Deflated: Jeff Koons in Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on December 9, 2008

The two Jeff Koons solo exhibitions currently on in Berlin – one a retrospective of the sculptures, the other a show of new paintings – confirm that Koons is the worst living artist anywhere. Koons is a sort of con man who specializes in “art” for a public that has been conditioned by a general devolution of taste. This approach may have been effective in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the former stockbroker first devised a winning formula for his hapless endeavors, but now, only the most vulgar sort of cultural victim can unashamedly defend this garbage without any trace of humor. That Koons is mounting concurrent high-profile exhibitions throughout the continent this season is a sure sign of the artist’s own desperation in what must be a disturbing awareness of his work’s impending expiration date in the pathetic cultural milieu he has managed to exploit for so long.

Of course a show like “Celebration,” the sculpture retrospective on at the Neue Nationalgalerie, will be a blockbuster in Berlin. Berlin suffers from a malaise of insecurity unique to medium-sized capitals; compared to London, New York, and Paris, Berlin is provincial. But so what? Berlin also has an anarchic spirit that those other places have been lacking for many years now, and certainly doesn’t need to demean itself by jumping on the Koons bandwagon. Had the curators inspected with a more critical eye, they would have noted that the wares are looking more than a wee bit rusty. If anything, the choice of Koons points to a general conservatism that plagues the city’s institutional life – and, I suppose, fuels Berlin’s overwhelmingly prolific “unofficial” art scene.

The title “Celebration” is appropriate only in that the sculptures celebrate all that is vapid and not worth preserving in our culture. Twenty years ago, it must have felt invigoratingly defiant to show a garish thing like Hanging Heart in an art context. Today, Heart and the other sculptures just look like the costume jewelry rejects, ironically glamorized in their aggrandizement, that they actually are.

While the show at the Neue Nationalgalerie celebrates the glitter-strewn bowel movements of the past, the paintings at Galerie Max Hetzler are a new low in the Koons oeuvre. I hesitate to use the word new, because despite their recent dating, the paintings are little more than academicized version of ‘80s pop abstraction – striving to be “all style, no substance,” but ultimately devoid of both. I suppose the argument could be made that it’s not Koons’s fault that his art is so bad; it is well known that the artist favors the Warholian assembly line production model, refusing to get his hands dirty and fashioning himself more of an ideas man. Ignoring for a moment that his ideas are depthless, we can at least feign sorrow that his numerous assistants are so lacking in skill. The paintings at Hetzler are at best the work of a first-year art student.

For Koons, you feel like it’s never really been about the art, anyway. “I don’t believe in judgments,” he warns us over and over again in interviews, and despite the seeming inflection of earnestness that inevitably coats such apologies, you can’t help but smell a whiff of disingenuity when confronted with the actual work. Any artist who tells us not to judge is aware that the truth can be unpleasant and would rather deflect attention away from it rather than face it head-on. It says nothing reassuring about the last quarter century that so many have been duped into obeying Koons’s entreaty.

One comment

Yes I noticed that when one googles corporate con-man with Koons name, it comes up after a load of self PR promotion.
I totally agree with you that the work is dated and digitally produced in a clinical factory like setting there is no soul in his work, he never left the corporate world, how can he be an artist? Souless crap from a corporate con-man, bought by unimaginative pork bellied businessmen.

by jacqueline obrien on August 31, 2009 at 9:14 pm. #

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