Jeff Koons and Kara Walker: blissful idiocy v. subtlety

Schwabsky_hopeagainsthope_1_ba_imgBarry Schwabsky at The Nation:

What first comes to mind when I think of Jeff Koons isn’t his art—not even his most memorable works, such as the stainless steel Rabbit of 1986 or the vast, flowery Puppy of 1992—but rather a cameo he had in a movie. In Gus Van Sant’s 2008 biopic Milk, Koons briefly graced the big screen in the role of Art Agnos, the progressive politician (and future mayor of San Francisco) who defeated Harvey Milk in the 1976 Democratic primary for a position in the California State Assembly. After a debate, Agnos offers his opponent a bit of advice: relentless criticism of the status quo isn’t enough to win the public over. Unless you can offer constructive programs to improve people’s lives, you’re just a downer, Agnos says: “You gotta to give ‘em a reason for optimism.” People need hope.

While the admonition seems to be faithful to the exchange reported by Milk’s biographer Randy Shilts, it might easily have been Koons’s own motto. When he began to attract attention in the early 1980s, the new watchword for art was “critique”; every up-to-date young artist was poring over books like The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (1983), edited by Hal Foster. Koons was one of the few artists of the time who wasn’t explicitly “anti” anything (except, as he has said, “anti-judgment”). What Foster called “a postmodernism of resistance”—one that “seeks to question rather than exploit cultural codes,” as he put it—was, for Koons, completely beside the point.

more here.