Monday, October 20, 2008

Trudy Benson's Review of Jeff Koons' "On the Roof" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

In his 1958 essay "Jackson Pollock", John Berger asks us "how far can talent exempt an artist if he does not think beyond or question the decadence of the cultural situation to which he belongs?". "Jeff Koons On the Roof" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured three pieces from his Celebration series installed in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. Balloon Dog (Yellow), Coloring Book, and Sacred Heart (Red/Gold) were factory-made of high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating and range in height from ten feet to almost nineteen feet. According to John Berger's problem of the Western artist in a disintegrating culture, Jeff Koons' recent rooftop exhibit, featuring pieces from his "Celebration" series, falls short of any kind of consideration beyond the decadence of today's culture.

"The constant problem for the Western artist is to find themes for his art which can connect him with his public,". According to Berger, an artist's theme is the emergent significance found in a subject. He went on to describe Pollock's desperation in finding his theme in our disintegrating culture where every artist's purpose is accepted, and criticism only consists of distinguishing between the gifted and those who are not gifted. The result of our disintegrating culture could be considered to be the inability to find a cultural significance within an artist's purpose. In Pollock's struggle to think beyond his cultural situation, he could only find significance in the impossibility of finding any cultural significance. In doing so, he has succeeded in thinking beyond his culture. And, "If a talented artist cannot see or think beyond the decadence of the culture to which he belongs, if the situation is as extreme as ours, his talent will only reveal negatively but unusually vividly the nature and extent of that decadence,".

Balloon Dog (Yellow) stands 121 inches tall: a highly reflective golden rendition of a balloon twisted into the shape of a dog. Coming out from the elevator onto the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this is the first piece we come across. The piece is truly sensational, enticing the viewer with its vast scale, its familiarity of form, and with its luster. The backdrop of our toy, aptly selected, no doubt, is a gorgeous Manhattan skyline. To the immediate right of Balloon Dog (Yellow) is the bar featuring three specialty drinks created in honor of each of the pieces on display. Standing over 140 inches tall and to the left of Balloon Dog is Sacred Heart (Red/Gold). A bright candy red, it is made to look like a heart-shaped chocolate wrapped in cellophane and topped off with a golden cellophane gift bow.

According to the pamphlet provided for the show, Koons is said to look for his inspiration in today's consumer world. It is also stated that he wishes his art to communicate with as broad an audience as possible. In these pieces, Koons' themes involve the appropriation of objects found within the world of consumerism. Any conceptual theme beyond fingering consumer decadence Koons admittedly owes to Marcel Duchamp's readymades. He has commented on this debauchery by achieving stardom personally and creating objects that call forth the seductive qualities of consumer media. He has demonstrated his sophisticated talent in his knowledge of his material and expressed an astute aesthetic sensibility. Still, he has failed to look beyond what our culture is dissolving into. It can be said that Koons' theme do indeed connect him to his culture; however, Koons has failed to make the theme of appropriation personally significant in "On the Roof".
Trudy Benson

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