Jeff Koons exhibits at the MCA
De-Flatable, a review of the MCA’s Jeff Koons survey exhibition, is opening just as his Balloon Flower (Magenta) is expected to break auction price records at twenty-five million dollars (or so) and coinciding with the installation of a number of his glitzier sculptures on the roof of the Met.
The MCA has a lot of expectations to meet and ground to cover in their Jeff Koons exhibition. Koons’s brightly colored and often monumental works tend to elicit a thrill even in the most cynical and dismissive of viewers. Along with giddiness and shock value, they tend to pack a hefty price tag both for their production and installation. Combined with his continuous notoriety, reputation for perfectionism and the explicit nature of some of his works, a Koons survey proves to be a relatively difficult endeavor.
It is easy to forget in the midst of museum shows, auction house ecstasy and media blitzes, that Koons’s reputation as the boy wonder of the art world is a shakily built one – albeit supported by enough funds to ensure its relative permanence. With the entire exhibition loaned by art world noteworthies such as Eli Broad, Jeffrey Deitch, Larry Gagosian, Dakis Joannou, Francois Pinault, the Rubells and Ileana Sonnabend – to name only some of the most prominent of the elite – makes it hard to reconcile this knowledge with that sneaking suspicion his work elicits of all being an anti-intellectual hoax.
That said, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the Koons experience is the conflicting reactions it elicits in viewers: people love to hate or love to love Koons. The MCA’s exhibition certainly gives them enough room and enough examples to go through all the attenuating Koons emotions.
The layout of the show belies a lack of curatorial imagination (and since rumors are that the works were arranged by Koons himself, it belies a lack of artistic imagination as well). In other words: If you were to picture what a large survey of Koons’s work would look like, then this exhibition would fit that picture almost exactly.
You walk into the museum to find his Hanging Heart (Silver/Blue) – a modestly confrontational piece, with enough glitz and glamour to excite you just enough upon entering – tied with it’s silver ribbon extending all the way down from the third floor’s ceiling. His name is printed in enormous letters along the gallery wall to its side. As is necessary, due to the layout of the museum, the show is separated into two sections. All the gallery separating walls have been removed in the MCA’s main viewing spaces to allow for an expanse of shiny sculpture and fluorescent paintings. The idea, it seems, is to give viewers enough space to enjoy each piece while also hitting them with the full impact of the scale, color and preposterousness of the work.
All the Koons food groups are well accounted for: the inflatables, the “Equilibrium” bronzes and basketballs, the stainless steel, porcelain and wood statuary, the “Easyfun” mirrors, the “Pre-New” appliances with neon, the oversized chrome “Celebration” balloon sculptures, and paintings from the erotica (in their own special restricted section) to advertisements. Michael Jackson with Bubbles, Balloon Dog (Orange), Woman in Tub, Cracked Egg (Magenta), Made in Heaven, Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona, and Bear and Policeman are all in attendance, individually packing their expected punch. Overall, it’s quite an impressive and appropriate collection of works: everything a Koons enthusiast would hope to see in the space provided.
As such, one would expect that the view upon entering the two expansive galleries should be breathtaking. In fact, one feels like it is meant to be. However, it is not. The open space, high ceilings and the abundance of works provide a let down in which the over-stimulation of the setup actually (and ironically) becomes underwhelming. The exhilarated joy that these super-sized shiny, colorful, and surprising objects, which we recognize from childhood, elicit is tapered by the fact that they are dwarfed by the vast gallery spaces. The lack of coherence or logic to their placement and organization of demands the constant readjusting of the viewer’s perspective and mind frame. The expanse of white walls and the gridded, fully-lit ceiling (which is over three times higher than the tallest of the sculptures) are only limitedly interrupted by the large (and unimpressive) paintings that polka-dot their lower region.
Your feelings about Koons aside (love or hate) the show provides an excellent overview of his work, but adds nothing to your understanding of it. It is a great chance to experience the sculptures, laugh at the paintings, and check “See Koons’s Rabbit” off your list of things to do in your lifetime. Taken with a grain of salt – which his work always should be – the MCA’s Jeff Koons exhibition is worth the trip and possibly your forgiveness for its shameful installation.