Absolute Value / From the Collection of Marie and Jose Mugrabi (solo show)
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv
10 March – 24 October 2020
Regarded by many as the most important, influential, popular, and controversial living artist in the world, Jeff Koons is a unique cultural phenomenon, whose resonances and influences extend far beyond the confines of the art world.
Koons (born 1955, York, Pennsylvania, USA) is the foremost of the American Neo-Pop artists who emerged in the 1980s and explored the meaning of art and spectacle in a media-saturated era, while adopting an aesthetics that accentuates the consumption culture that came to the fore at this time. The exhibition presents a selection of large-scale works from different periods in Koons’s career, from the 1980s to the present. The works are from the artist’s most renowned series, spanning his diverse spectrum of mediums and techniques.
Koons’s work undercuts the division between “good taste” and “bad taste,” mixing together “high” with “low” culture and kitsch. He continues the trajectory of 1960s Pop artists by making — with unprecedented intensity — an incriminating and fetishistic connection between art and the world of commodities. In his early career, Koons operated within the tradition started by Marcel Duchamp, presenting readymade objects, such as vacuum cleaners and basketballs, within illuminated display cases — thereby elevating commercial and domestic objects and highlighting the allure of new products. Later on in his career, various colorful kitsch images replaced the industrial products: puppies, flowers, teddy-bears, piglets, or other playthings made of porcelain or wood by craftsmen on Koons’ behalf. Koons further developed his practice of appropriating imagery from popular culture by inflating simple objects to huge dimensions in stainless steel, marble, or other materials. Other sculptures featured, in overblown extravagance, celebrities (such as Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga), inflatable pool toys, or cartoon characters (such as Popeye and the Hulk — themselves figures of bulging masculinity). These works were produced with extreme perfectionism, giving them an almost religious aura and rendering them highly coveted objects of desire for art collectors and the general public alike.
Absolute value is a mathematical concept, denoting size in numerical terms: the absolute value of a number is the distance between it and the zero point on the number axis. The use of this notion in the exhibition’s title raises the question of value as a fundamental notion in Koons’s art, and highlights the long controversy over the attribution of value (or lack thereof) to artistic objects (echoing the question of “Is it art?” asked with regard to Duchamp’s Fountain, which is a standard urinal). The concept also finds expression in Koons’s practice of merging together symbolic value and economic value, thereby creating an arena in which one cannot – and possibly shouldn’t — tell them apart. Not least, the title reflects a search for an imaginary distance (absolute value) within the span of art history, of which Koons’s art is both a part and deviation.
The “Jeff Koons phenomenon” precedes Jeff Koons’s actual works and the physical encounter with them. There are few artists whose works are so etched into the collective cultural memory that an encounter with any single artwork of theirs is suffused with associations of all the others. The title therefore posits Koons himself — the artist and the phenomenon — as an axiom of contemporary art: a controversial artist, who is also a phenomenon that cannot be dismissed, a genius, and a symbol of an era.
Tel Aviv Museum of Art