Guest blogger GAIL SACHSON owns ASK ME ABOUT ART, is Vice-Chair of the Commission of Cultural Affairs and a Public Art Committee member.
I left Jeff Koons’ Thursday afternoon lecture at Booker T. Washington and that evening’s lecture at the Nasher Salon convinced that I was perfect. Jeff Koons had told me and the rest of the art loving audience so. “Art,” he said, “can help you trust in yourself … Art is about total acceptance of self and others.” Well … maybe not ALL others. Maybe not the critics who have called Koons, his ready-mades and sexually explicit work, “puerile soft porn” and “art that looks like trash and trashes art.” About critics, Koons says, “Just because they have the position of authority, doesn’t mean they are an authority.”
The cover of the April 1993 issue of ArtNews asks, “Who is Jeff Koons and Why Are People Saying Such Terrible Things About Him?” The article says he has been called an “exhibitionist,” “a con man” and a “masterful salesman.” Koons seems to be able to accept the criticism because as a young boy his Saturday art teacher also often didn’t like his work. She told him so and reworked his paintings to make a point and better the work. He thus learned to work collaboratively and with a team, he explains. Today, he employs about 100 people in his studio. He directs, approves and redirects, never manipulating the material. A college accident convinced him not to base his art career on work he had to make with his hands. So now he conceptualizes.
A former stockbroker who strove to be financially independent before becoming a full-time artist, Koons remains independent and an enigma. His art, and his reserved presence and rhetoric of not wanting to shock or alienate, don’t seem to mesh. Dressed in a suit and tie, the 54-year-old spoke in a silken, soothing voice. His slide presentations seemed like self-help sessions and therapy for the art addicted AND for himself. He spoke of the positive forces of art. Art CONNECTS us with history and other artists, he said. It allows us to give up CONTROL, as it did for him when he was able to walk away from the 42-foot flower covered “Puppy” sculpture and let nature run its course. And he spoke of art’s ability to remove ANXIETY, which he says is always with him, especially when he’s bored.
Well, we certainly weren’t bored , and we thank the Nasher Sculpture Center for bringing art stars like Koons to Dallas. As a follow-up, I would welcome the opportunity to honestly discuss his work and his words, for even though he told us WE were perfect, and we should accept ourselves the way we are, I still find it hard to accept Jeff Koons for who he says he is.