On Modern American Art: Selected Essays

By Robert Rosenblum | Go to book overview

JEFF KOONS 1992

Although he is not quite in the same media league as Madonna, Donald and Ivana Trump, or his avowed idols, the Beatles and Michael Jackson, Jeff Koons has been doing pretty well for a mere artist. Featured both on the cover and in the pages of countless art periodicals, he has also turned up again and again in practically every glossy magazine or newspaper at hand, from Time, People, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Playboy to the New York Post, the Orlando Sentinel, Le Figaro, and the Düsseldorf Express. Born in 1955 and trained in art schools in Baltimore and Chicago, Koons in 1977 moved to New York, where he launched his professional career at the Museum of Modern Art in a perfect prophecy of his now famous fusion of art, publicity, and money. Beginning at the ticket booth, he ended up in the membership department where, at least by his own count, he raked in $3 million a year for his employer and then went on to hone his financial skills more finely by working as a Wall Street commodities broker. Inevitably, he also immersed himself in the world of advertising, using its visual blitz for, among other things, some direct sources for his own art, which, in his Luxury and Degradation series of 1986, replicated in billboard size seductive, tête-à-tête ads for alcoholic bliss (Bacardi rum, Gordon's gin, Hennessy cognac, Frangelico liqueur). And in the same year he also designed ads to publicize his own gallery exhibitions using come-on photos, where he would pose like a starry-eyed, teenage rock star, adored by bikini-clad girls who would help him round up trade for his latest art hits to be seen in New York, Chicago, and Cologne. His wish "to communicate with as wide an audience as possible" and his belief that the way to do it now is through the media, "through TV and advertising, through the film and entertainment industries" may sound disarmingly crass, but its combination of dumb innocence and shrewd calculation is clearly, for an artist born in the 1950s and emerging in the climate of the 1980s, less affectation than just plain honesty and common sense for someone pursuing a career in the arts, including those high-minded art critics who are always eager to expand their own fame and power through the media but who sneer aristocratically at Koons for doing the same thing.

Ever with his eye on the consumer, this paragon of a successful artist, 1980s style, has built up year by year, from 1979 on, what amounts to a Jeff Koons Gift Shoppe. In his inventory of immaculately wrought, gleamingly new objects, usually produced as multiples, the range of consumer temptations is vast. There are such useful items as Spalding basketballs, teakettles, Hoover Deluxe shampoo polishers, Shelton wet/dry vacuum cleaners, Aqua-

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