Koons In The 21st Century

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Later this month, the Whitney will unveil its major retrospective on Jeff Koons. In a profile, Ingrid Sischy notes that, for an artist whose auction sales totaled $177 million in the last year, Koons seems to care little about cash:

Barbara Kruger, the artist whose unsentimental pronouncements have been cutting to the chase about the art world for decades, says “Oh boy” when I call to discuss Koons, whom she has known since they both were starting out in New York. She needed to think about it and later wrote me: “Jeff is like the man who fell to earth, who, in this grotesque time of art flippage and speculative mania, is either the icing on the cake or some kind of Piketty-esque harbinger of the return of Brecht’s ‘making strange.’ Or a glitteringly bent version of that alienated vision. He brings the cake and lets them eat it.”

Kruger’s reference to Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose book [Capital in the Twenty-First Century] on the current chasm between the very rich and the very poor has become a cultural touchstone, is part of the whole picture; this social reality is what one can’t help thinking about when one hears about the prices of contemporary art today, especially the sums that Koons’s works are fetching.

The odd thing, as many who know Koons, including Kruger, will say, is that money doesn’t interest him. … In Koons’s public life there is no showy “I am rich” stuff. Money is mostly a means to an end for him to create his art. What he does need is wealthy patrons. [Curator Scott] Rothkopf, whose retrospective is blessedly clear-eyed, puts it this way: “If it is going to cost several million dollars to produce new work, he has got to martial the resources from wealthy patrons to produce this thing. He has to convince extremely wealthy people, via art dealers, to buy into the dream of this perfect object.”

Previous Dish on the artist here.

(Photo of sculpture by Koons via dierk schaefer)