Artists Rooms exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
My first encounter with Jeff Koons’ work was at the Frieze Art Fair a couple of years ago where the stand of the Gagosian Gallery exhibiting his work stood out from all the others. Not just from the ‘celebration’ character sculptures on the floor or suspended from the ceiling – but also from the number of security guards employed to stop people touching the exhibits.
While I had seen his work in books and read about it, I had only seen his celebration characters at the Frieze. So I was pleased to be able to see a wider range of his work at the Artists’ Rooms exhibition.
There was an interesting video playing at the start of the exhibition ‘Philosophy of Perfection’ in which Koons talks about his influences and his work. The film can be seen here Jeff Koons’ Philosophy of Perfection
There were obvious Duchamp influences in his use of ‘ready mades’ although Koons did not give them a different use (as Duchamp did with his urinal/fountain). Instead he displayed perfect, unused examples of everyday objects to form a finished piece e.g. his vacuum cleaners or basketballs. The whole point is that they were unused and Koons was attempting to transform them from objects of practical desire to ones of aesthetic desire.
There was one example of his celebration series, which was a caterpillar supported by red chains from the ceiling. It looked just like a plastic inflatable animal – in fact it was made from polished and painted metal – designed to look like an inflatable. Again this seemed to me to be another attempt by Koons to demonstrate a transformation – everything is not as it first appears.
Winter Bears was another exhibit, one where Koons sought out expert wood carvers in Germany to produce this large, painted wooden sculpture. This looked like a huge version of a character from a children’s story. Displaying it as a serious art exhibit again shows Koons transformational approach.
These were the exhibits that appealed to me as having some artistic merit in the approach taken and what I thought were the messages the artist was trying to convey. But I was disappointed with other works in the exhibition. There were a number of large coloured glass mirrors cut to the shape of cartoon animals. I found it difficult to discover any redeeming feature or artistic merit in them.
Even worse was the marble bust Jeff and Ilona. A week earlier I had been to the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. One of the exhibits there was Rodin’s sculpture Eternal Spring. I found that sculpture beautiful, moving and a great demonstration of the nature of love. By contrast I found Koons’ Jeff and Ilona tacky and lacking any artistic merit. While immaculately carved from marble it contained none of the sensuous approach of Rodin nor any conveyance of the nature of love.
In conclusion an exhibition that I learned from. I learned more about the full range of Koons’ work, his philosophy and approach. I saw some work that appealed to me and I saw some work that I disliked. But I think I am now becoming better able to articulate the reasons I like or dislike works of art.
I think the Art review in The Scotsman probably best summed up my feelings towards the exhibition “Look at Koons and essentially you are looking at yourself looking at Koons.”
The full Scotsman Review is here Art review: Artist Rooms, Jeff Koons