Jeff Koons at The Ashmolean

 

“This experience is about you – your desires, your interests, your relationship with this image.”  Jeff Koons, The Raft of the Medusa

 

This is an absolutely fascinating exhibition. I’d not heard of the artist before visiting today and without having a membership card so free entry I might have missed this one. The first thing on display is a video of an interview with the artist and as he’d be involved in curating the exhibition the descriptions of the pieces included his own words which was interesting to have that insight into what he was trying to achieve with his work.

Often the experience of art mainly involves me deciding whether I like it or not and perhaps trying to see what it’s about but Jeff Koons’s work and especially his words instantly made complete sense.  

 

One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series), 1985

Water is always very spiritual.  The Equilibrium tanks used water, and I loved that.  In its very pure state it’s like birth.

Much of Koons’s work is about air and breath and their intimate connection with life and death; inflatable toys, blown glass balls and back, in the 1980s, basketballs.  While the famous balloon rabbit is actually made of steel, the basketball really is just a basketball – already perfect in itself and enhanced by its state of equilibrium in the water.  … Technically the piece was deceptively hard to make without compromising the aesthetic by adding oil to the water.  The ball either floated or sank.  With the help of the Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist Richard P. Fenyman, Koons devised a method for total equilibrium which involves filling the ball with distilled water and supporting it with saline solution. Even this does not provide permanent equilibrium and the work needs to be reset as the water and saline solution mix.”

Even science and art working together cannot hold a thing perfectly still.  It changes inevitably and so requires a continuous renewal of effort to remain afloat.  This seems to me to be a universal principle.  

 

Balloon Venus (Magenta)

“…is inspired by a tiny stone age fertility figure known as the Venus of Willendorf.  Koons has put this figure through a double transformation: from limestone to balloon model, and from balloons to his trademark, super-reflective, coloured steel on a huge scale.  The artist insisted on the model being made from a single balloon to maximise the sense of a continuous pressure all over.  …  The vast finished figure, nearly 1.5 tons in weight, is ‘a symbol of life energy‘.  For Koons she has the energy of a cult figure, an ancient tribal goddess – but conceived in materials that also place her firmly in the present.”

I love, love, love reflective surfaces (and you can just about see me in there, in the picture, probably a not so deep-hidden manifestation of narcissism, or at the very least being a bit of a show off).  Especially so in art.  It brings you right into the art work so you become part of it for the time that you’re experiencing it.  Koons said something similar, more eloquent:  “Reflection affirms the viewer.  It affirms the right here, right now and from that point you can start to time travel.  You can play with metaphysics.”  [from Silenus with Baby Dionysus].

 

“Seated Ballerina, 2010-2015

Seated Ballerina is like a Venus.  You could be looking at a Venus of Willendorf or some of the oldest Venuses.  It really is about beauty and even a sense of contemplation, a sense of ease.”

 

 

 

This one was my favourite and decided to sit with it for a little while (not just because of the mild hangover, post-Bootcamp fatigue!).

 

For the first time ever, I think,  I bought the exhibition book which includes the full interview between Jeff Koons and Xa Sturgis the Director of the museum.  Some quotes that jumped out at me:

“I always want to create an art through which the viewer would realise that they were perfect.  Art is about empowerment.  It’s about an experience where you come into contact with the essence of your own potential.  That’s what important.” 

This is exactly how I feel about the work that I do as a fitness instructor.  Strange to see it expressed in such a different context. 

 

“I perform very intuitively.  So I follow my interests and focus upon them.  I think that’s the only thing any individual can really do in life.  If you do that, your inspiration never fails – it will take you to a place where time and space bend and you connect with the universal.”

I can definitely relate to this, drifting around in a daydream state most of the time, which does make life interesting I seem to have knack for finding my way to things that are ‘just right’ without really having to search.  An example, I was card shopping for a friends birthday (and having a giggle at the silliness that card shops are full of) just before heading to the museum, after already having paid saw a notebook that I couldn’t resist so picked it up which then almost immediately became useful as I was wandering around the exhibition and wanting to capture as much as possible.

 

“I give a lot of time and attention to my work, and I’m known for having a certain amount of perfectionism or using a high level of craft. But … I feel that obsessive perfectionism is actually like fetishism.  It’s like a dog just chasing it’s tail.  It doesn’t go anywhere.  But I believe that you can use craft to communicate to people that you care about them and respect them and want to communicate with them; you want to show them all the attention that you would like to receive in return and to show that you really care for them.  And so the details that are in an object are a metaphor for expressing that care to the individual.  And both the perfection and imperfection in the finished piece is essentially that of the viewer.”

 

“They’re metaphors, and every object is a metaphor for people.  It’s a metaphor for self-acceptance.  And then, once you’re able to accept yourself, you’re able to to go out into the world and you’re able to accept other people.  And they’re metaphors for us.  They’re a way to show attention and care, and to be able to communicate with people – to give a sense of familiarity so that they’re at ease with the environment and the information at hand.  I find it lets you place an individual in a more open state for communication.”

 

I can’t think of anything else to add to those last quotes.  One other thing I noticed and enjoyed was how spacious the exhibition was, sometimes there are a lot of works on display, but this had only a few pieces so it was easier to take it all in.  I would really recommend a visit to see this for yourself and I think it’s one I would like to see again while it’s there.  

 

Right, that’s enough rambling on from me. 

 

“Seated Sleepy PT – 2019, modeled by the artist”

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