When I first met an art piece of Jeff Koons, roughly guessed 20 years ago – it was some sort of porcelain work with flower sujets as we know them for instance from the Meissen porcelaine produced near Dresden since the 18th century – I wondered and I asked myself: “Will I ever understand the fame of this artist and will I ever like it? Isn’t this pure kitsch?” This is a good example why one cannot judge an artist’s work by seeing just one piece of art. These days and only until September 2nd 2012, you have the opportunity to see a wide selection of Jeff Koons’ oeuvre in Basel at the excellent Fondation Beyeler and I promise , you will end up saying: “Wow! Jeff Koons is an absolute genius!”
First, I have to share my enthusiasm for the huge paintings of his “Celebration” series. I am catapulted back to my childhood (even though the toys painted compare rather to the ones of my children). These huge, ultra-realistic toy landscapes make you wish to enter this happy child’s world. I especially love the little snowman who is stepping ahead full of enthusiasm, happy, unafraid and ready to conquer the world, not being aware of any bad things around him. Also the happy pig makes you want to be part of this everything-is-good-world. Another painting shows an oversized playmobil figurine, that is looking at you in this unspoiled, innocent, pure and happy manner that makes you want to be back in this magic world of childhood. But I tell you, of course you cannot have these true feelings looking at this image below, you have to see the painting in real!
There are also two other very impressive large paintings “Cake” and “Play-Doh” – hyperrealistic so that you want to take a bite of the cake and squeeze your fingers in the play-doh. And when you go close, you’ll see that the paintings consist of different little parts of one-color fields, filled like painting after numbers. Incredible! By the way, it took more than 10 years until Jeff Koons was content with the outcome of Play-Doh!
Of course you all know some of Jeff Koons seemingly air-filled objects like the Balloon Dog, Tulips, Flowers, Heart and many more. When you stand in front of them your are stunned by the beauty and the perfection of the forms and wonder about the different reflections of the viewers and the room in the art work. They look completely light like balloons but are made of chromium steel! I can understand that people spend millions to have a piece in their home or garden.
The exhibition shows two other series of Jeff Koons “Banality” and “The New” from earlier days, works of the eighties. In “The New” we encounter various compositions of vacuum cleaners. In different sizes they provoke the feeling of real beings, of family, father, mother and child or in the same size as lovers or partners. Breathing fresh air and being clean and responsible for the clean they stand for a good family or persons and integrity (or maybe the attempt for it). When you hoover your house, life is clean and in order.
In the serie “Banality” we encounter Jeff Koons referring to the barock. Have a look at his famous “Ushering in Banality”.
The pig standing for luck has to be forced to his luck. The pig also stands for the popular, the normal, rural, trivial, folksy – everyone used to have a pig and it was certainly not an animal of high culture. Jeff Koons now heaves the pig on the pedestal into the heights of the art world. The ordinary life has become the focus of our attention. Flanked by angels and Jeff Koons as a child himself pushes the pig forwards. With gloves, maybe because he is at the dirty end whereas the angels are on the clean sides of the pig. All sculptures are not made by the master himself, also this one was sculptured by Franz Wieser. Jeff Koons also gets all other of his works done after his exact instructions, directions and submittals.
Jeff Koons speaks of “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” as the “contemporary Pietà”. And Indeed, Michael Jackson was and is admired by many as superstar. He is surrounded by golden roses and hugs his chimpanzee Bubbles in his arms. Jeff Koons wants to show with his art what is moving us in our lifes and wants to reach a great audience with it.
There is another interesting mirror work “Christ and the Lamb”.
If you look at the mirroring extract of this rokoko style mirror and compare it to Leonardo da Vinci’s infant Jesus, stretching out his arms for the lamb (around 1508, on view at the Louvre, Paris), you will discover that Jeff Koons is displaying the silhouette of this extract of da Vinci’s painting in the mirror glass. We, the viewers are reflected in the sacred body. Do we think that we are the sacred nowadays? That is how we discover many interesting messages of the artist in the works of Jeff Koons’ “Banality” series. And why does he call it “Banality”? The Holy Mary has become Michael Jackson, we have become the sacred, viewed in the body of the infant Jesus and Jesus at the cross has become a cute cat in a sock! The world has truly come to banalities! I dare say I understand now the value of this art and realize it is not kitsch at all. Jeff Koons gives it a perfect sense by embedding the messages of his works in a Barock surrounding.
Of all his sculptures, Jeff Koons has made three copies of each in slight variations of colors and an additional artist’s copy. The three sculptures were then exhibited at the same time in different places. From a marketing point of view this was a very clever idea. Thus he could triple exhibitions, views and press coverage. And he is right! So good that people have more opportunities to see it! Artists shouldn’t be that stingy with their art fearing to devaluate their art!
It is indeed a great opportunity if you have the chance to visit this exhibition at the Beyeler’s. I am very impressed by the perfectionism of Jeff Koons. It tells me that if you want to be good at something then you should not be satisfied until you have attempted to reach perfectionism. And, his art evokes our feelings. And this is art! So hurry up, you have only got until September 2nd 2012!