My buddy Charlotte Segal and I went last Tuesday, free night, to the MCA in Chicago, to see the Jeff Koons exhibit. I have mixed thoughts about what I saw, and what I have seen of his work over the years, and have yet to come to a conclusion about whether or not I like his work, whether or not in my own estimation I think he's a valued artist. I recognize his debt to Ed Paschke, who was also one of Charlotte's teachers.
My basic quibble, if one could call it that, is that Koons owes a considerable debt to Andy Warhol, whose work borders and explores the boundaries of kitsch and cartooning and exploration of the depiction of the banal in our everyday images. Then Koons comes along and makes cartoons of the kitsch and the cartooning. It doesn't work for me, this making of a cartoon of a cartoon.
Where Koons' work is strongest to me are the works with extreme changes in scale and materials. For instance, we saw a piece, the giant cracked egg "Cracked Egg (Magenta)" which was about 8 foot tall, and looked like old fashioned colored aluminum, or the balloonish snoopy thing "Balloon Dog (Orange)". The cracked egg dealt with the juxtaposition of the notion that it is a broken thing rendered in highly polished and strong aluminum, an exposition of strength. The balloon dog similarly juxtaposed the notion of the fragility of the easily popped membrane with the polished strength of metal wrought way, way oversized.
And then there were the Toaster pieces, the plain toasters mounted over flourescent tubes, but these struck me as old territory heavily visited, initially by Duchamp's Urinoir. Duchamp produced the Urinoir in 1917, added just a few ready-mades over the next few years and then essentially retired as an artist because he had made his point. Koons is making the same points about the ordinariness of the everyday over and over again and again. Maybe I just get tired of the feeling that the point of "here, look at how banal ready-mades are" gets made over and over again.
As for the notion that works by an artist of Koons' apparent stature should possess unique import never before seen, I don't necessarily see it in his art-work, but he has crossed and defined frontiers on the legal front, losing the suit in the String of Puppies case, but winning forNiagara. I salute this because I believe that all visual artists stand on each other's shoulders, and that all artists' images, belong out there in the free-for-all world.
In a world replete with so much art, so many images, advertising and ideas, it is difficult to see how artists can avoid bumping into each other. We should stop worrying about this, and look forward to the process of playing with our ideas without fear, even if they cannot be totally unique.