Jeff Koons: Or, Who’s Liberating Whom?

Morgan Meis in The Easel:


Koons has his defenders, but with works like Pink Panther and Michael Jackson and Bubbles, he has driven many in the art-critical establishment into what can only be called paroxysms of outrage. Jeff Koons’ recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum (2014) was another chance for the critics and academics to take their whacks. Jed Perl, in a piece for the New York Review of Books, summed up the feelings of many. Perl titled his piece, “The Cult of Jeff Koons.” Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Imagine the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art as the perfect storm. And at the center of the perfect storm there is a perfect vacuum. The storm is everything going on around Jeff Koons: the multimillion-dollar auction prices, the blue chip dealers, the hyperbolic claims of the critics, the adulation and the controversy and the public that quite naturally wants to know what all the fuss is about. The vacuum is the work itself, displayed on five of the six floors of the Whitney, a succession of pop culture trophies so emotionally dead that museumgoers appear a little dazed as they dutifully take out their iPhones and produce their selfies.”

If Perl is right (and he may well be) the only thing that is really interesting about Jeff Koons is the magnitude of the boondoggle. The question is how we square Perl’s contempt with, for instance, the following claim to be found at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website: “Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era.” There are, moreover, a number of important critics who have held this view, the best and most intelligent being philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto.

More here.