The contemporary art world owes a lot to Jeff Koons. He’s one of the few artists post Warhol who can get people into galleries en masse.
My recent visit to his retrospective at the Whitney was packed out with lines round the block to see his iconic work, displayed on three floors of the museum.
The exhibition didn’t disappoint. If you got the audio guide you had Koons himself explaining the work in a clear and unpretentious manner.
What becomes apparent is Koons insistence on not seeing art as inherently difficult allows the audience to connect immediately with what he has created. Even the images he took of himself with porn star and ex-wife Cicciolina have a kitsch feminized beauty that renders them unthreatening.
There’s also a playful intelligence about his work. His explanation of how the basketball stars in 70’s Nike ads were like a contemporary version of classical sirens leading young men to their doom were both funny and highly accurate.
While his fascination with ‘newness’ in the form of pristine vacuum cleaners in glass cases suddenly becomes a beautiful depiction of how consumerism is almost a kind of immortality, as if the word ‘new’ can make death an impossibility.
More importantly like Warhol’s work there’s an immediacy that just grabs you. No need for a complex explanation on seeing a giant balloon animal or sculpture of Michael Jackson with Bubbles, though Koons can provide you with one if you so wish.
For underpinning these amazing works is a deep understanding of classical and religious art that Koons draws upon. His work may not seem to be making a point but on closer inspection it usually is.