It’s 2014 and mocking Jeff Koons is just not fun anymore. Jeff Koons’ stupid balloon dogs, Damien Hirst’s stupid dots, Marina Abramović’s stupid eye contact — for those of us tap-dancing on the cracking crust between “art” and “mainstream culture” coverage, simplifying our half-felt blow-offs into blog posts is not worth perpetuating Koonsbramohirst’s omnipresence, not worth the minor news they relay, not worth the pithy punchline, not worth writing and not worth being read.
Damien Hirst’s dots were fucking stupid, but they also manifested a particularly minimal trend Hirst himself orchestrated within the vast and ingenious luxury-object market. Our attention swarmed to these dots; we observed and narrated the swarm around us; too often, we didn’t realize we were part of this swarm. “Money is his medium” of art, the clever ones of us observed, self-satisfied in discovering the conceptual element to our perpetual exclusion.
Marina Abramović’s eye contact was fucking stupid, eventually, after the core of her life’s work had began to dry out, out there in the overexposure — not by the general deserved fame and success, but in self-memefication and self-commodification for celebrity consumption. She forced her career arc into a premature crest: She made me cry, then she buried herself, and now she won’t die. It was interesting that it was happening, but what was happening wasn’t interesting anymore.
Back to us, back to 2014, back to Jeff Koons and this video of his studio visit.
Here we see dozens of assistants in multi-tiered cubicles, toiling dutifully at details of Jeff Koons’ canvases and sculptures; measuring; dabbing. Sitting in front of his delicate factory, Jeff Koons explains his work. He is very animated, squeaking like a very clean thing, as if he freshly popped 30mg of Adderall while a mega mega vitamin supplement was injected directly into his dick through a diamond syringe. I don’t know. But some sort of otherly, high-functioning, sterile glee is happening here. It’s a striking contrast.
“When I made…”
Stop laughing. This is 2014 and we know that artists don’t make their own work.
Here are all the good things about the shiny, over-sized, stainless steel Balloon Dogs.
There is a meaningful purity to this, this childhood totem re-made as an art piece for a gallery. A small, amusing, silly thing, blown up to preposterous height, immovable weight, labor-intensive sheen, authoritatively-precise color, importance-assuming placement. It’s joyful and grand. For a second.
Like Koons explains: “When I made…” Very shiny. Many reflections — the Palace of Versailles, the rooftop of the Met. It’s as if by reflecting its environment, the artwork is receiving content from its context. That’s clever. For a second.
But Koons dives into chatty demagogy. You see, breathing in is like living, so the Balloon Dogs? They are actually “parallel to life’s energy” and about life and everything. When you exhale, it’s like “a symbol of death.” So they’re also about death and everything.
They’re also about “materialism” and “monumentalism,” Koons says. These words are the only ones that really matter here.
In the video, Koons says that his pieces are just objects; that objects are not art; that art is felt; that those feelings of art are somehow transmitted into and through the objects. He calls his artworks “transponders of art,” of… something.
Last month, a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog was sold at Christie’s for $58.4 million – the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist. It would have been wonderful to believe that something was “transponded” in this big big sale. Didn’t Koons just call them “Trojan Horses?” It would be wonderful to believe that this incredible auction sum and pomp would charge this object, that the it would detonate the object like some metaphysical nuclear Trojan Horse and shower us all in a trickle-down deluge of meaning, of… something.
But there’s nothing. Not because there isn’t anything, but because what is there is not for us. The “Trojan” Dog detonated and what reverberated is that something happened, something conceived to sell for lots of money was sold for lots of lots of lots of money.
Art isn’t stupid. Balloon Dogs aren’t stupid. Jeff Koons isn’t stupid. Jeff Koons conjured a sentimental note from his childhood and had it manifested into giant beautiful things, because he can. And people bought those things for millions of dollars, because they can. Because that circuit is about getting what you want — made or purchased — because you can. No, not you. You can’t. They can. But you can stand there underneath the shiny beautiful “transponder” and feel it.
It’s not popular for its sentimental universality. It’s successful because of its unproblematic banality. It is shiny and happy and lubricated, ready to be lodged perpetually up the market’s own ass, but it’s not fun anymore.
TL;DR I will only write about Jeff Koons if it’s really worth the punchline. He sucks and it’s not fun anymore.