Love it or loathe it, The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is preparing for the most comprehensive exhibition of the work of Jeff Koons ever mounted. Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era. Throughout his career, he has pioneered new approaches to the readymade, tested the boundaries between advanced art and mass culture, challenged the limits of industrial fabrication, and transformed the relationship of artists to the cult of celebrity and the global market. Yet despite these achievements, Koons has never been the subject of a retrospective surveying the full scope of his career. Comprising more than 120 objects dating from 1978 to the present, this exhibition will be the most comprehensive ever devoted to the artist’s groundbreaking oeuvre. By reconstituting all of his most iconic works and significant series in a chronological narrative, the retrospective will allow visitors to understand Koons’s remarkably diverse output as a multifaceted whole.
This exhibition will be the artist’s first major museum presentation in New York, and the first to fill nearly the entirety of the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building with a single artist’s work. It will also be the final exhibition to take place there before the Museum opens its new building in the Meatpacking District in 2015.
Jeff Koons was born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania. He received his B.F.A. at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since his emergence in the 1980s Jeff Koons has blended the concerns and methods of Pop, Conceptual, and appropriation art with craft-making and popular culture to create his own unique iconography, often controversial and always engaging. His work explores contemporary obsessions with sex and desire; race and gender; and celebrity, media, commerce, and fame. A self-proclaimed “idea man,” Koons hires artisans and technicians to make the actual works. For him, the hand of the artist is not the important issue: “Art is really just communication of something and the more archetypal it is, the more communicative it is.”
Koons’ artworks rarely inspire moderate responses, and this is one signal of the importance of his achievement. Focusing on some of the most unexpected objects as models for his work, Koons’ works eschew typical standards of “good taste” in art and zero in rather precisely on the vulnerabilities of hierarchies and value systems. As critic Christopher Knight has written “He turns the traditional cliché of the work of art inside out: Rather than embodying a spiritual or expressive essence of a highly individuated artist, art here is composed from a distinctly American set of conventional middle-class values.”
Since his first solo show in 1980, Koons’ work has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. Recent solo shows include the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2003), the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004), which traveled to the Helsinki City Art Museum (2005); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2008); “Jeff Koons: Versailles,” château de Versailles, France (2008–09). In 2009 alone, Koons had four major solo exhibitions in public institutions: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; and the Serpentine Gallery, London. Most recently, the Beyeler Foundation hosted Koons’s first solo exhibition in a Swiss museum. Exhibitions also opened last June in Frankfurt where Koons’s paintings were presented at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt while his sculptures were shown with works from the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung permanent collection. The Whitney plans a major retrospective of his work in 2014. Koons lives and works in New York City.
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is organized by Scott Rothkopf, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Curator and Associate Director of Programs.
The exhibition travels to the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris (November 26, 2014–April 27, 2015) and to the Guggenheim Bilbao (June 5–September 27, 2015).