Questioning Jeff Koons’ art

Here I am honestly naked: when someone says ‘Jeff Koons’, I admit I don’t necessarily immediately think art, proper art….whatever a definition of that is… 

But then the magic happened.

I visited my beloved Firenze not long ago and I was pleased to see there is an exhibition of Jeff Koons on display. In all honesty, during all my years of studying immersed in the art world, I have become a bit biased and influenced by the words of other people when it came to this artist. Awful, I know! But even I am only human…

So, I finally saw his art with my own eyes. And I realized that the more you look at the artworks, the more you enjoy them, the more you like them, the more they speak to you. Especially the majestic colossal things that shouldn’t even fit inside the building. It is majestic and magnificent. But is it the monumentality that makes it so striking? Because the smaller works are nice to look at, and some might say even cute, but the bigger ones are just wow.

Especially the shine and the reflection reminded me of the exhibition that I was a part of a few years back. You see yourself in the artwork, but the objects are different and you immediately associate yourself with that object, inside that object.

And as the artist himself said, it is about the viewer, it is not about the art and here I have to agree with him. Well, it is art, because it is contemporary art and the art world said it is art (wink wink) and it is visually beautiful, but how much does it speak of anything else, except that it is there and it is nice and shiny? It is about perspective and it is about the person looking at it. The person watching it, the person making it into a story. And as art reflects all the emotions, no matter the positive or ‘negative’ ones, or even if one says ‘ughh, is that art?’, that is what art is, because it evokes emotion in any kind of way. At least that is how I always look at it. What is your take?

Art really is an experience that engages all the senses, the mindset and everything and that is exactly what Koons does with his artworks. When you see them, when you walk past them, around them and see yourself in them, it reflects everything that is and everything that you are. In that way it is very monumental, not just visually, but also for the mindset.

It is amazing how the majority of the artworks presented are actually made out of stainless steel, which you would never say, even looking at them up close. It really looks like inflated baloony plastic and you really don’t have a sense that the material is so much harder. I don’t even want to know how much it all weighs. Or actually, I do want to know that..

I have to say I am much much more appreciative of Koons’ art now than I was before, actually seeing this exhibition with my own eyes. Now I understand what he means and ‘why this is art’, whereas before it was kind of interesting in a blah way, because, yeah, it wasn’t really that interesting. It was a sculpture of something, but now that I see myself inside the sculpture and felt everything that went through my mind and how the artist described it as well it just makes so much more sense. I finally understand why he is so appreciated in the arts community (well, you know what I mean).

I have to mention here the described point of view on consumerism by the artist, especially through his silver smaller sculptures, which are actually painted stainless steel. Stainless steel for him is a proletarian material, it is not something luxurious, because we make pots and pans out of it, so it is much more accessible than, for say, silver. He is making a joke by pointing out the opulent objects of rich people, but he shows them in a way accessible to everyone. But at the same time, where is the joke? The objects are made by Jeff Koons and I am pretty sure they are now even more expensive than they would be if they were really made out of silver.

All in all, his art is a commentary art with political and societal views. But then again, majority of the art is, so it must be art?

As with every artist, then I have to ask myself how much is the story that art historians tell about the artwork and how much it really is about the artist’s thinking all that about the art. Some artists just make the artwork first and then they are being asked about the metaphors and the reasons surrounding it. I feel with Koons’ work there are a lot of myths surrounding him, that the art world made and not himself. I might be wrong, but I am still sticking with it. I know he discusses a lot of things all the time, but still, as an art historian I know how good we are at bullsh*tting things into the existence and making up supposed explanations, because then the art somehow makes more sense.

There is another thing with Koons. I know a lot of times it comes down to questioning if the artist is the artist if they don’t make the artwork themselves. Jeff Koons works a lot with other people, engineers, specialist foundries that cast and finish the works, but at the same time if we look in the olden times, renaissance art for example, they all had their workshops. Even Michelangelo didn’t do all of the work himself. So, who is the artist, the one that conceives the work or the one that finishes it with their hands (or machines)?

Walking through the show the Dadaistic tradition was really present, especially Koons looking up to Duchamp with his every day objects on display. But then I was thinking how much is that still relevant in this day and age (or the 70s, when the majority of these works were made)? However, the mirrors the artist has been using do give another perspective to the artworks, because the audience merges with his art, you become a part of the artwork, the story, which gives another depth to his ready-mades. When you make a story, when you feel it, that is what the art is, even if it is just the sponges and a mirror displayed.

And definitely Koons took this tradition with him into his monumental balloon animals. I have to admit, walking around Shine exhibition was a proper adventure for me. I was questioning everything, but at the same time my eyes were opening, as well as my mind. And I can admit that I am a convert now. And I have heard some other people whisper that as well when leaving the Palazzo Strozzi..   


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One thought on “Questioning Jeff Koons’ art

  1. Hi Nina,

    I really enjoyed this. I have always considered Jeff Koons more of a business man than an artist but you brought up some major points that validate his right to that title. I still am hesitant to celebrate him as one of the great artist of his time because again for me his “art” while it does comment on the mass consumerism of today’s society benefits from it so much.


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