phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Jeff Koons - Now
Image Credit: Three Ball 50-50 Tank (Spalding Dr. JK Silver Series), 1985. © Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons - Now

6 July 2016 Tom Faber

Known for his metal balloon animals and fetching some of the highest prices ever paid for art, Jeff Koons is a polarizing figure in the art world. We explore ‘Now’, the new retrospective of his work at Newport Street Gallery, where all the pieces are drawn from Damien Hirst’s personal collection.



“Or maybe that’s the point?”

This is the sentence that enters my brain whenever I level criticism at Jeff Koons. His art deflects critique like light from polished steel.

Koons makes you think in circles. His early works were accessible - pointed comments on the fetishization of consumer culture. But as his fame rose, his art became bogglingly valuable. His Balloon Dog (Orange) broke the world record for the highest price paid for an artwork by a living artist, a cool $58.4 million. Does this fact beautifully underline his point? Or does it mean he sold out to the system he was criticizing?

It’s hard to know what to think. Koons’ eerie media presence doesn’t help. His comments to the press are strewn with references to psychological liberation and self-actualisation; soundbites ripped straight from a cheap self-help book. Is he a brilliant cultural commentator, so devoted to his message that his very life becomes part of his art? Or an evil genius, gleefully hammering the last polished nail into modern art’s dignity and humanity?

The new exhibition of Koons’ work at the Newport Street Gallery won’t help you answer these questions. The gallery belongs to Damien Hirst, and all of the pieces on display are from Hirst’s private collection – as a young artist he viewed Koons as something of an idol. The connection between the two is clear. Both are profoundly divisive modern artists who uncomfortably toe the line between art and commerce.
 
New Hoover Quik Broom, New Hoover Celebrity IV, 1980. © Jeff Koons
 
In Koons’ best pieces, many of which are found in the exhibition’s first few rooms, there is always a subversion at play. His wall-mounted hoovers from the 80’s resemble alien spacecrafts or, if you prefer, genitalia. They hang before blinding strip-lights like religious symbols, sterile products presented as spiritual icons. They also ask questions, in their neutral way, about function – these machines were made to pick up dirt yet they hang spotless on the wall, never used or sullied. If you shear a manufactured object from its destiny, what are you left with?

The work displays a reverence for culture, both ‘high’ and ‘low’. Nike adverts are framed on the wall and classical sculpture is replicated in garish, glaring steel. Three basketballs are suspended in a fishtank, bisected by the waterline. A metal train, for all the world like a child’s toy, is in fact a decanter filled with bourbon. The attention to craft and production is painfully meticulous, if not evident. For example, Koons met a Nobel laureate physicist to calibrate a solution which would keep the basketballs precisely half-submerged, and the train is deliberately made with stainless steel, the only metal that would preserve the alcohol indefinitely. The best pieces combine this precision with a visceral impact: what could be more lethal than a life jacket cast in bronze?

Between the giant bowls of eggs, semi-pornographic photography and metal beach toys is one of the pieces Koons is most famous for – a steel balloon animal. The monkey is four metres tall. Its cobalt surface gleams, reflecting everything around it (it’s important for Koons that viewers can see themselves in his work). Photos cannot do justice to its scale, nor to how much it resembles a balloon, down to the minute wrinkles where the ‘rubber’ has been twisted. It’s incredibly tempting to reach out and touch it. This is obviously forbidden.

If there is an overarching theme to be drawn from the selection of Koons’ work at the gallery, it’s the idea of preservation. Many of the pieces present objects that were made to be used, that would one day deflate, wear out or grow useless. By preserving these objects, Koons is saving them from ever dying, but also from ever living. The balloon monkey will never be played with, the brass snorkel will never breathe. This idea reflects back on us in a thousand ways; on our society that eats healthily, goes jogging, buys more, works harder – people that spend so much time trying to exist in a perfect state that they never really live.

Or perhaps you think that Koons is just a chancer, that his work is meaningless. Maybe he’s the emperor whose new clothes are painstakingly realized in stainless steel.

Well, maybe that’s the point.

Jeff Koons - Now is at Newport Street Gallery until 16th October. Admission is free.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

This week: 19 – 25 February

This week: 19 – 25 February

After the cold dark days of last week we could all do with some fun, so here are some exclusively jolly ideas to brighten up…

This week: 5 – 11 February

This week: 5 – 11 February

Escape the miserable weather with meditative opera, dream yourself away on an elegant ocean liner or give in to the darkness with an H. P.…

This week: 12 – 18 February

This week: 12 – 18 February

This week brings us both Pancake Day and Valentine’s Day back to back but if you’ve had your fill of sweet stuff, there is some fierce…

Freud The Musical

Freud The Musical

A One Woman Show about Sex, Madness and Medicine

Most popular

Win Tickets to Best of Broadway!

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Win Tickets to Best of Broadway!

Experience an evening showcasing the finest shows on Broadway and in the West End live at the Royal Albert Hall.
Win 2 Tickets to a Cocktail Cinema Evening!

Courthouse Hotel - Win 2 Tickets to a Cocktail Cinema Evening!

Your chance to win a magical night out with this Cocktail Cinema Evening for Two at the 5* Courthouse Hotel in Shoreditch!
Win 2 tickets to see Good Girl

Trafalgar Studios - Win 2 tickets to see Good Girl

Naomi Sheldon’s award-winning debut play
Win Tickets to The Enchanted Room

Estorick Collection - Win Tickets to The Enchanted Room

We've got two tickets to give away to a unique display of Italian art.
Win Tickets to Lab Late: Managing the Biosphere

The Imagination Lab - Win Tickets to Lab Late: Managing the Biosphere

Are you concerned about rapid changes facing the planet? Hear about a movement that advocates for action, driven by the people!
Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Top 5: Brutalist Buildings in London

Concrete beasts in the city
Win a bottle of Prosecco and free entry to Womb 2

Number 90 Bar & Kitchen - Win a bottle of Prosecco and free entry to Womb 2

Number 90 Bar & Kitchen in Hackney is celebrating it’s 4th birthday with a massive 4 day party of individually themed events.
Top 5: Escape room games in London

Top 5: Escape room games in London

Exciting quest for adventurous explorers
Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre

Julius Caesar at The Bridge Theatre

Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley, David Calder and David Morrissey take to London’s newest stage.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!