Tag Archives: Jeff Koons

Body Language through the Ages at The Met

Life Like: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300 to Now); The Met Breuer, through July 22, 2018.

Flashback to the Breuer building as the Whitney Museum, 1994: ushered into the great “Black Male” show by Fred Wilson’s Guarded View (1991)—then a revolutionary, highly controversial installation of headless dark mannequin-museum guards, now widely renowned.

Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991 (mannequins/museum guard uniforms; collection Whitney Museum of American Art.; as installed at the entrance to “Black Male,” 1994; image: https://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazines/from-the-archive-linda-nochlin-on-black-male/#slideshow_17646.1).

Same sentinel post here:  Duane Hanson’s resin-cast “replicant” of a black male housepainter (c. 1984), in this  cross-chronological, interdisciplinary exhibit by the new Met tenants.  Brings a little extra along, in more ways than one, for those who will not outlive deja vu moments linked to the Whitney-Met exchange.

Duane Hanson, “Housepainter II,” c. 1988     (cast resin/pigment/clother; image: https://artssummary.com/2018/03/23/like-life-sculpture-color-and-the-body-1300-now-at-the-met-breuer-march-21-july-22-2018/).

The ahistorical juxtapositions throughout are generally accessible as well as provocative.  Among the best examples: the pairing of Degas’s famously awkward, tutu-clad Little Dancer (c. 1881) and Yinka Shinobare’s headless Girl Ballerina (1995), which borrows the Degas pose but re-dresses the figure with African-print fabric and a pistol clutched behind her back.

Yinka Shonibare, Ballerina, 1995. (manniquin/fabric/ mixed media). Installed at the Met Breuer, 2018.

Beyond the intended fine art spectrum, the show hedges the visual culture bet convincingly (as suggested above), mixing in anatomical models, death masks, effigies incorporating organic material, and other functional (so to speak) items, sometimes ambiguously, sometimes unequivocally.

The postwar work is twisted in intriguing directions simultaneously in sub-thematic groupings (about a half-a-dozen, overlapping).  In a section linking commentary on race to this discourse, a variety of postmodern monochrome nudes play directly off Renaissance marble examples that imitate antique prototypes–before the re-discovery that most were once vividly painted.  Fred Wilson is present here in this context with a diptych-like piece comprised of cast replicas of black-Egyptian and white-Greek goddess statues (The Mete of the Muse, 2004-2007).   However, most of the Renaissance-era work included is sensationally polychromed, wood-carved Christian stuff–which, in its day, possibly provoked the kind of visceral sensations that Goshka Macuga’s animatronic automaton (2016), or at least, Tip Tolland’s super-trompe l’oeil women in The Whistlers (2005), both featured, do now.

Tip Toland, The Whistlers, 2005 (mixed media).

Yes, the medical supply eyes, hair, prosthetic limbs,  blood (some real), real bones, and mortuary elements gets creepy .  Precisely, that’s one point–the spatial confrontation with our status as physical specimens.   We are drawn to and faced with reflective bodies who play on both our egoistic desire for permanence and our self-conscious, inevitable disintegration.

The postwar material gathered is just a fraction of what is out there in this vein, which means that this effort is timely if not overdue.  (Off the top of my head, surprised no Chapman Brothers, like their 3-D “Goya” and “disasters of yoga” series).   But it’s a still a diverse, eclectic selection of mainly interesting work.  Beyond those already mentioned: John Andrea’s illusionistic artist-as-Pygmalion tableaux nicely complements Hanson’s painter; Alison Saar (who also had an effecting body sculpture in “Black Male”) is represented here by Strange Fruit (1995), a choppy figure suspended upside down, as terrifyingly blunt as it sounds; a potato-phallus-sprouting female mannequin (mid-1960s) by Yayoi Kusama, which conveys the fiercely feminist and self-consciously fruity mien for which she is now cultishly admired (I’m in); Jeff Koons’s life-size porcelain Michael Jackson with his pet monkey (Bubbles, 1988), a high-point in Koons’s kitsch-driven career; Isa  Genzken’s bricolaged post-punker mannequin;  Charles Ray’s Freudian play with figurative scale.  Indeed, Freud’s “uncanny” pervades large swaths of the whole curatorial exercise.   If the installation is a bit chaotic and imbalanced (echoing the formal truth of most real bodies, inside and out), the work featured adds up to a lot, and points clearly to a strong reaction to abstraction in postwar sculpture, continuing.

