Photo diary/Culture Vulture: Jeff Koons at the Whitney Museum

October 4, 2014

(click photos to enlarge)

Parental Advisory: there is at least one photo below that is NOT appropriate for viewers under 18. NSFW. Be forewarned! Scrolling further down this feed means that you agree that you are over 18 and agreeable to viewing explicit sexual images.

Andy and Ben and Tom and I made an expedition to see the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum last weekend. It was about what I expected. A lot of Koons’ work is monumental and jokey, an elaborate but pretty obvious commentary on art history and practice, like this reference to Michelangelo’s David, with the naked male figure’s modest genitals and disproportionately large hand.

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But a lot of Koons’ work trafficks openly and unapologetically in banality as commentary on contemporary American consumer culture, like this porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles (one of Koons’ most famous images):

9-28 michael jackson

The artistic ethos gained currency in the early 1980s, embracing kitsch with a deadpan attitude, both mocking and celebrating it.

9-28 banality

Sometimes there is genuinely admirable craftsmanship at work, as in this gargantuan and deceptively difficult to produce sculpture of a cat on a clothesline:

9-28 cat on clothesline

But a lot of it just seems cutesy and not especially witty to me.

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The segments of this show exhibiting big chrome balloon toys and collages riffing on images from antiquity struck me as inferior to the survey of similar pieces that the Gagosian Gallery showed last year.

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Of course, perv that I am, I was most drawn to the pieces Koons made during his tempestuous marriage to Ilona Staller, a beautiful and well-known Italian porn star whose nom de porn is La Cicciolina. They collaborated on a notorious show called “Made in Heaven” that featured a lot of hardcore photos and artwork featuring the two of them in flagrante.

Okay, here come the images I warned you about. No kids past this point.

If you’re reading this at work, with someone looking over your shoulder, you might not want to scroll any further.

These are shown in galleries that have parental advisories very discreetly posted. I found this crystal sculpture kind of witty.

9-28 crystal fucking

Whereas this just seems both funny and hot, especially considering that someone has the job of guarding it all day:

9-28 ilona's asshole guard

9-28 made in heaven

As a major museum retrospective, the Koons show wasn’t especially nutritious. We needed to check out the selection from the Whitney’s permanent collection on the top floor and on the mezzanine, which included an excellent Basquiat, Hollywood Africans:

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as well as a beautiful Calder wire likeness of French modernist composer Edgard Varèse, always championed by Frank Zappa, whose early albums quoted Varèse’s motto: “The present-day composer refuses to die!”

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