Jeff Koons has brought his blingy kitsch to the world’s oldest public gallery. The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is presenting the master of hollow trinkets in an exhibition curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal and the artist himself. Here the showman resides [almost] side by side with antiquarian treasures; a spectacle of the artist’s ‘inflated’ banality that has become the fastest-selling show in the museum’s history.
Image: Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, 1985. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo: © P A Black 2019.
It’s therefore interesting that Koons decides to open the show with a work that is probably his least vacuous. The viewer is met with the artist’s hovering Spalding basketball perfectly suspended in a vitrine of water. The ball is in perfect equilibrium and was so complex a work to achieve that Koons had to seek the assistance of the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. A work that existed long before any ‘enfant terrible’ paid a fisherman to catch and kill a shark in the name of art and dump it in a tank (imagine what would happen if an artist did that today?).
But we soon leave Koons’ introductory ‘depths’ for the artist’s trademark shallows; with the work ‘Rabbit’, 1986, the first of many balloon works, the piece is both weighty and vacuous, childlike and totemic, empty and leaden; as with many of Koons’ sculptures – the work merely reflects us back at ourselves – which is both ‘weighty’ omnipresent self-image and lightly inane.
Image: Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo: © P A Black 2019.
And as we wander among the candy store kitsch, one can’t help but think about the museum’s Michelangelo and Raphael drawings – especially when looking at Koons’ semi-pornographic paintings (this is certainly not an environment for the artist’s highly-pornographic ‘Made In Heaven’ series [or maybe it’s the perfect place] which considering the exhibition is a survey of the artist’s work is conspicuous in its absence – as is ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’, 1988 – maybe that’s just as well…).
But perhaps the display of a fallen cultural icon would have been a fitting addition to the museum’s cast gallery of fallen Greek gods and Roman emperors long turned to dust? Perhaps Koons could have lopped Jacko’s head off?
Image: Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Rubens Tiger Hunt) 2015. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo: © P A Black 2019.
But it’s the artist’s ‘Gazing Ball’ series – in which reflective cobalt blue spheres are attached to ‘versions’ of famous paintings and sculptures that connects Koons’ work directly to the museum’s painting and statuary. Although it would have been a stronger narrative to have seen the spheres juxtaposed directly with the museum’s actual collection; to have the spheres reflect the viewer back at themselves – as the real painting or sculpture is reflected back at itself – would have been an expression of dual navel-gazing vanity worthy of Narcissus.
In fact, the artist presents reflections as impenetrable surfaces, as the eye of the viewer slides over shiny perfection, the interior of the works are both hollow and solid, like an art world ‘Schrodinger’s cat’, the work is simultaneously dead and alive. This is immaculately fabricated Shtick with the limitless potential of a black hole, and it seems as Richard Feynman balanced Koons’ balls, the physicist would have approved of this show’s crushing lightness.
Words: Paul Black @Artjourno. Photos: © P A Black 2019 Article © Artlyst 2019
Lead image: Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2010 – 15. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo: © P A Black 2019
Jeff Koons At The Ashmolean – The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford – 7 February to 9 June 2019