on the web and in the catalogue.”

        If only we could instantly teleport to all the exhibitions etc we’d love to see, from the Whitney’s Koons to the Barnes’s new Cezanne exhib, to Beauty Reigns, and then pop over into the upcoming Gorgeous Member Party for Gorgeous at SFMoMA too!

  13. He is actually what good Art is all about. You look at it and then all of a sudden he got you. It opens up the doors of discussion about what is Art and what is good Art and what is the message. After all, all Art is, is a good book or song in a visual form.

an ArtsJournal blog