|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from the Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2001:|
Can He Be Serious?
Known for his kitschy works, controversial artist Jeff Koons returns to painting with a more mature approach.
By SUZANNE MUCHNIC, Times Art Writer
always looked at my art and what I do in a very moral way," says Jeff
Koons, smiling sweetly as he surveys big, splashy, collage-like
paintings in his exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
That may be news to longtime observers of the New York artist, who is
largely known for merging childish desires and adult passions in kitsch
statuary. It's certainly the most shocking statement to be heard
these days from the art world superstar who set off one outrage after
another in the 1980s and early '90s, but then got stuck in a morass of
Koons, 46, emerged as a conceptual sculptor who encased gleaming vacuum cleaners
in plexiglass boxes and immersed basketballs in aquariums, then set
critics' teeth on edge as he moved on to "Statuary," starring a
stainless-steel casting of a blowup bunny. Next came his
"Banality" series, crowned by a 6-foot gold-leaf ceramic likeness of
Michael Jackson cuddling his pet chimpanzee Bubbles--"the largest
porcelain knickknack in the world," as Times critic Christopher Knight
Back then, Koons wasn't known for his modesty.
His penchant for self-promotion and the fact that he supported himself
as a Wall Street broker while breaking into the art world led to the
perception that his road to stardom was greased by excesses of the
'80s. His stock fell further in critical circles during the early
'90s, after he married Ilona Staller, a Hungarian-born porn star known
as La Cicciolina who served an improbable five-year term as a member of
the Italian parliament (1987-92). Their alliance led to Koons'
most scathingly reviewed series, Made in Heaven, which portrays the
couple having sex in challenging positions and full makeup.
and Staller had a son, Ludwig, in 1992, shortly before their marriage
fell apart. They separated and agreed to joint custody of Ludwig, but
Staller fled from New York to Rome with the baby. American courts
later dissolved the marriage and awarded exclusive custody to Koons,
but the child remains with his mother in Italy.
In the midst
of this highly publicized mess, Koons' artistic ratings suddenly shot
out of the gutter into the stratosphere when he unveiled Puppy, a
40-foot West Highland terrier made of live flowers on a wood and steel
frame. Introduced in 1992 near Documenta--an international exhibition
held periodically in Kassel, Germany, to which Koons was not
invited--Puppy stole the show and walked off with rave reviews.
success brightened a bleak period for Koons, but the cloud of his
domestic and legal ordeal lingers. "I went through a terrible injustice
in Italy because of my son," he says, getting back to the morality
issue. "That experience really gave me a sense of responsibility to the
public. I was losing my sense of humanity. Now, every day, I feel more
and more responsible in the act of communicating and sharing and really
trying to be as generous as possible as an artist."
Koons' most ardent critics concede that he is an enormously influential
figure, but he has always appeared to be a mass of contradictions
--fresh-scrubbed and sincere on the one hand, cynical marketing genius
on the other. While he no longer claims to be creating "some of the
greatest art being made now" or says he has "absolutely assumed the
leadership of the art world," he is increasingly emphatic about his
work's value to himself and others.
"Art is more important to
me and gives me more enjoyment every day," he says. "I look at art as
an activity based in philosophy and psychology and theology. It used to
be the great communicator; the medium was used for propaganda or other
ends. When it lost aspects of that power to the entertainment industry
and other areas, it was able to return to more of a primal activity.
And I love the primal."
Which is to say, in part, that Koons
still revels in sexual innuendo, if not explicit imagery. "I'm always
interested in sex; it is how our species survives," he says.
hasn't given up imagery associated with childhood either. Still, "the
dialogue here is more adult," he says of his new work. "The more
cartoon-like, animated surface has been removed, so the work seems
slightly more threatening or dangerous. Maybe there is not so much
protection on the surface."
In his new work, Koons has gone
back to painting, a skill he developed in his youth. But just as he
designed statuary to be fabricated by technicians during his heyday, he
now dreams up collage-style paintings that are meticulously painted by
The latest crop--at Gagosian--is part of his
"Easyfun--Ethereal" series. Loaded with images of floating bikinis and
hair, fragmented nudes, juicy food and idyllic landscapes, the
paintings explore elusive, vaguely Surreal imagery in an airy style
that blends one form into another.
"As an artist, the only
thing I can do is trust in myself," he says of his creative process.
"Different things catch my eye, so I go through a lot of source
material--the world around me, magazines, anything that captures my
attention. If something tells me it's interesting, I go with it."
those gleanings, he creates collages on a Xerox machine and a computer,
then plays with color and dissolves parts of the pictures. One favorite
approach is to remove bathing beauties' bodies but keep their bikinis
"I think the effect is quite sexual when the bodies
drop out," he says. "There's a sense of being able to pass through the
body completely, and that kind of space is also very spiritual."
painting, Runaway, is a bit like a tightrope, he says, pointing out
the tension between opposing hues and references to a circus in
fragments of an elephant and a set of showgirls' jewelry. In other
paintings, he cites references to elements of other artists' works.
sweep of chocolate paint curving over a crouching nude's back in Pam,
for example, resembles a Jasper Johns' piece that incorporates a real
broom and an arc of pigment left in its trail, he says. In Couple, a
painting that merges a shipwreck with a calmer scene, the shape of a
floating stocking reminds Koons of the mustache Marcel Duchamp applied
to Leonardo's Mona Lisa in his irreverent 1920 work L.H.O.O.Q.
this may appear to be a big change for Koons, but he says it's a
natural outgrowth of sculptures that combined various figures, animals
and objects. What's more, he says, collage is a vital art form that
allows artists to mine the visual overload that surrounds them. "We see
so much on a daily basis that we don't even think about it," he says.
In fact, these fleeting images are familiar, and not only to the art
"I try to let viewers have some confidence in
themselves," Koons says. "The things in my paintings are part of my own
personal cultural history, but I don't think it is so different from
everyone else's. We all know what the color blue was like when we were
children, or what it meant to come across a favorite object, whether is
was a porcelain or a teddy bear. I let people embrace their own
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Born in York, Pennsylvania, Jeff Koons became one of the better-known
late 20th-century contemporary artists in New York, focusing on pop-art
relative to the consumer culture. He transforms items of mass market
appeal, especially kitsch, into high art.|
Koons studied at the
School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute
College of Art, and in 1977 arrived in New York from where he became an
art world celebrity. His studio has been an immense SoHo loft on the
corner of Houston and Broadway in New York, and his work expresses his
fascination with commercial packaging and children's toys. Running his
studio like a corporation, he has 35 full-time assistants, each
assigned to a different aspect of his output--sculpture and small and
Art Forum, March 2003
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|
Jeff Koons is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painters of Nudes