Making Art For The Masses

Carl Swanson profiles Jeff Koons, who has two major gallery shows in New York and a full-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum next summer:

I am very conscious of the viewer because that’s where the art takes place,” he once told an interviewer. “My work really strives to put the viewer in a certain kind of emotional state.”

What a balloon dog or a puppy made of flowers or a shiny hanging-heart sculpture offers is a picture of industrial perfection, a naïve piece of uncomplicated beauty that can be appreciated without using words like discourse. Which is one very clear reason why he is held in such unsteady regard by critics and curators and is so beloved by spectators. As a reflection of the world in which it was made—a Pop universe of digestible wealth—it is perhaps as profound a picture as the work of Warhol’s was of his.

Tobias Meyer calls Koons’s work an expression of Disney-like “pathological optimism” and compares what he does to Bernini’s work at Villa Borghese. “One of the things which comes back to him, positioning himself as a contemporary master,” Meyer says, is “perfection. Which is something that was for a long time not a part of contemporary art, which embraced the nonart of the accident or the imperfect.” And which is how Koons can be the art world’s great populist artisan, even as he operates as its most exclusive salesman.

(Photo: Artist Jeff Koons poses next to his art work ‘Metallic Venus, 2012’ during the opening of the exhibition ‘Jeff Koons. The Painter & The Sculptor’ at the Liebighaus museum on June 19, 2012 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. By Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)