Postmodern Artist: Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, who was born in 1955 is a controversial American modern artist from New York. He is known for his exquisitely crafted paintings and sculptures reproducing kitschy or banal objects using materials and ideas from popular culture to make his art.

One of his most controversial and personal collections is perhaps his deliberately provocative Made in Heaven series from 1990 to 1991 (1)(2). This collection features himself and his then future wife Ilona Staller (otherwise known as Cicciolina), an Italian porn star having sexual intercourse in various positions. The series itself is predominantly made up of huge explicit paintings, photographs and sculptures that leave nothing to the imagination.

One opinion of this series is how the combination of Koons’s fascination with sexuality, the readymade object, and the Baroque interest in Greek and Roman gods, suggests a pagan, pre-Christian view of physical love without shame or boundaries. (3) Unsurprisingly the original opening was criticized severely by art connoisseurs and in the press. Koons challenges the conventions of people’s artistic taste and I suppose this was his way to encourage his audience to make their own decisions about what is acceptable. My opinion on this series still falls within the range of ‘acceptable’ but each piece of art skirts deftly (no pun intended) between the lines of fine art and pornography. Yet despite the blatant sexuality and explicitness, I was surprised by the intimateness and tenderness depicted in the art work and conclusively I felt more like a voyeur intruding on a private moment than one observing works of high art- albeit outrageously subjective high art that is in turns spiritual and gaudy.

Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona from his Made In Heaven series (1990) (3)

Koons is typically described as a ‘post-modern’ artist and has openly rejected the distinction between low and high art. and his work also illustrated some of the challenges of health promotion in the early 21st century. Many of the health problems of Europe’s richer nations are directly linked to overconsumption. One example is cigarette smoking, in his work Koons transforms a fictitious brand called ‘New 100’s! Merit Ultra-Light’ into a eerie glossy advertisement.

Jeff Koons’ “New 100’s! Merit Ultra-Lights” (1)

I’m not a great admirer of Jeff Koons work but I do find his mocking and self-deprecating approach to art quite interesting. The original work that caught my eye was a large metal rabbit, eloquently titled “Rabbit” from 1986. Koons took a readymade inflatable rabbit and casted the object in stainless steel, playing on the tension between weight, material, and transcendence. It is not itself a mass-produced object, although it represents one and in principle could itself be mass-produced. He claims to be merging high and low culture, turning a bunny such as one would give to a child as a worthless, throwaway toy into a sculpture of highly polished stainless steel thereby giving monetary value and interest to an object that were it not created by Jeff Koons – a famous artist- would not have much value at all. Monetary or otherwise.

Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (1986) is considered an icon of Postmodernism (Image Source)


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