Jeff Koons, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC)

Jeff Koons’ retrospective is closing on October 19th!!! If you live near New York City and also under a rock haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out! You may think you you don’t like contemporary art. Or you may have seen a Koons before and hated it. But I still encourage you to go see it. Why? In a retrospective, every room represents a different time in an artist’s life. If you don’t like what you see in one room, you may like what you see in the next room. His work is so varied that it is worth seeing his evolution as an artist, and deciding what, if anything, speaks to you. Also- how often do you get to see the ENTIRETY of an artist’s work in one show? It is an amazing opportunity, well worth the money (which is less with a student ID, free with a NYC high school ID).

Still not sure? Let me convince you.

The first room I saw held tall white statues, reminiscent of Roman or Greek busts, with small blue balls balanced on parts of their bodies. I don’t have any physical documentation of that because I did not like it and did not want to take a picture of it.

The next room I went into had all of his “Read-mades.” A ready-made is an object taken from its everyday use, and called “Art.” A hairdryer put in a gallery could be considered a ready-made. It doesn’t seem like it is art, but it makes you wonder what the real definition of “Art” is. How aesthetically pleasing does something have to be for it to be considered art? At what point do objects stop being art, and start being something else? Ready-mades are not my favorite, but they make me think, and I appreciate them. This second room held several vacuum cleaners in boxes: ready-mades.

I was starting to lose a little hope when I rounded the corner and BAM! The impact of seeing THIS made me freeze:

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Followed by THIS (starring my museum/gallery companion, the lovely Arianne.)

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In this series, Koons pictures himself and his porn-star wife in several sexually explicit positions. The purpose is to question the fine line between art and pornography. Koons has a fascination with the boundaries of art and what art rubs up against. At what point do nude photographs become pornographic? At what level does a nude become artistic enough to be seen in a gallery?

The other room I greatly enjoyed was filled with massive sculptures such as these:

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And around the corner, a familiar face:

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My reaction to these works was different than my reaction to other kinds of art. When I look at an abstract painting or an Impressionist landscape, I oftentimes ponder what deep meaning lies beneath the layers of paint. I enjoy that! It is a puzzle. But Koons provides an escape to Wonderland, a kind of oversize universe where we are dolls in a dollhouse. Huge piles of play dough and oversized animals suggest a universe of giant children. Michael Jackson and his monkey sit, frozen, dripping in gold. The effect of these works is psychedelic and freeing.

It makes me wonder- what is a viewer meant to DO when looking at art? Is the viewer meant to puzzle, to question? Or to wander, like a child, through a labyrinth of the senses?

I left the exhibit half confused (I still do not understand the blue balls attached to classicized statues), but half gloriously happy. Koons has a way of reminding us that the world is so much bigger than any of us will ever be.

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