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Tag: Retrospective

Jeff Koons Retrospective

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Michael Jackson with Bubbles 1988

People really love to hate Jeff Koons; artists especially. The laundry list of criticisms levied against him are vast and plenty. The fact that he doesn’t  physically make any of his own artworks and they are actually  the factory fabrications of a team of nameless makers seems to rub some people the wrong way.  Marcel Duchamp started that avalanche  a century ago and Warhol had no trouble cashing the cheques as a result of it. One major difference between Koons and the elder statesmen of art is that both Duchamp and Warhol had the technical skill to execute anything that they put their name to. With Jeff Koons it’s not so apparent, but Koons’ power stems from what Duchamp so eloquently pointed out forever ago, is that the idea is where the art lies and the object is just the conduit in which it is communicated. Who cares where the object came from as long as an artist infuses it with their own artistic conception?

New Hoover Celebrity III’s, 1980

New Hoover Celebrity III’s, 1980

So what exactly is Jeff’s conception? This is probably the other major sticking point for his critics. Some people think he doesn’t have one. He is accused of creating super polished art-bling for the super rich. It has no worth except for what it’s worth. Is this where Jeff’s genius lies? Like Warhol said “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Jeff Koons’ career trajectory has been cool and very calculated and Jeff is a very clever boy who knew to steal from the best. Take a look at his early vacuum pieces. One part Duchamp one part Dan Flavin and voilà instant art that has an existing built in conception. The vacuum pieces work now more from an 80’s artifact curiosity factor than a neo-dadist sensibility.

One Ball Total Equilibrium (detail) 1985

One Ball Total Equilibrium (detail) 1985

Neo-dadist art eventually morphed and transitioned into Pop art and that is where Koons found his true calling. Jeff Koons is a pop artist perfectionist with the budget of a Hollywood studio. In the beginning he didn’t always have the resources he possess today. He did this by investing in himself. He took all his money and put it into the fabrication of his ideas, sometimes selling them at a loss to help perpetuate his brand. Employing scientists to help you figure out how to make a Dr. J basketball eternally float suspended in time doesn’t come cheap. Casting an inflatable dingy in bronze also doesn’t come cheap; irony costs. Is this where Jeff Koons brilliance lies?

Ushering in Banality 1988

Ushering in Banality 1988

In the late 80’s Jeff Koons hit his stride. He became an expert anthropologist/alchemist, mining the cultural landscape for gold. He could turn led into a precious metal. He could turn the banal into candy and intrigue. He played with materials and surface with astonishing results. His rabbit from this time was an artistic revelation. Koons worked in steel, wood, porcelain and fabrication. His work was a celebration and easy fun.

Play Doh 2014

Play Doh 2014

Jeff Koons throughout his career has channeled his inner child. With works like Play Doh and Balloon Dog playfulness is on display in a monumental way. The facts they are in themselves very grown-up feats of engineering (Play Doh took 10 years to figure out) is invisible. They are made to be loved and when it comes to his Balloon Dogs mission accomplished. In my opinion the Balloon dogs are his most successful works. They work on a conceptual and aesthetic level. In their presence you are impressed by their scale and tickled by their polish. On the flip-side, in every way his sculptures succeed, his paintings fail miserably.

Seal Walrus Chairs 2003

Seal Walrus Chairs 2003

His paintings are meticulous recreations of bad Photoshop collages. When I look at them I just feel sorry for the poor painters who had to waste countless hours of their lives creating unneeded forgettable images. The best of Jeff’s art works because he willed it into existence. The fact that Seal Walrus Chairs exists in itself is ridiculous. Creating painted bronze casts of pool toys trapped in a stack of plastic deck chairs defies all common sense and that is why it works. There is an implied narrative there that none of his paintings exhibit.

Balloon Venus 2013

Balloon Venus 2013

Metallic Venus 2010

Metallic Venus 2010

Popeye 2009

Popeye 2009

The bulk of the metallic sculptures are exercises in execution but ultimately don’t come close to a Rabbit or Balloon Dog. There’s a specificity to them that the stronger work isn’t chained to. It could be any balloon dog among millions as opposed to one Popeye, Hulk or what have you. Inflatables are meant to be inconsequential and not revered as monuments.

Balloon Dog (Yellow) 1994-2000

Balloon Dog (Yellow) 1994-2000

The Whitney has done a good job surveying an international art star’s evolution and success. They have included the good, bad and ugly (Made in Heaven: Koons’ misstep into sex and images). I was looking forward to this show and was not disappointed.  I left wondering: is Jeff Koons a genius? On the one hand, none of this would have happened if it weren’t for the Warhol blueprint ( who in my mind is a genius). On the other hand these ridiculous monuments to the inconsequential were willed into existence by Koons’ creativity and tenaciousness.  Are these important art objects or hyper expensive lawn ornaments for the uber-rich?

Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso) 2013

Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso) 2013

Why not go to the Whitney and decide for yourself? The Jeff Koons Retrospective is on until Oct 19th.

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Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective

Ohhh….Alright 1964

This was the second Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective I have had the pleasure of seeing and just like the first; it did not disappoint. The first retrospective I saw was in Montreal in 1994 organized by the Guggenheim.  Nearly 18 years later, the paintings hadn’t lost any of their punch. The beauty of seeing these paintings in person is their scale and presence. Tiny comics blown up to enormous proportions give the subject matter a sense of urgency and importance. The recently closed show at The Art Institute of Chicago contained nearly 170 works from the late great pop artist. Best know for his iconic comic strip inspired canvases, the retrospective illustrated that the artist was far from a one trick pony.

Step-on Can with Leg 1961

Lichtenstein was a master of appropriation. He mined sources from the pop culture of his day to the masters of the western art canon and beyond. He had an impeccable eye for subject matter. He spotlighted the art contained in the simple narrative of comic strips by isolating single panels eliminating the context and highlighting the raw emotions. He transformed simple objects into iconic portraits.

Ball of Twine 1963

His style evolved from the comics but soon eclipsed it. He integrated many printing techniques including benday dots, parallel lines and flat bold colours. Although his style appears to be totally graphic in nature; the influence of the Abstract Expressionists is very evident in a lot of his work. The brushstroke series is a direct comment on how they applied paint, where a piece like Composition II is a nod to the all-over style.

Rouen Cathedral set 5 1969

Lichtenstein tackles luminaries such as Monet and Picasso. The Pop filter he applies only helps to accentuate the greatness of the originals. The retrospective does a wonderful job of organizing the many series he explored during his career. Along with the art history paintings; he explored interiors, mirrors, comics, moldings, still-lifes, landscapes and even (a slight misstep in my opinion) nudes. He mostly succeeds in all areas.

Brushstroke Abstraction II 1996

Near the end of his career he incorporated the direct brushwork of the abstract painters he so admired. It was nice to see the direct evidence of the artist’s hand that had been camouflaged by the mechanical reproduction techniques he so often employed. The end result of the  juxtaposition of the two diametrically opposed styles together on the same canvas is fantastic. I didn’t get to see these paintings the first time around because they hadn’t been created yet. A few notable paintings that were missing this time from the first time around would be Girl with Ball (one of my favourites) and Grrrrrr

Landscape in Fog 1996

The Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective is now on its way to The National Art Gallery in Washington, then on to the Tate in London and the Pompidou in Paris.