Jeff Koons is an artist who’s never been without his share of controversy. Having been sued several times for copyright infringement and suing others for it, the American artist has often found himself on the receiving end of extreme reactions to his work.
While some art critics are blown away by the awe-inspiring quality to Koons’ work – such as with his monumental stainless steel Balloon Dog, first produced in 1994, or his inflatables, in which he enlarges these mundane objects.
Other critics dismiss his work as kitsch, and as a cynical self-merchandising stunt. Even his former marriage to Cicciolina, an Hungarian-Italian porn star and politician has been seen in this light – as Koons trying to elevate banality.
His ‘factory’ way of working, in the footsteps of Andy Warhol, entails a team of 90 to 120 assistants, who execute his ideas. Often, Koons recontextualizes advertisements into artworks, or he takes imagery from antiquity or canonized popular culture to fabricate a new work of art. The statue ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’ and his Gazing Ball series, hand painted reproductions of for example Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass are great instances of Koons Neo Pop Art way of working.
Koons’ use of pre-existing images, though central and paramount to his work, is perhaps less popular aspect of his work when it comes to his paintings and collages. Gagosian in New York is dedicating an exhibition to just these works, with Easyfun-Ethereal.
The paintings and wall-mounted sculptures that make part of this show were originally commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in 1999. The seven selected for this exhibition use a collage approach that combines bikinis, food and landscape – painted by his assistants under Koons’ supervision. One sculpture from the Antiquity series, ‘Woman Reclining’ will also be on show.
The collages are of a convulsive beauty, taken from computer-scanned images from printed media as well as Koons’ own photographs, which question the use of gesture, expression and eroticism in artistic precedents and American advertising. The hypperreal and exaggerated elements become highly stylized, almost illusionistic and slightly absurd, as in Hair with Cheese (2000), which depicts three short bobs in red, blonde, and purple, layered with forest brush, graphic snowflakes, and gooey, melting cheese.
Koons explains: “my interest has always been to create art that can change with any culture or society viewing it. When I look at the paintings and realize all the historical references, it’s as if, for a moment, all ego is lost to meaning”
Opening on March 10th until April 21st at Gagosian’s Chelsea outpost, this exhibition is a great way to explore Koons’ work without too much surrounding controversy. With a brouhaha ensuing the installation of a public artwork of his in Paris’ to commemorate the victims of the 25th November attach, Easyfun-Ethereal reminds us again of Koons’ mission to underscore the importance of liberating oneself from cultural shame by embracing one’s identity.