Blue-Chip Blow-up Beasts

Big Dogs (Jeff Koons), a Fat Rat (Bruce High Quality Foundation), and a Trash Bag Teddy Bear (Gimhongsok)

The Koons retrospective (Whitney Museum):  as commentary floods in, one point approaching something of consensus: he wins the mirror-ball of summer-sculpture-NYC (i.e., the pop-media prize), with his bloated, shiny-coated, kitsch-ified Brancusis.  (That’s post-Kara Walker’s Domino sugar mama, winner of all 2014.)  On Koons’s concurrent colossal dino-toy-like topiary at Rockefeller Center’s plaza, however, I would say: could have left this chapter one and done, with the first, brilliant (yes) flowering Puppy (conceived 1992) in the same spot in 2000.

Jeff Koons, c. 1993; from the MMA website (roof exh., 2012)

Jeff Koons, c. 1993 (cast/polished metal); from an exhibition page (2012) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website (currently on view at the Whitney).

Installed in the Lever House courtyard (just off Park Ave., NW corner Park/53rd) is The New Colossus (2012) by the sometimes-Banksy-like team, BHQF, a cast bronze replica of the giant rubber-and-roped “union rats” commonly erected at worker strikes and protests in the U.S.  Ostensibly, the piece anchored a larger recent show about “art and labor” inside the building’s gallery.  However,  it also stands alone as a commodity, very expensive to produce (if not up there w/ the creatures of Koons), subsumed into the acclaimed modernist edifice (designed by G. Bunshaft / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and its corporate collection.  Basic Frankfurt School points of socio-economic and aesthetic reference are easily applied and cast (pun intended) sharply in this case.

Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), "The New Colossus," 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)
Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), “The New Colossus,” 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)

However, the idea that antagonism between workers/owners has reified (i.e., been cast in proverbial stone), which may signal that a tipping point for modern Capitalism may be at hand, is (perhaps; interestingly) also suggested.

Equally to the point (in situ in midtown): rat images / image triggers (like the word, RAT) have a special meaning for NYers, who are united in trying not to acknowledge the alarming statistical ratios of rat population to our own, barely separated by cracked concrete and plasterboard (of which we are intermittently reminded by news flashes).  So this giant rodent near the building’s chic restaurant and terrace sitting area is also charged in this connection.

The grandiosity of it (starting with the ton, give or take, of precious metal employed) brings up the postmodern-ish problem of the cast found object – the replica, the simulacrum, on and on (and back to Duchamp and Picasso).  At this point, with work of this ilk, we are basically talking about how “good” (engaging) the concept of the cast holds up in particular instances, and how conceptually layered (or not) the resultant new object.

Precisely, in  an intrinsically similar vein but different situational context: a giant bronze cast of a teddy bear made from stuffed trash bags by Seoul-based artist, Gimhongso  (Bearlike Construction, presented by Art in the Parks, NYC).   Placed in the modest triangular Tribeca Park just below Canal St. where W. Broadway picks up again,  the trompe-l’oeil / double-take figure from a (short) distance suggests a garbage “snowman” built by some kids in the night from the ubiquitous from trash bags left on the curbs across the street, and commands second looks.   It’s also a great down-market riff on Koons’s immaculate over-blown playthings.

Gimhongsok, "Bearlike Construction," Tribeca Park; bronze

Gimhongsok, “Bearlike Construction,” Tribeca Park; bronze

View 2
View 2

Flashback: “rats in the gallery” a decade ago by German artist, Katerina Fritsch

Katerina Fritsch, 1993; Wikipedia
(“Rat King,” 1993; cast/plastic, painted; Wikipedia)

Jeff Koons / Yayoi Kusama?

Re: Jeff Koons at the Whitney Museum:  Has anyone mentioned Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden of mirrored balls on a lawn at the 1966 Venice Bienale (to which she had not been invited)?*  For $2 each, she hawked them–“on sale: your narcissism”–until chased out by officials.  (The piece has since been revisited and installed in various contexts by the amazing octogenarian, Kusama.)   Narcissism is the great common denominator, as Koons’s not at all uninteresting bloated Brancusis remind us–and just as he predicts–Koons_1 (2)over and over.

[Left: Snapping myself at the  Whitney.]

*Images of the original Kusama in situ are copyrighted, though still in wide circulation on the web (google).