Jeff Koons is the king of the American contemporary art world. His work is bright and controversial. He has had a career that has spanned over three decades that was the subject of a major retrospective show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York last year. It has now come to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and as I was in France over Christmas, I just had to take a look.
The reviews for the Paris show have been mixed. Most of them however are negative. I find that it is often the case when someone reaches dizzying heights of success that the criticism they receive ceases to be complimentary and takes a harsh turn. While many may dismiss the artistic talents of Koons, I adore it. The Pompidou Centre looks like a rainbow has burst open and spilt cartoon characters and children’s toy motifs all over the gallery.
The retrospective moves chronologically, beginning in 1979 and includes a mix of painting and sculpture. Popeye and Michael Jackson are just a couple of the well-known characters that are on display following an artistic makeover by Koons. There are also golden mirrors and inflatable toys that have been cast in stainless steel. These inflatables are Koons’s version of the infamous ready-made that was first positioned in the art gallery milieu by Marcel Duchamp, who, ironically, is also on display at the Pompidou Centre. However, Koons’s ‘ready-mades’ have a little more artistic skill than those made by Duchamp. Koons creates steel structures that mirror brilliantly bright balloon animals and blow up inflatables that one would expect to find on the beach or at a children’s birthday party. Among these is a blow up lobster for the beach as well as a spotted dog ring. These have been painted so that the shiny steel is hidden to imitate almost exactly those one would expect to see a child carrying around with them on holiday. These are created almost in the same vain as Warhol’s Brillo boxes, dramatically imitating real life. Also on show here are shiny three-dimensional cartoon elephant and birds made out of steel as well as a huge pink balloon dog and a hanging red heart from the 1994 ‘Celebration’ series, on loan in Paris from the collection of Francois Pinault.
Paintings are also on display. These have been filled with play-doh, toy horses, adult film stars and cartoon characters. The juxtaposition of all these elements displayed on one canvas shouldn’t work, but it does. They are bold, brash and certainly not for the faint hearted.
I have no doubt that Koons’s artwork splits audiences. It is pop art for the twenty-first century. For those who love bright colours and cartoon imagery, this is definitely the show for you. The perfect winter treat to brighten up a dreary day!
Jeff Koons is on display at Pompidou Centre until 27 April