If you don’t move, nothing happens. – Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons, the subject of Oscar Boyson‘s recent pop video essay, above, is surely one of the most widely known living artists. As with fellow artists Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman the spotlight has produced an army of detractors who know very little about him, or his large, far-ranging body of work.
The choice of Scarlett Johansson to provide snarky second-person narration might not jolly Koons’ naysayers into suspending judgment long enough for a proper reintroduction. (His show-and-tell display of his Venus of Willendorf coffee mug causes her to quip, “You sexy motherfucker.” Ugh.)
On the other hand, there’s rapper Pharrell Williams’ onscreen observation that, “We need haters out there. They’re our walking affirmations that we’re doing something right.”
The potential for clamorous negative reaction has never propelled Koons to shy away from doing things on the grand scale in the public arena, as the giant open air display of such sculptures as “Seated Ballerina,” “Balloon Flower,” and “Puppy” will attest.
Surely, the genial affect he brings to the film is not what those who abhor “Made in Heaven,” a series of erotic 3-D self-portraits co-starring his then-wife, porn-star Ilona “Cicciolina” Staller, would have expected.
Nor does he come off as a pandering, high priest of kitsch, something certain to disappoint those who abhor “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” his gaudy, larger-than-life glazed porcelain sculpture of the King of Pop and his pet chimp.
“Kitsch is a word I really don’t believe in,” he smiles (possibly all the way to the bank).
Instead, he veers toward reflection, a fitting preoccupation for an artist given to mirror-polished stainless steel and more recently, gazing balls of the sort commonly found on 20th-century American lawns. He wants viewers to take a good look at themselves, along with his work.
Those whose hearts are set against him are unlikely to be swayed, but the undecided and open-minded might soften to a list of influences including Duchamp, Dali, DaVinci, Fragonard, Bernini, and Manet.
Ditto the opinions of a diverse array of talking heads like Frank Gehry, Larry Gagosian, and fellow post-modernist David Salle, who praises Koons’ artistic dedication to “everyday American-style happiness.”
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
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