So yeah, Chicago weather–as is well established by now–blows, and if for no other reason, then because winter lasts anywhere between one and two years. That is why the timing of the Jeff Koons exhibit at the MCA is nothing short of perfect. Akin to the arrival of the sun, Koons’ work permits the almost mindless celebration of those very same things normally deemed too frivolous. So like a deep tan, a tub of ice cream and a pair of green plastic flip-flops, Koons’ work celebrates elements traditionally relegated to the banal and kitsch: giant, shiny rings; inflatable red sharks; silvered choo-choo trains and lifesize porcelain figural compositions create an immediate sense of familiarity. But images, of course, can deceive. The shiny surfaces, we soon realize, incorporate the viewers into the objects through reflection, thereby collapsing the distance between object and subject and trap the viewers in the banality of the object. The effect, interestingly enough, is as delightful as it is alarming.
As one of the leading contemporary Pop artists, Koons is candidly revealing the influence on his art by Rauschenberg, Hamilton and Warhol. Couple, 2001, brings together as many elements of intimacy–a lock of hair, lace panties–as it does of the quotidian–a giant pretzel and a soup ladle. The intermingling within the same image blurs the distinction between the two seemingly disparate categories, and–if anything– reveals the common denominator in their emptiness as constructed signs.
Another prominent feature in Koons’ work is the fusing of the grandiose with the miniature, blowing souvenir shop trinkets and chocolate eggs contents into oversized and powerful dimensions, undeniably intimidating as they are awe-inspiring. It is therefore not surprising that smack dab in the center of the room an enormous and mesmerizingly beautiful cracked magenta egg greets visitors with the same seductive estrangement of a gorgeous, streamlined alien ship. The connection between curiosity and fascination with color and size lets the viewers realize their own frivolity and entanglement with what is essentially a vapid, consumerist culture. Not everything is as it seems, Koons appears to say in a tone that is half admonishing, half tongue-in-cheek. And like the play on color and size, Koons also subverts notions of mass and perception, rendering rubber lifeboats in heavy bronze and helium balloons in metal. Thinking in counterintuitive ways is the theme.
I was not always a huge proponent of Koons’ work. Most times I found it overhyped, self-aggrandizing, and trite. Now, I have come to realize, that was his point. Like the deep tan and the tub of chocolate ice cream, election of those things we deem delightful and indulging, at times, can become a detriment. This show is a must.
To learn more about why Shlomi always gets it right (crazy, I know!), click right here.