Throwback Thursday: A Jeff Koons Retrospective At Whitney Museum – NYC, July 2014

Jeff Koons – Balloon Dog (Yellow)

“I believe in art morally. When I make an artwork, I try to use craft as a way, hopefully, to give the viewer a sense of trust.”

Jeff Koons

I attended the Jeff Koons retrospective while I was in Manhattan doing a summer acting program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

It was July 2014, my first time visiting the US, and I was eager to see and discover as much as possible, trying to make the most of my time in the city.

“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” was the last exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art old location, the Breuer building, at the corner of 75th Street and Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; the museum closed in October 2014 before relocating to its current venue at 99 Gansevoort Street, in a building designed by Renzo Piano (I visited the new location later on and it’s amazing, but I will talk about it in an article about NYC museums).

I didn’t know anything about Jeff Koons before seeing the retrospective; what brought me to see it is the fact that I am a huge fan of museums and the arts in general. This exhibition celebrated 35 years of the artist’s activity; to this day, Koons is considered one of the most popular and controversial artists of his generation.

This retrospective was his first large-scale museum presentation in New York, exploring three decades of his art and including works from each stage of his career. All the series Koons is known for were present in the exhibition: Banality, The New Equilibrium, Celebration, Inflatables and so on.

I took lots of pictures with my iPhone 5s (which is starting to have vintage vibes!) so they are in the classic Instagram square format, but there are also a couple of pictures I took with my old Canon 1000D.

What follows is a series of works by Jeff Koons I liked the most and a brief summary for each one of them. I hope you enjoy it and if you are interested, keep an eye out for when your country might held an exhibition of his (last January he was in Florence, Italy, at Palazzo Strozzi, and I was so disappointed I couldn’t see it!).

1) Cake, 1995-1997: part of the Celebration series, which finds its origins in the ups and downs of the artist’s personal life, referring to his divorce from Ilona Staller and the battle for custody of their son. Celebration is made of 16 paintings and 20 stainless steel sculptures and it draws upon the objects associated with the observance of life’s various rituals, mainly festive occasions. Cake works as a “photo-realist” painting, hypnotizing us with its kind of psychedelic colors, and according to critics the rose may symbolize beauty and the season of love. It is one of the “mass-produced objects” which often show up in Jeff Koons’s body of work. I love this painting, I saw it again at Triennale Milano in 2015 for the EXPO and the beauty of its shades of pink never ceases to amaze me.

2) Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988: part of his Banality series, this is a giant porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson, iconic pop singer, and Bubbles, his chimpanzee pet. This work was based on a press photo and Koons wants to reimagine Jackson as a god-like creature, referencing the culture of celebrity worship; it was realized in golden and white shades Rococo style. Michael Jackson seemed to channel a lot of Koons’s themes at the time: innocence, fame, caring for animals and kids. Its structure reminded me of previous classical works, and Koons himself admitted that the composition was inspired by Michelangelo’s Pietà and Baroque Art in general.


Snail Appreciation Post

My big snail and her baby

I have always been fascinated by snails since I was little; I remember visiting my grandparents’ house in Southern Italy during summer holidays, when I enjoyed looking for snails on a rainy day. Once I built a terrarium and I used to bring so many snails home that at some point my family made me stop (which I understand, given that it was becoming an invasion!).

I have always loved animals in general, but I remember loving snails from such a young age that I even used to search for them in the schoolyard with some of my primary school classmates.

Growing up in Milan, I didn’t have the chance to come across snails very often (as they usually prefer to live in nature) but two years ago I was living in Liguria (North-West Italy, by the sea) and on my terrace there were multiple plants in old vases that hosted more than fifty snails!

I was there from the beginning of the pandemic until about a year ago, so I got to spend the lockdown with the snails (it was a rainy spring, contrary to the last one!) and it felt like going back to being a kid again. I learned to take care of snails while keeping them in their natural environment; I was feeding them with salad, apples, carrots and I was looking forward to my lunch break from smart-working because I enjoyed photographing the snails and observing them interact with one another.

Family Dinner.
My snails eating salad

There was a big snail in particular that I grew quite fond of; she (I know they are hermaphrodites but I’ve always thought about this one as a ‘she’) was very different from the others and liked to take long walks at night. She seemed to have developed an intelligence that led her to survive a very hot summer while staying closed in her shell for about three months, going through the hibernation process and therefore not moving from her preferred spot under the shade of a plant.


The Song Of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Image Credits: Ecco

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

The Song of Achilles is American writer Madeline Miller’s debut novel and it was firstly published in 2011.

I studied The Iliad and The Odyssey during my high school years, so I was familiar with the story, even though Miller puts a different spin on it and she entrusts the narration to Patroclus, Achilles’ kind and loyal friend since childhood.

Madeline Miller stays true to the homosexuality of Homer’s Iliad instead of telling a censored version of the story; in this book Achilles and Patroclus are madly in love with each other, they are soulmates, unlike what is told in the Iliad movie version Troy, where they are shown as cousins and man at arms. The attraction between them is slowly built up, even though Patroclus is struck by Achilles’ beauty after seeing him for the first time.

We get to see how they grow up together, learn together and fight together. They become inseparable and the sexual part in their relationship is something that matures alongside them in a very natural way (they still have some issues because their personalities tend to clash at times, as it may happen with all relationships).

No prior knowledge of Homer is required going into this, even though it is adapted from the Iliad. The story is set in Ancient Greece, has a great aesthetic and is told through a simple, elegant prose. As the narrator, Patroclus becomes the main character of the book, letting us see and perceive through his eyes every emotion, feeling and event that characterizes his life at Achilles’ side.


The Queen’s Gambit – Netflix Series

The Queen's Gambit.
Watching Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit on my laptop

“Chess isn’t always competitive. Chess can also be beautiful.”

The Queen’s Gambit is a Netflix mini-series created by Scott Frank and Allan Scott and based on the 1983 eponymous novel by Walter Tevis, focusing on the life of a young chess prodigy, from her childhood in an orphanage to her first twenty years.

Beth Armon, the main character, is played by actress Anya Taylor-Joy; Beth finds out about chess thanks to Mr. Shaibel, a janitor in the orphanage where she lives, and they both soon realize her immense talent.

Her life is set in 1960s America (spanning the entire decade) and we get to see all the different sides of her personality. Beth as a child is lonely, introverted and very different from her peers. It is easy to play chess for her, but it is harder to understand how to find her own place in the world.

She seems somehow confused in her relationships with other men, has a loving relationship with her new stepmother (although a bit complicated at first), at some point she develops alcohol and tranquilizer addiction so her path is made of trial and error, rise and decline, while searching for balance and victory.

The story could not exist outside the context where it is set; the events take place against the backdrop of the Cold War and the USA – USSR conflict, enriching the tale with a few political connotations. Beth’s story and that of her dangerous opponent, chess champion Vasily Borgov, brings to mind the 1972 chess game between American player Bobby Fischer and world champion Boris Spasskij.

Image Credits: Netflix

The series title recalls a chess move designed to secure control of the center of the board( “the queen’s gambit”). It is one of the most common chess openings and involves white sacrificing a queen-side pawn.