Home Magazine Jeff Koons and the Post-Pop Art Age

Jeff Koons has certainly become one of the most loved and celebrated artists of the new millennium. A fact is demonstrated by the vertiginous auction sales of his works  (as in the case of the $91,1 million Rabbit)  or the increasing exhibitions and sculptures all around the world. By trying to deepen the true meaning of his revolution in the contemporary art system, the focus of this article will be put on some fundamental stages of his artistic path. 

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Koons believes in artistic practice as an ideal means to illuminate the contemporary situation. The artist was born in New York in 1955, and worked in Wall Street and for the advertising environment. At that time the artist became a witness of the representation structure dissolution for images that no longer refer to real but fictitious values.


Jeff Koons in his Studio. Photo by Stefan Ruiz. Courtesy Christie's 


Koons started to believe in this change of the artist route in relation to the production of an imaginary that always had a value linked to the economy and market. Starting from Marcel Duchamp and after Andy Warhol, the exaltation of the object and the industrial icon has established a new existence of art, for which contemporaneity has been pushed to abandon all illusions of being alternative to the world by searching on contrary an intimate and direct connection. Already in Sixties Pop Art, by introducing mass goods into the art world, had a sought complicity and connivance with the capitalistic system, linked to the mass production as well the consumer products, but in this case, pop artists tried to modify these products with traditional techniques as painting and sculpting.


Jeff Koons. Courtesy Truffle Hunting

But in the eighties this attitude was no longer possible, and artists like Koons had to present themselves with a different approach. Thus, instead of transmuting business into aesthetics, they only flaunt it. They started to show everything as it is with not resorting any kind of Duchampian/pop transformation. They reconstruct displays that consecrate the "already made", unmodified or altered. In 1979 Koons hangs on the wall, with the illumination of fluorescent lights, a Coffepot, Teapot and a Nelson Automatic Cooker / Deep Fryer in which, while modifying the integrity of the objects, he does not reconstruct them as pop artists did. This process was simplified and enhanced from 1980 to 1986 when the image is completely identified with the display of the product in transparent boxes, illuminated from the outside, where he put a New Hoover vacuum cleaners. And because objects are appearance and gadget, even its figure over the time has become an advertising and erotic contraption. When artist will be shown in Banality, 1988 as a model intent promoting his New York exhibitions, or when in Made in Heaven, 1991 he proposes himself as a porn actor together with Ilona Staller, alias Cicciolina, the mechanism used on objects were applied also on his personal representation. So, if until 1986 Koons offers to the public instead of to original works carved and painted, consumer product in series; then he created  "the artistic" in the works titled Luxury Degradation, 1988 with the narcissistic objects and the entry of mass icons; will be 1991 the important turning point, when artist start to proposed his own image as a libidinal and mass investment.


The secret behind Jeff Koons' enigmatic One Ball Equilibrium Tank is sodium chloride reagent. Photo by Lucas Jackson /Reuters

Koons seems to want to erase any trace of romanticism that accompanies the logic of art that sees human beings as a natural protagonist. Instead, the artist intends exalting its mechanical charge, to arrive at establishing no difference between reality and appearance, efficiency and feeling. Koons wants to put in evidence how important is the fusion between work and production, art and consumption, so much so that since 1986 he has taken over the advertising images of liqueurs - Gordon Gin, Martell Cognac, Dewar's Scotch, Hennessy Cognac - and has offered them as visual "inebriation", by disclosing the erotic and sensual implications as if these objects were visual masterpieces. So, in contraposition to pops, he literally changes the purpose, alters its status, highlighting how artistic research can have production, the market and communication as the final social purpose. Therefore a definitive dissolution between art and useful is realized, even if aberrant and kitsch.

Since 1999, the dissolution of every opposition between art and advertising led the artist to a "collage" of these respective languages. The images intertwine and overlap, according to a montage of a visual script, bringing together icons of seventeenth-century, saints and stars of PlayBoy. The defeat of any intellectual and cultural, sexual and moral heaviness, where all the spheres merge and enter into a superficial game. We are dealing with the liquidation of the traditional values of commitment and ideology in favour of a game that lives on buying and selling, on the total promiscuity between goods and culture.

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Cover images: Jeff Koons and his Rabbit sold at Christie’s for $91.1 million. Courtesy Roboticom

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