by marissa bea

One of my heroes, and the man who creates controversy at every turn, Jeff Koons, is one of the absolute greats in the contemporary art world. Koons, a university educated artist, worked on Wall Street as a commodity broker for several years, and brought his unique view of art marketing into his works. He has been heralded as a genius and berated as an arbiter of bad taste. Much of his work requires strong emotions, and often is classified as kitsch, stirring up those oft-forgotten feelings of enjoying objects that make no practical sense.

Artist: Phil and the Osophers
Song: We Have All Summer

You can liken some of his work, the Banality series, for example, to gift store figurines, that perhaps your grandmother had a collection of. Think cheesy ceramic cherubs or angels. Think sno-globes and thimbles. Think odd sentimental trinkets. Humans collect the strangest assortment of useless objects and Koons taps into this part of the human psyche and forces you to either love or loathe him for doing it. Arguably his most famous piece, Michael Jackson and Bubbles is a life size ceramic sculpture of, well, Michael Jackson and Bubbles (remember that pet monkey?). The pasty-white color of the ceramic, and golden highlights hint at the sincere, yet tongue-in-cheek comment on American pop culture, our ideal of beauty, and our views on race, celebrity and lifestyle.

Koons’ art is meant to recall great artists of the past, and gives viewers a chance to remember what is supposed to be great about art, then and now: the emotion. In a workshop reminiscent of the Warhol Factory, Koons employs others to help him create items that reach out and touch the viewing public in the deep pits of their sentiments. Perhaps overtly political, often provocative and deeply passionate, the art does its job very well. You look at a piece with a reaction; maybe it’s “???” or “!!!!” or some other exclamation, but the point is, you think, respond, and consider, and through this, you remind yourself just how human you are.

Artist: Wolff
Song: Addition By Subtraction

Personally, I am among the group of fond, fond admirers; I think the man is a genius, for many of the reasons stated above. In our modern art world, ideas are just as much a part of the art as aesthetics. He has managed to make a fortune selling pieces that he has nearly no physical hand in making. He outsources much of the work to skilled craftsmen and artists, claiming “I don’t have the necessary abilities, so I go to the top people…” When one thinks about this, isn’t that the way most markets are run? People have patents on items, but don’t make them, yet they still benefit from the profits of ownership. Koons has shown the art market to be no different. Art has become a commodity, so why not treat it as such? He sells us ourselves, and like good consumers, we buy it. Whether this is his intention or not, is sometimes a moot point.

Though time and time again, he claims there are no hidden meanings behind his works, Mr. Koons made me seriously question the contemporary art scene, its integrity and purpose. There are lessons behind his “distasteful” art, and rather than dismiss him as a sell out, we should perhaps heed his “warning”. Instead of making him out to be the art world’s bad guy, we should look at the art collectors; after all, they are the ones buying the art. Koons is simply making pieces that connect with humans; the fact that they sell for high prices is, well, just a bonus. But sell they do, for ludicrous, ridiculous sums. Nonetheless, Koons has created a revolution around the world, showing his enlarged dime-store art in Versailles, selling pieces for record-breaking prices, and all the while, remaining the concerned humanitarian, intent upon creating something of importance for others to accept.

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