defending jeff koons


It was when I saw Koons’s sizzling 60-work retrospective that’s now on view in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art that I started to figure him out. As curated by Bonami, the show has no walls. You see the whole exhibition at once. At first it’s a mess—like being in a mall. Slowly, however, I grasped that Koons and Bonami had transformed the entire museum into a vitrine and that I was inside it. The show turned into an architectural evocation of Plato’s cave in reverse: Instead of only seeing shadows of reality, you see everything with a vividness and clarity it’s never had before.

With Coloring Book, I began to understand much more about Koons’s work. For years, he has worked on a series of highly realized photo-realist paintings of things like lobsters, employing scores of assistants to make them. Koons has maintained that these paintings refer to Dalí, Warhol, and others. Now, saying a lobster refers to Dalí is sort of stupid. But although the paintings are still pointless if looked at only iconographically, they come alive as 21st-century versions of proto-modernism if you confine your gaze to the surface itself. There are no lines to be seen: Koons has meticulously separated every area of paint into a well-defined mass or island that interlocks perfectly with every other area without ever overlapping it. It’s like looking in a microscope and seeing what had formerly been a blur resolve into distinct forms.

more from New York Magazine here.