Jeff Koons in Frankfurt, Germany
I’m pleased to be reporting from Germany this week where I will be bringing you a couple of TruffleHunting’s first international reports. Our first stop is Frankfurt, Germany where a couple of weeks ago saw the opening of two ambitious exhibitions by America’s premiere artistic raconteur Jeff Koons. The double show, held at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and Liebieghaus Musuem is split between Koons’ polemic between Painting and Sculpture. Both exhibitions reinforce Koons as an ambitious creative force for the new century. They also highlight the intellect that courses under the bombast of execution.
Jeff Koons, The Painter
The exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle is joyous and exuberant. On display are selections of every major body of work from the early advertisement appropriations to the lusty Made in Heaven series to the gargantuan collaged compositions of the Easy Fun, Hulk Elvis and Antiquity series .
The show’s most successful paintings are definitely those from the last dozen years. Collaged compositions wrought large in meticulous paint are sometimes difficult to read, often captivating and delicately humorous. The cacophony of images tumbles forth in gymnastic flips. Figure ground reversals become the norm. Art historical references tango with pop culture quotations. Advertisements coexist with titillating glimpses of fleshy porn. The tonal quality ranges from the audible din of a soccer stadium to the insistent stage whisper.
Thematically the exhibition handsomely traces Koons’ involvement with sex, childhood, mass culture and art history. He cribs the iconography of each and folds them together with deft skill like Julia Child preparing a souffle. In an age of information overload, the pastiches become the turbulent memory cache of an American male. Bytes of information, urges, memory and desire flash on the canvas triggering synaptic leaps of dislocation and insight.
I personally love the works that harness the color half-tone technique. Transparent dots of color approximate the feeling of looking at a reproduction of a photo in a magazine as seen through a strong magnifying lens. At ten by 13 feet these fields of color devolve into abstract patternation. Any referent is all but obliterated by scale.
Silver brushstrokes are layered on top as are gesticulations of paint that appear improvisational but are also controlled and executed to within a centimeter of intention. As I articulated in a previous post on a Koons’ exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills, the silver strokes are nod to Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World) and thus are a graphic distillation of female anatomy, desire and obsession.
It must be said, really at this point as an afterthought, that it doesn’t bother me a lick that Koons himself doesn’t paint these pieces. Koons the artist, is a brain trust. His entire oeuvre is wholly unique and unquestionably original and authentic. His sculptures are fabricated by master craftsmen who with the inspiration of assignment have pushed the envelope of technique and medium to heights unimaginable.
There maybe be several people who might dream large (aesthetically and/or physically) but it is Koons who transforms the idea into actuality. His team of painters and sculptors and technicians serve Koons’ ideas and imaginative will. Content, theme and leitmotif are Koons’ and we, as viewers, witnesses these ambitious works sometimes with wonder, sometimes with awe but always with respect.
Jeff Koons, the Sculptor
The exhibition at the is Liebieghaus is a revelation. A generous sampling of Koons’ sculptural oeuvre is installed deftly in the midst of a historical museum filled with objects, sculptures and liturgical monuments of the ages. The proximity of contemporary braggadocio aside historical objects is quite marvelous.
A carved polychromed oversized poodle lies at the feet of the Virgin Mary. Buster Keaton riding a Donkey is displayed in a room right after a bust of a church scholar from 1475 wearing the same pork pie hat.
Koons’ thematic involvement with German kitsch is one of reverence and fascination. Early on, Koons tapped the zeitgeist of German Craftsmanship by commissioning artisans to execute his ideas in hand carved wood and porcelain. The transformation of contemporary subject matter (a portrait of Micheal Jackson and Bubbles the chimp) into an oversized Hummel Figurine of porcelain never ceases to fascinate me. And ultimately transformation through both material and content is the subject of his ambitious career. The jarring and sometimes comical context heightens this transformation.
It is ironic that several of the works are on loan from the Broad collection where I have visited them on a monthly basis at BCAM at LACMA. There, in the sterility of the modern white cube setting, they act as monuments to America’s gossamer crass culture of consumption.
Here in Germany they act as passionate, intimate and strangely affectionate comments on the lasting nature of idol worship. This chameleon nature of content is just another proof for me in the lasting significance of Jeff Koons, The Artist.
Jeff Koons, The Sculptor at Liebieghaus and Jeff Koons, the Painter at the Schirn Kunsthalle remain on exhibit through September 23rd, 2012.
–Mario M. Muller, Frankfurt Germany, July 4th, 2012