Thursday, April 8, 2010


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

It is worth revisiting this question at regular intervals because you never know when somebody might invent a new word for "stinks."

There are many reasons for disliking his work but my personal favorite is that Koons 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.

A person would need a pretty good excuse to expend fresh energy attacking Koons' work. After all, by now every sensible person realizes that Koons is an untalented artist with a gift for hypnotizing the tasteless rich. To revisit such well trod territory would not only be pointless, it 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 approve of that.

Cheeky, sold for $4 million

Reason no. 2: His art inspires others to new heights of creativity. Take for example the imaginative text written by the shameless Alex Trotter of Sotheby's to promote the recent sale of the above painting, "Cheeky." Trotter bastes "irony" on the painting like a pastry glaze to prepare it for consumption by investment bankers (who achieved their status by being insensitive 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 have not proven to be as gullible as the patrons of Koons' art, which summons up 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 identifying the morons among us (which is sometimes a handy thing to know). Art is broad and subjective; it can legitimately mean different things to different people in different cultures or different stages of life. However, on rare occasions an artist is born unto us who can serve as an aesthetic lodestone, providing civilization with an unerring compass needle to point out decadence and vapidity.
This compass needle is not fooled by quants who hide behind consultants or who outsource their taste and judgment to designers. It is a sure fire mechanism for weeding out embarrassing art critics who gush about the "enigmatic otherness" of a puppy dog sculpture. Such critics in turn persuade 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, "my whole philosophy of life revolves around aesthetics." With Koons as your filter, you will always be able to tell the legitimate types from 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.