Thursday, 8 April 2010


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

It is worth revisiting this question at regular intervals because you don't want to let an opportunity go by. You never know when someone might invent a new word for "stinks."

There are many reasons for disliking Koons' work. My personal favorite is that he pilfers images from honest, underpaid commercial artists, sprinkles them with an invisible layer of irony and resells them as "fine" art for huge sums.

Nevertheless, a person would need a pretty good excuse to expend fresh energy attacking Koons' work. By now most sensible people recognize that Koons' true talent lies only in his ability to mesmerize the tasteless rich. To revisit such well trod criticisms 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 displays them to the world. He spends lavishly on art by artists with more talent (but less marketing skill) than himself. He lives life large, taking full advantage of his superstar status. It's difficult not to respect that.

Cheeky, sold for $4 million

Reason no. 2: He inspires others to new heights of creativity. Koons' work is so bad, his marketing machine is forced to be highly imaginative to persuade people to buy such twaddle. Take for example the following frothy persiflage from Sotheby's shameless Alex Trotter promoting the sale of the painting "Cheeky:"
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.
Trotter bastes the painting with irony like a pastry glaze, preparing it for consumption by investment bankers (who only achieved their rank in life by being impervious to genuine irony). Koons of course 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).

Reason no. 3: Koons' art performs an important social function. A private art market within a free society is one of the most finely tuned instruments for exposing the morons among us.  Art is so broad and subjective, and means such different things to different people, it is almost impossible to find an objective truth in art.  Koons' art can fill this vacuum, serving as an objective, unerring compass needle for identifying decadence and bad taste.  The Koons needle is not misled by commercial success; it is not confused by Wall Street quants who have outsourced their taste to consultants. It performs a valuable social function by pointing out those art "experts" who gush about the enigmatic otherness of a puppy dog sculpture, and who persuade credulous corporate moguls that if they spend millions on such crap they will be entitled to brag (as Mr. Brandt did recently), "my whole philosophy of life revolves around aesthetics."  With Koons as our lodestone, we will always have a surefire detector of artistic fraudsters.

The lesson of today's post is: 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.