We reported back in December that A third ‘Art Star’, Jeff Koons, appeared on the brink of joining Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama in exiting the Gagosian Gallery roster, after he was allegedly in exhibition talks with Gagosian arch-rival, David Zwirner. Well this has now evaporated and Gagosian and Zwirner are both presenting exhibitions of the artist in major new shows at both Gagosian and Zwirner’s New York galleries. The exhibitions open next week.
These latest shows take the form of a new series of sculptures titled Gazing Ball at Zwirner’s and a rich sampling of several major bodies of work, demonstrating how Koons’s themes and formal approaches continue to overlap and interpenetrate across time, at Gagosian.
With sources as diverse as children’s art, comic-book characters, and figures from antiquity, Koons continues to draw a common thread through cultural history, creating works that attempt to touch the core of the human psyche. Working through conceptual constructs including the new, the banal, and the sublime, he has taken his work from its literal, deadpan beginnings in readymades to baroque creations that extol innocence, beauty, sexuality, and happiness in confounding combinations of abstraction, figuration, sumptuous effect, and pure spectacle.
The Antiquity paintings (2009–13) pulse with complex layerings of image, reference, and chromatic nuance as Koons explores the historical oscillation of form in painting and sculpture, the movement back and forth between two and three dimensions, that underpins so much of his own artwork. At the center of each scene is a famous ancient or classical sculpture—so meticulously rendered in oil paint as to suggest both the third dimension and the stone out of which it is carved—symbolizing love, ardor, potency or fertility. Images of popular figurines or figures of popular culture, scaled to the same size as the sculptures, serve to further conflate the aesthetic registers of each painterly composition. The equally detailed backdrops include an Arcadian vision, a tiling of other artworks, and an expressionistic abstraction.
Two outsized Venus sculptures in mirror-polished stainless steel are the first sculptures to be completed in the Antiquity series. In one, Koons represents the much emulated classical erotic subject, The Callipygian Venus or Venus of the round buttocks, as a gleaming turquoise monochrome. The other is an astonishing interpretation of one of the world’s earliest known sculptures, the fecund Venus of Willendorf. The extreme contours of the original small figurine, transposed into a twisted balloon and enlarged to a colossal scale, become a complex of reflective magenta curves approaching total abstraction.
Works from the series Hulk Elvis range from precision-machined bronze sculptures, inspired by inflatable toys and extruded in three dimensions from popular cartoon sources, to granite monoliths. Hulk (Wheelbarrow) and Cannonballs (Hulk) are polychromed sculptures conceived simultaneously with the Hulk Elvis paintings of 2007. A black granite sculpture standing eight feet tall, Gorilla recalls Emmanuel Frémeit’s Gorilla Carrying off a Woman (1887), which influenced King Kong. Gorilla is based on a toy model that Koons purchased from a souvenir-vending machine at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The Celebration series, which Koons began working on twenty years ago, was inspired by an enduring fascination with childhood experiences and childlike consciousness. In dialogue with this body of work are three new sculptures Balloon Swan (Blue), Balloon Rabbit (Yellow), and Balloon Monkey (Red), for which children’s party favors are reconceived as mesmerizing monumental forms. With their impressive scale, fluid lines, and immaculate, mirror-like surfaces, they achieve a perfect tension between representation and abstraction.
A major retrospective of Koons’ work is being organized by Scott Rothkopf, Curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Opening in January 2014 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, it then goes to the Whitney in June, and travels to Centre Georges Pompidou in December, with possible additional venues in Europe. This will be the first ever one-person show to occupy all five floors of the Whitney. It will mark the final exhibition at the Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue, before the Whitney moves into its new building in downtown Manhattan, near Chelsea and the High Line.
Since Jeff Koons’s first solo show in 1980, his work has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2003); Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004, traveled to Helsinki City Art Museum in 2005); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008); “Jeff Koons: Versailles,” Château de Versailles, France (2008–09); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; and Serpentine Gallery, London (all 2009); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2011); Schirn Kunsthalle and Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt (2012). The Whitney Museum will present a major retrospective of his work in 2014. Koons lives and works in New York City.
Bottom Photo: Antiquity 3, 2011 “Jeff Koons: New Paintings and Sculpture”
opens May 9, through June 29 at Gagosian Gallery, New York (West 24th Street)
Top Photo: Jeff Koons Gazing Ball, the world debut of a new series of sculptures at David Zwirner West 19th Street spaces.