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Jeff Koons: Artist and Therapist


by Gail Sachson 19 Jan 2009

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 […]

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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.

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  • Jase

    Just as professional wrestling bears only the most superficial resemblance to collegiate wrestling, Koons, and his fellow conceptualist Damien Hirst, bear little resemblance to most living artists who actually craft and produce their own work. (We can debate the Atelier/ guild, Apprentice/ Journeyman/Master methods later)
    This controversy surrounding Koons is directly tied to the backlash against Andrew Wyeth, by art critics as to whether he was an artist or “merely” an illustrator. Wyeth painted all of his own work usually using a very laborious process of painting with egg tempera while Koons garish and kitschy monstrosities all executed by artisans hired to take his “direction”.

    Cubists, pointillists, abstractionists, expressionists and surrealists rejected the old imposed limits on how art was to be rendered and revitalized artistic thought through the way a subject was interpreted; but any movement stagnates and the constant thirst for novelty and the subsequent backlash against talent and skill as requirements to produce art gave rise to the anti-movement movment -the Dadaists.
    Dadaist Duchamp played the ultimate intellectual joke on the art world when he took a already existing urinal, designed by an engineer and mass produced for utilitarian purposes, and retitled it. Reflexively ironic, it gave birth to conceptual art and the proliferation of displaying found objects signed “name” artists (although Picasso’s Cow skull had a witty charm and Nevelson’s box constructs redefined sculpture in a provocative way) . Duchamp’s Fountain has been declared the greatest pieces of modern art and realism has been demoted to the back of the bus and shunned as being too literal, despite all the skill and, well, artistry required to produce fine work unless they are garish and kitschy examples of Disney-esque illustrations rendered in super large scale.

    If Art is the Emperor, then Koons is one of the swindlers playing at weaving nonexistent cloth. The Emperor is naked, the courtiers are complicit with the swindlers, and Koons and Cicciolina are openly and unashamedly in sexual congress amid oversized mirror polished steel facsimiles of party balloons and lurid porcelain odes to Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee.
    Few care if the clothes don’t actually exist because the concept – the idea of it gets millions $$$$$ at auction houses, and isn’t that what art is all about now?