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On June 28, the Whitney Museum of American Art opened a herculean retrospective of Jeff Koons, an unprecedented, comprehensive exhibition that displays more than 130 works. Featuring over three decades of the artist’s work, “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” fills nearly the entire museum and covers a variety of mediums. As the Whitney gets ready to open its new facility in the Meatpacking District, this exhibition marks a grand finish to the museum’s time at the Breuer building.
“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” begins chronologically, revealing Koons’ initial and constant interest in the readymade. Some of his earliest works, for example, came in the form of cheap inflatables shaped like rabbits and flowers. Another series of sculptures, The New (1980) features unused vacuum cleaners attached to fluorescent lights. With their glow and within their Plexiglas chambers, the works express the purity and desirability of newness, marking the artist’s fascination with the nature of consumerism and its connection to art.
In fact, much of Koons’ interests are consistent throughout the retrospective, despite its diversity. Equilibrium (1985), which explores the unobtainable state of perfect eternity, features flotation devices cast in bronze. Though forever inflated, these life-preservers lose their intended purpose, addressing an interest in not only equilibrium but transformation of the transient into something durable as well as the ruse of appearances.
In Luxury and Degradation, Koons presents stainless-steel casts of objects such as a teapot, a pail, and even a Baccarat crystal set. These objects are enticing and shiny, creating a sort of “proletarian luxury.” This is a technique that he expands upon in Statuary (1986) where he again recasts works in stainless steal, only now ranging from historical busts to cheap souvenirs.
Fast forwarding to his status as an artist-celebrity, Celebration (1994) showcases the most iconic of Koons’s work, including Balloon Dog (1994-2000). This series displays large-scale, accessible references to holidays and childhood, evincing a multitude of associations. These quintessential works, though seemingly simple, sometimes took multiple decades to finish, for technology could not advance quite as quickly as Koons.
In an exhibition that is comprehensively gripping, his work is simultaneously simple and thought-provoking, repulsive and alluring, luxurious and cheap, innocent and worldly. It is an exhibition not only to be thought about and to present ideas, but also to be enjoyed and to be shared (a sentiment that is clear from the many viewers who took selfies in front of the mirrored sculptures).
The exhibition also coincides with the unveiling of Split-Rocker at Rockefeller Center. Previously displayed at the Palais de Papes (2000), the Château de Versailles (2008), and the Fondation Beyeler (2012), this 37 foot high sculpture is made up of over 50,000 flowering plants. The sculpture is modeled after two separate toy rockers: a pony and a dinosaur and was inspired by the toys belonging to his son. Unlike the singular Puppy (1992), a similarly massive topiary in the shape of a Westie, Split-Rocker consists of two parts. The irregularity of the two shapes creates a Cubist “split,” leaving room for one to enter into the hollow shelter, as a sort of safe fantasy world. This blossoming, controlled, yet natural sculpture again pays tribute to Koons’ explorations of fertility and childhood.
At this moment of Koonsian frenzy, it seems only right to conclude as Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney, said, “Let there be art! Let there be Koons!”
“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” will be on view through October 19, 2014. It will then travel to the Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Split-Rocker will be on display until September 12, 2014.