Jeff Koons: Anti-Consumerist Art Or Its Own Subject Matter?

In an interview with Austrian daily Der Standard, the most expensive living American artist spoke about his relationship to the art market. Jeff Koons did so after unveiling of his Balloon Venus (Orange) (2008-12) statue at the city’s Natural History museum.

In a twist – that could be seen as quite an interesting turn in light of the artist’s prices – Koons denied that the discourse surrounding the market prices for his work influenced his creative process adding that the juxtaposition was in fact “an abstraction.”

“It lies outside of my influence,” Koons explained. “My series Luxury and Degradation (1986) was all about the danger of chasing luxury. Everything was made of stainless steel, an artificial luxury, a proletarian material. I could have melted it and turned it into pots and pans. I tried to show people that they should learn to preserve their political and economic power rather than strive for luxury. I have no sports car. There are certain things that I treat myself to, for example I sometimes I take a helicopter to travel to my farm, but I don’t live a luxurious lifestyle. I don’t give the market what it wants,” Koons claimed. “Otherwise I would always be producing the same thing. I do what I want. Just because I’m successful doesn’t mean that I serve the market.”

The artist continued: “I haven’t achieved my full potential yet,” the artist insisted. “That’s what I want to achieve. I want to experience transcendence and enlightenment. Every day I think of walking out of Plato’s cave. I want to exercise freedom in order to reach an even greater understanding of what freedom is.”

Koons’ work marks an interesting stage in the evolution of art and practice. When the art object itself begins to transform into the very subject matter that it purports to discuss. The jurisdiction of the art to claim a cultural value as an objective discourse on the nature of this external subject matter is then lost. The argument that the artist who claims that the art is a discourse on danger for example, by – shall we say – performing a dangerous act – is in fact not a discourse on the subject but in fact simply the performance of a dangerous act. The worked has slipped into being the very subject matter that it claims to make cultural comment on.

If applying this argument, is Koons’ work still art if the market addition of value has transformed the work into the very thing that Koons claims to discuss? Regardless of the argument that the artist’s work is in fact ‘anti-consumerist’ – how is this possible when the artist allows the work a market value? The only way to maintain the conceptual value of the work would be to never sell it at all.

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015