Dear Reader, after all these waves of secularization, leveling-down, and marketing-up of our lives, the ideal society will form at last. Human beings are pretty-much good, and just need the right guidance from the most wise and knowledgeable among us. From ‘socially conscious’ corporate-posturing to ‘benevolent’ managerial idealists running our lives, freedom is next!
-Koons gets the Annie Leibovitz treatment (a well-made, but unfortunate photo at the link).
-This is not a commentary on Koons’ art, some of which I like well enough, it’s a much worse beast; another attempt at cultural criticism.
In the talk around Koons, what often stands-out to me was how much talk there was about Koons himself, and the search for meaning in all that talk. The concept of artist-as-individual is nothing new; an isolated Self, quite apart from society, mining his interior life and experiences in order to represent beauty, meaning, and some attempt at expressing universal truths through his work and craft. This is unsurprisingly part of what all artists do, and the extreme individuality of this process is what Western artists somewhat consciously have been doing for a few centuries now, from musicians to writers to sculptors, from romanticism to modernism to post-modernism and beyond.
The fact that Koons is doing this with such relentless self-promotion and while also courting celebrity is arguably a much more ‘modern’ phenomenon. A certain amount of melliflous, abstract bullshit seems part of the Koons’ game, as if you’d walked onto a used-art lot as Koons tours you around, asking what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-you-into-one-of-his-pieces. He offers you an invitation and a return to part of your Self. He can make you whole again within the work produced by his Self.
Jeff Koons is a brand.
Perhaps this is what it takes these days to make a living by schmoozing with wealthy art-buyers, but in some ways, it has a distinctly American feel. High and low culture mix in a highly commercial, utilitarian way. The urge to merge abstract art and the avant-garde with mass, pop-culture is expressed. Fame and meta-critiques on fame, celebrity, money, and the Self amplified for all the other Selfs to see has implications for much of our culture, I suspect.
As to establishing Koons’ bona fides enough to merit attention by Vanity Fair, here are a few quotes from the piece:
Everyone’s getting in on the bullshit!
“Jeff is the Warhol of his time,” proclaims Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director.’
You need an L.G.B.T. blessing to be truly avant-garde these days:
‘The reference to Curtis ties Koons to the last true avant-garde—a pedigree the artist likes. Curtis, who refused to be called a drag queen, was a pioneer of the L.G.B.T. movement and, like Candy Darling, was made famous by Warhol’
‘What Warhol and Koons do have in common, though, is an uncanny ability to nail an image or an object so that it catches the Zeitgeist.’
Partially true, perhaps, but what if the Zeitgeist is nothing but a leafy suburb full of good schools, intact families, and moderate lives? Isn’t this why some youngish people (ahem…many hipsters) often leave their small towns and suburbs looking for meaning, group membership and purpose in what can end-up vaguely collectivist and vaguely individualist lives in cities?
Everyone’s an artist, these days.
Also, you must establish modernist credentials for the brand:
‘Koons’s job at MoMA gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the history of modernism, in particular the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, who changed art history by showing how everyday objects, or “readymades,” could be elevated into the realm of art, depending on context. Duchamp’s theories were a revelation to Koons.’
Yes, dear reader, Piketty and Brecht in the same paragraph:
‘Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’
And finally, while I have no quarrel with neurosicence, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self:
‘Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, was so impressed with the show that he e-mailed Koons afterward. I asked Kandel why. He explained, “I have been interested in the ‘beholder’s share,’ an idea that came from the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl. It involves the concept that when a painter paints a painting or a sculptor makes a sculpture it is not complete unless a beholder, a viewer, responds to it.”
Kandel adds, “When you looked at the sculptures you saw yourself embedded in the gazing balls. Artists sometimes put mirrors in works, but they don’t design the work so that you find yourself in the arms or chest of a statue, which is what Jeff did.’
Go and find your Self and be made whole, dear reader, within Jeff Koons’ work and the Jeff Koons brand, and try and tell the dancer from the dance.
Koons’ Made In Heaven only amplifies that sound, blurring the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.
I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.
Some quotes from Koons:
‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it. I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’
Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:
‘Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’
Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment
Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..