Why You Should See The Jeff Koons Retrospective

Jeff Koons, Tulips, 1995–98. Oil on canvas; 111 3⁄8 x 131 in. (282.9 × 332.7cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons

His art may be commercial.

It may be chauvinistic.

And it may sometimes be derivative.

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994–2000. Mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating; 121 × 143 × 45 in. (307.3 × 363.2 × 114.3 cm). Private collection. © Jeff Koons

But we should still look at it.

The Jeff Koons retrospective on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through October 19th is smart. Curated immaculately, the show narrates the trajectory of Koons’ creative process in a manner that finally explains what exactly is going on inside his head. It presents his work chronologically, beginning with his early Vacuum series and narrating through his Inflatable works. We experience his experimentations and watch how they morph into a firm sense of materiality and subject matter. When we finally get to the notorious – the porn, the dolls, the balloon dogs – the works make sense. We understand the critique, the longing, the provocation, the allegory. We might even respect it.

Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985. Glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, and basketball; 64 3/4 × 30 3/4 × 13 1/4 in. (164.5 × 78.1 × 33.7 cm). B.Z. and Michael Schwartz. ©Jeff Koons.

Having Koons’ body of work together in one place is probably the smartest thing Koons’ supporters could have done. We typically see his work isolated – giant shiny sculptures plopped into public spaces. This heightens the already prominent monumentalness and masculinity inherent in his work. Yet, seeing Koons’ oeuvre together reminds us of a larger incentive that isn’t always tied to corporate decoration or provocative derivations, but rather to a keen sense of cultural critique, a revolutionary take on technical manipulation, and a dialogic interest in postmodernism’s trajectory.

Regardless of personal taste, Jeff Koons has solidified himself in the history of art. At the very least, we must try to understand where he is coming from. 

For more information about the exhibition, visit: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/JeffKoons

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