Jeff Koons is why people loathe modern art. According to the haters, the American superstar is a cynical artistic oligarch, using shock and pop culture to make his pile: he made porn-art, he ripped off comic books, he did balloon sculptures – and he’s become one of the most expensive living artists in the process.
So it’s no surprise that Damien Hirst has a massive collection of Koons originals, which he is displaying here in his fancy gallery. Hirst and Koons, a match made in hell.
But the thing is, that view of Koons as megalomaniacal art moneylord, it’s fun, but it’s wrong. Dig beneath the glitzy surface, and there’s an actual human heart in there somewhere.
This show pulls together works from throughout Koons’s career. It’s not quite a proper retrospective, but it’s near enough. It starts with his early Hoover readymades and ad paintings before moving on to the big stuff: a giant balloon monkey, some soft-focus porn, a giant bowl of eggs, basketballs suspended in water, framed Nike posters, inflatable lobsters and a huge pile of Play-Doh. It’s what you expect from Koons: big, bold, glamorous and expensive-looking.
But there’s a fear in Koons’s work, a deep insecurity. It’s like he’s trying to preserve everything for ever. He seals his readymades away, protecting them. He makes balloons and inflatables out of steel, he makes hardcore porn with his beautiful (ex-) wife, he preserves basketballs like scientific specimens.
The inflatables are childhood made permanent in steel, the porn is love and youth held for ever in the moment, the floating basketballs are a desperate grasp at fleeting athleticism.
And throughout all this, Koons has maintained an incredible eye for the iconic. These are powerful, emotional works that couldn’t have been made by anyone but him. You can disregard all of this if you want, focus on the schlock and the money, but you’d be missing out on one of the most important artists alive today.