From Kitsch to Culture, artist Jeff Koons has been transforming the everyday into the extraordinary since his first NYC exhibition in 1980. Decades—and millions in revenue—later, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is taking over the Whitney Museum of Art and is showcasing this superstar artist’s 35-year career.
This chronological survey exhibits over 130 sculptures and paintings to unfold Koons’ rise to art stardom as the second most valuable living artist today. This saga is of an artist whose career-defining trademark is the transformation of popular culture into art—from lowbrow commodities to highbrow aesthetic objects, Koons’ multimedia career continually uplifts mass media into as the artist describes, “proletarian luxuries.”
In his breakthrough “Equilibrium” series, Koons suspended basketballs into tanks of pristine water, transforming a useful toy into an object of observation. His ‘readymade’ style persisted through the years as his pension for the satirical ruse negated useful things into visual art. In “Balloon Dog” (1994-2000), Koons forever immortalized the simple pleasures of childhood revelry in stainless steel. This playful piece comes with a hefty price-tag—this sculpture from his “Celebration” series sold at Christies last November for $58.4 million, making this balloon replica the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction.
His playful pastiche from lowbrow commodification to the ranks of highbrow art is a complicated game of production—through casting and cutting edge technology he challenges the limits of fabrication as his plushy visions of childhood toys are encapsulated in rugged materials like stainless steel. While viewing his “Hulk Elvis,” the inflatable hulk or the wax gorilla that seemingly meet the eye are really masterful trompe l’oeils—these sculptures are actually created from industrial steel and granite. The level of craftsmanship blurs the distinction between the ‘real thing’—the childhood toy it resembles—and its Koonsian copy—the art in the museum.
Koons is a master of manipulation as his artwork creates an equilibrium from the competing ideas of art and commerce. Staring into Koons mirror-polished “Hanging Heart” (1994-2006) unfolds similar emotions as wanting a shiny new toy. For Koons, the boundary between the museum and the market is not a static divide but a crosswalk, one that continually shifts with the changing times.
Do not stop this summer’s Koons exploration at the Whitney. Take a stroll through Rockefeller Center to view Koons gigantic “Split-Rocker” on view through September 12. Presented by exhibition sponsor Gagosian Gallery and organized by the Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer, “Split-Rocker” towers over 37 feet high and features 50,000 flowering plants. Modeled after the aluminum sculpture of the same name on view at the Whitney, this outdoor topiary shares the same uncanny resemblance to a child’s ‘Little Tike’ rocker.
Craving a Jeff Koons to-go? Exhibition sponsor H&M is debuting a limited edition leather bag printed with Koons infamous “Balloon Dog.” The bag—and a site-specific makeover by Koons himself—will debut at H&M’s Fifth Avenue flagship store July 17.
This is the last exhibition the Whitney will host at its Upper East Side location. The Whitney is closing its doors in October and will reopen in spring 2015 at its new downtown home designed by famed museum-architect Renzo Piano and located at the south end of the public art walk, the High Line.
If you go:
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective through October 19
Wednesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Whitney Museum of Art
945 Madison Avenue
General Admission $20