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.