Jeff Koons, 'Winter Bears', 1988. Polychromed wood. 48 x 44 x 15 1/2 inches. 121.9 x 111.8 x 39.4 cm. Courtesy Jeff Koons. Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading this very interesting feature on Jeff Koons.
perhaps the most frequently written-on and read-about artist of our times.
The American artist transforms mundane or pop-cultural items and images into superbly finished sculptures and paintings. Art lovers flock to see his pieces – whether his recent Colouring Book sculpture
in the RA’s Annenberg Courtyard (Koons is an Honorary Royal Academician) or his ‘Popeye’ series of cast inflatable toys, on show a few years back at the Serpentine Gallery – while art dealers, auction houses and collectors fight to sell and buy his objects, and critics tut at his celebrity and skyscraper-high prices.
Those prices were one of the reasons why, five years ago, one couldn’t find many works by Koons in British national collections. But in 2008 the extraordinary art collection of gallery owner Anthony d'Offay was acquired for the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland as part of the Artist Rooms programme. This project now sees d'Offay’s holdings touring UK galleries in the form of solo artist presentations, and this weekend Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
opened a stellar survey of Koons’s works from the collection.
Jeff Koons, 'Caterpillar Chains', 2003. Polychromed aluminum, coated steel chain. 96 1/2 x 43 1/2 x 77 inches. 245.1 x 110.5 x 195.6 cm. Courtesy Jeff Koons. D'Offay collected pieces from across Koons’ oeuvre, making the exhibition a fine overview of the artist’s practice. His early period is exemplified by a signature arrangement of four vacuum cleaners in neon-bulb lit Plexiglas (1981–7), from his series ‘The New’. In these and similar sculptures, the idea of ‘newness’ and the conventions of displaying objects are as much the subject as the readymades themselves. Other highlights include Winter Bears (1988), an enlarged replica of the kind of kitsch wooden animals one sees on suburban window shelves; Caterpillar (with chains) (2002), from the aforementioned ‘Popeye’ series; and Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona (1991), a marble bust from the sexually explicit body of work ‘Made in Heaven’, the most controversial moment of a controversial career.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine