Thursday, 8 April 2010


Has every bad thing that can possibly be said about the art of Jeff Koons been said already?

It is worth revisiting this question at regular intervals because you don't want to let an opportunity go by. You never know when somebody might invent a new word for "stinks."

There are many reasons for disliking Koons' work. My personal favorite is that he steals images from honest, underpaid commercial artists, sprinkles them with an invisible layer of irony and resells them as "fine" art for millions of dollars.

Nevertheless, a person would need a pretty good excuse to expend fresh energy attacking Koons' work. By now most sensible people realize that Koons' true talent lies only in his ability to mesmerize the tasteless rich. To revisit such well trod criticisms might cause one to be ejected from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dead Horses.

Well, here at the good ol' Illustration Art blog, we believe in accentuating the positive, so I have attempted to come up with three reasons to like Koons' work:

Reason no. 1: I like his attitude. Koons seems to have genuine fun with what he is doing. He takes explicit photographs of himself having sex with a porn star and hands them out to the world. He spends lavishly on art by artists with more talent (but less marketing skill) than himself. He lives life large, and takes full advantage of his superstar status. I do approve of that.

Cheeky, sold for $4 million

Reason no. 2: He inspires others to new heights of creativity. Koons' work is so bad, his public relations machine must be highly imaginative to come up with reasons to buy such twaddle. Take for example the following frothy persiflage from Sotheby's shameless Alex Trotter. In order to promote the sale of the painting "Cheeky," Trotter bastes it with irony like a pastry glaze, to prepare it for consumption by investment bankers (who only achieved their rank in life by being impervious to genuine irony):
An outstanding example of [Koons'] satirical commentary on late 20th-century society, this work has his traits of technical excellence and common subject matter while invoking lingering questions of irony versus sincerity-- what is the intent of the artist? Is he serious or is there an element of mockery? This oil on canvas work is composed of disconnected images and high definition colors, executed with photorealistic perfection. The random association of food, landscape and sex is a metaphor for the bombardment of stimuli present in modern life, while the size and fragmentation of the images further impedes their comprehension.
Koons insists that there is no irony or agenda beneath the surface of his images-- that is, until someone sues his ass for copyright infringement, at which point he reverses himself and swears under oath that his work was not theft because it was intended as a "parody." See, for example, Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992); See also UFS Inc. v. Koons, 817 F. Supp 370 (S.D.N.Y. 1993); Campbell v. Koons, No. 91 Civ. 6055, 1993 WL 97381 (S.D.N.Y. Apr 1, 1993). The courts in this country are not quite as gullible as the patrons of Koons' art. The copyright laws inspire even more creativity from Koons' lawyers as they try to get him off the hook.

Reason no. 3: Koons' art performs an important social function. A private art market within a free society is one of history's most finely tuned instruments for exposing the morons among us (which is often a handy thing to know). Art is broad and subjective; it means different things to different people in different cultures or moods or stages of life. However, on rare occasions the field does produce an objective truth: art that can serve as an aesthetic lodestone, providing an unerring compass needle for identifying decadence and bad taste. This is a very important social function. The compass needle is not fooled by commercial success; it is not deceived by Wall Street quants who outsource their taste to consultants. It provides a sure fire mechanism for identifying and weeding out the type of embarrassing art critics who gush about the "enigmatic otherness" of a puppy dog sculpture, telling credulous corporate moguls that if they spend millions on such a sculpture for the lawn of their estate, they will be able to tell reporters (as Mr. Brandt did recently), "my whole philosophy of life revolves around aesthetics." With Koons as your standard, you will always be able to spot the frauds.

The lesson behind today's post is quite obvious. You might not think it is possible to find something good to say about Koons, but if you keep a positive mental attitude, you can find some good in everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment