THE DAILY PIC: My take on Jeff Koons? That he’s the planet’s sole sufferer from a disorder I’ve dubbed “aesthetic agnosia”: an inability to recognize the normal codes of art and culture. The prime symptom of Koons’s illness is a career’s worth of works that don’t fit into any of the normal categories that the rest of us use to sort out the (art) world. He’s the Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Sculpture – an outsider artist who happens to sit right in the center of the art-world inside. (That position alone is part of his genius.) This is what I felt when I reviewed his first retrospective, only six years ago in Chicago, and my view hasn’t much changed with his new spread at the Whitney – you can hear me voice it again in the latest “Strictly Critical” video that I’ve made with my (oh-so-misguided) pal Christian Viveros-Fauné.
But the Whitney show did make me think, again, of a recent(-ish) book called “In Praise of Copying,” by the theorist Marcus Boon. It argues that the West has come to neglect (or even to deride) the ancient principle of copia – the pleasure to be had, and the insights to be gained, from the sheer multiplicity of things in the world around us. We moderns treasure unique originals where we ought to value the endless copies we are, in fact, so good at making. Koons, of course, is our master of multiplictity. Works from the 1980s, such as “New Hoover Convertibles, Green, Blue Doubledecker” that I’m showing here, make that obvious – this is a shrine to copia, a reliquary of its patron saint Trademark. But much of Koons’s art is about taking objects that ought to be unique – a balloon dog the size of an elephant, say – and finding ways to produce them in series. Even a moment of orgasm with his porn-star ex-wife, as much a unicum as anything ought to be, becomes a mechanically produced – and therefore reproducible – oil painting. (Pace almost all my art-critical colleagues, I happen to agree with Koons that his “Made in Heaven” porn pictures are among his greatest and most important works.)
Koons misunderstands what a masterpiece ought to be – and therefore turns them out in numbers. (Image ©Jeff Koons)