KOONS TAKES BILBAO
The bold and often controversial contemporary artist brings fun Kitsch to the Guggenheim Bilbao.
WORDS BY JOSHUA HORTINELA & IMAGES BY JEFF KOONS
Jeff Koons makes bold statements about the human experience and perspectives through an advancement of knowledge, innovation and general culture. These aspects are key foundations of the BBVA Foundation where between June 9 to September 27 2015, Koons work was displayed in an exhibition entitle ‘Retrospective’. An exhibition that featured a number of his works as an artist showing his natural progression of knowledge, innovation and general culture. In this way, we can see why pieces such as ‘Puppy’ (1992), a flower-strew sculpture of a West Highland terrier defies physical, cultural and technological expectations. An array of artists around the world dream of channeling their inner innovators such as the likes of Salvador Dali and creating a bold artistic statement. Koons does just that. From the encouragement of his parents to take up drawing lessons in his childhood, to working at the membership desk at MOMA to this most recent exhibition, Koons works demonstrate how the new experiences his works create develop a new class of pieces that shape him as an innovator and challenger - a way to prove that making a statement about culture movements can truly say something.
Appropriately titled “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective”, the exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao displayed a natural progression of Koons’s work from the 1970’s to present. It’s easy for any artist to explore themes of life and death, past and present, sexuality and innocence, luxury, eternal and new, feminine and masculine, but it takes an artist willing to defy expectations and genuinely push the boundaries to reflect cultural movements and human aesthetics that capture audiences in public spaces. Perhaps this is why the exhibition and Koons’s work is important. It’s important because it questions those who perceive post-modern pieces such as these to be art for art’s sake or random pieces of material placed together on a grand scale to simply ‘capture attention’. In fact, some of Koons earlier work is highly influenced from the “readymade objects” concept developed by artist Marcel Duchamp. This references the process of acquiring everyday objects in a sculptural piece.
Moreover, influences that develop in the series as the whole are Surrealism and Pop Art.Its not just about creating pieces that fit these concepts, as upon viewing Koon’s work do we see he has taken the framework that has made this art period and their work statement worthy to effectively draw his audience in. For instance, his series ‘Inflatables’ is feature in the exhibition and draws on influence from the practice of readymade objects, the intentions of surrealism, and the bright colours of pop art. ‘Inflatable Flowers (Short Pink, Tall Yellow)’ (1979) for example, features small cartoon style flowers, which the use of mirrors and bright colours draw the audience into Koons world. Hence, questions about life are reflected. A theme so simple, yet Koons makes his statement by defying the status quo of these human experience themes. The inflatable quality of the work is something different that not only challenges the art scene, but is an effective means of challenging the themes of life that are important to him as an artist. In a period fueled with artworks moving towards a post-modern scene, Koons commitment to defying public spaces to bring the audience into his work to question his themes shows how artistic conventions can be shaped and changed with the positive benefits of shaking things up revealed. Koons has been quoted stating himself that ‘I feel incredibly strong when I make an artwork. And so art for me is about increasing my own perimeters in life”. He wants to challenge the status quo of what is familiar to him, because Koons knows that going that extra bit further to make his statements and artistic intentions a reality.
Moving on to 1986, Koons ‘Statuary’ series continues his influence from readymade elements. The use of stainless steel and assemblage became part of his practice of this series which has included small statue like figures of an Italian woman and Flowers. The intriguing aesthetic of stainless steel draws the audience in with what is familiar to them - luxury. But this instant moment is turned on it’s head when the very extent of the work catches the viewers attention, ensuring quite the visual impact. When comparing this series with ‘Inflatable Flowers’, there is a evident natural progression in the way Koons develops his work to fit and defy cultural periods -again a key element of the exhibition.
That being said, Koons ensure provocation and bold statements as in his work “Made in Heaven” (1989). Departing from the ready-made and sculpture scene, this work was originally completed on a canvas and was developed to a larger scale for the sheer intention of pushing the boundaries. A billboard style piece, it features a couple posed in a highly sexualised manner with a religious context and romantic symbols throughout. Controversial? Yes, especially for the period in which the artwork was completed in. Is the work everyone’s cup of tea? No, even for those in Koons fan base that are interested in his inflatable style pieces this work could be a little bit too much. Nonetheless, it showcases Koons ability as not only an artist, but an innovator that literally makes a statement. He sees his chance to capture a public domain’s attention and question their understanding of human nature. Koons doesn’t just think as an artist, or paint as one, or design as one, he practices as one by following through his bold statements and elaborate pieces. As with the variety of his works feature in the exhibition, the important aspect to note is the way the progression of his work reflects innovation, knowledge and general culture.
If anything represents the innovative nature of Jeff Koons work - it’s the ‘Retrospective’ exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao In this exhibition, there is a didactic area that introduces visitors to different so called ‘characters’ found his works. The aim is to educate gallery goers with educational activities, creative sessions and workshops. There are behind the scenes reflections by curators that provide greater insight into the grand nature of the process of construction of Koons work. As stated by Koons himself “...hopefully my artwork gives viewers a sense of possibilities for your own futures as much as it does for me”. So thanks to Koons, all we need to look to is a giant puppy, cartoon flowers or stainless steel statues for that.