Janna Adelstein, ’15
Jeff Koons is one of the most fascinating American artists of our time. Koons is celebrated and ridiculed, mocked and misunderstood. He is known, most famously, for the controversial nature of his work. Koons challenges every person who lays eyes on his art to question the self-centered nature of our society, and in doing so, he has created quite a stir.
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective was the last exhibition to take place at the Whitney’s location on Madison Avenue and 75th St. before the museum relocates downtown in the spring of 2015. The exhibition ran from June 27 – October 19, 2014, and is therefore no longer open. The exhibit featured almost 150 pieces of artworks from 1978 to the present, and showed not only Koon’s artistic evolution, but also how American culture has changed over the course of those 36 years.
In a few of his pieces, Koons challenges the way people see themselves by creating a literal mirror in which they are able to see their own reflection. Easyfun, for example, a piece created between 1999 and 2000, is a huge red mirror shaped like a bunny’s head. As I walked around the exhibition, I noticed people taking photos of their reflections in these sculptures. In that sense, the pieces ironically became a commentary on the self-absorbed nature of our society. People feel the need to constantly look and take pictures of themselves, instead of taking in their surroundings.
Many have said that Koons is feeding into these societal flaws by promoting them in his art. But on the flip side, you could argue that he is forcing us, as a culture, to think about our priorities by feeding us the very fuel we need to satisfy those desires. Still others have said that Koons capitalizes on these superficial societal values by enforcing them in his art, and therefore his art is not valid. Herein lies the truly controversial nature of Koons’ work: his art can either be seen as criticizing social habits, and therefore contributing positively to society, or playing into these superficial values for his own gain.
Another collection that has generated controversy is Koons’ Inflatables and Pre-New (1978-80). These sculptures are just inflatable plastic flowers that Koons purchased from a store. These pieces reflect a major component of Koons’ artistic process: outsourcing. Often, Koons will just come up with the idea for a painting or a sculpture, and he will find someone who can create that piece for him, rather than doing it himself. In Inflatable Flowers, Koons forces the viewer to think about what artistic value there is, if any, in a few blow-up plants. Is Koons lazy, manipulative, or an utter genius?