Surreal Product Landscapes
Jeff Koons in Frankfurt
||Flawless, sublime, banal—Jeff Koons’s
oeuvre is a fascinating mix of art history, pop, and everyday culture.
Since the beginning of his career, Koons has been a highly
controversial artist. Is it monumental kitsch for collectors with too
much money on their hands that the 1955-born American produces with the
help of an army of assistants? Or is he Andy Warhol’s legitimate heir—an artist with a unique gift for translating private and social yearnings and obsessions into images?
Now, in Frankfurt, visitors can come to their own conclusions about Jeff Koons. Together, the Schirn and Liebighaus have put up a dual exhibition
that traces the overall development of his work. The retrospective
begins with the early, ultra-cool vacuum cleaner Readymades and ends
with the new, never before seen series Antiquity, Koons’s
exploration of a key theme in antique art, Eros. Roman sculptures meet
pin-up girls riding plastic dolphins before gestural color fields.
Freely floating compositional elements such as these already appeared
in his painting series Easyfun-Ethereal,
which he made in 2000 for the Deutsche Guggenheim. The commissioned
work featured lascivious lips reaching for bright yellow corn and
fountains of juice and locks of hair proliferating beneath a bright
blue sky. Product fragments and body parts merged on large-scale
canvases inspired by high-gloss advertising to form surreal product
Koons’s iconic stainless steel Rabbit can also be seen in Frankfurt, as well as works from the series Made in Heaven, which caused a scandal in 1991. Koons had himself and his later wife, the political activist and porno star Cicciolina,
immortalized in the form of baroque sculptures crafted by Oberammergau
wood engravers and glass blowers from Murano—albeit in pornographic
poses. This not only led to indignant demands for censorship, but
catapulted the artist into the public eye virtually overnight.
Under the title Jeff Koons. The Painter,
the Schirn shows around 40 of his paintings, while the Liebighaus
presents approximately 50 of his sculptures in a dialogue with works
from the museum’s collection. Here, a Michael Jackson in porcelain with his pet chimp Bubbles is juxtaposed with sculptures of Egyptian gods. Also from the 1988 series Banality, the sculpture Woman in Tub
is placed next to a terracotta altar by Andrea della Robbia covered in
a colored glaze—a combination that makes sense beyond the blue and
white coloration: in its time, the della Robbia workshop manufactured
images of saints and the Virgin Mary in grand style for all of Europe,
making it a precursor to today’s “art factories” headed by people like
Hirst, Reyle, and Koons himself.
Almost the entire exhibition
space at the Schirn is dedicated to the paintings. While Koons simply
had Nike ads framed for the series Equilibrium (1985), Luxury and Degradation
(1986) were the first works on canvas. The oil prints once again depict
ads, this time for liquor. From these comparatively simple beginnings,
his paintings have since developed into hybrid compositions in which a
large number of motifs are superimposed. Generated on the computer and
then transferred onto the canvas, these pictures are made with a
breathtaking degree of perfection. The high standard of production for
his sculptures and paintings and the resulting flawlessness play a key
role in the works’ overall effect: “The viewer has to trust the
object,” Koons explained in an interview for ArtMag. “When I was
younger, we’d go to a foundry and they never paid the same attention to
the bottom as the front. I could never understand that. I’d lose trust.
An object is an abstract thought that becomes a life energy.” So when
an object doesn’t have any flaws, “it’s in a heightened state.” Whether
or not this state can also be achieved while viewing Koons’s works is
something that can now be tested in Frankfurt—and it’s well worth it.
June 20 – September 23, 2012
Schirn & Liebighaus, Frankfurt am Main