Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Mining Jeff Koons

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On Monday I noticed that Jen Graves wrote a Stranger blog post featuring Amanda Ross-Ho’s Camera 1, Camera 2 (2007, at right) in “Image Transfer: Pictures from a Remix Culture” at the Henry Art Gallery. The Ross-Hos are blown-up pictures taken from the belly of the beast — and in this case the beast is Jeff Koons’ Rabbit (1986). As Graves points out, Ross-Ho enlarged a detail of Rabbit’s torso that shows the surrounding gallery reflected in Rabbit. Graves also writes that you needed a press release to learn all that.

It’s a tidy conceptualist inside-joke: As I’ve noted here before, Koons’ Rabbit is a witty take on our materialistic culture. Rabbit points out that a consumer’s purchases often glorify the purchaser, who can see himself in his new possession. Rabbit also riffs on the Playboy bunny: If you touch it, the veneer of glossy perfection will be ruined. Ross-Ho’s picture is a mannered way of isolating ‘desire’ in Koons’ piece and making desire itself the artwork. As with many such insider nods, it’s a long way to Tipperary. (And once you’ve seen it and solved it, there’s really no reason to go back.)

That’s not the only Koons I’ve seen (but didn’t really see) recently. The JPEG above is Robert C. Jackson’s Target the Artist (2009), which is currently hanging in the Brandywine River Museum’s “Reality Check: Contemporary American Trompe L’Oeil.” The exhibition is a fun reminder that fool-the-eye painting, one of the most durable genres in American art, is still going strong.

Jackson also refers to Koons, in this case to what may be Koons’ most gaudy, famous, ubiquitous bauble: Balloon Dog (1994-2000). Jackson’s painting is packed full of the sly references that are a trompe l’oeil-ist’s stock-in-trade: Koons’ Balloon Dog is a fabulist updating of pop art. In the upper left-hand corner the painting announces itself as presenting “The Pop Shop,” a reference to about six different things, including Andy Warhol’s fascination with pop. Er, I mean: with soda.

An actual (painted) balloon version of Koons’ Balloon Dog sits in the middle of the painting, in front of a shooting target that’s about to be shot up, likely with guns, although that “Arrow Beverages” box on the right makes us think twice. The balloon (dog) taped to the target — a reference to classic American trompe l’oeil — is so far unpopped. That will change when the shooting begins, at which point it will go pop. Unless it’s actually one of Koons’ trompe l’oeil stainless steel Balloon Dogs, made to look like, well, balloons. Speaking of being shot up, Koons has made enough bad work over the years that he’s become an, er, target of critics. Are you still with me?

Ross-Ho’s take on Koons is the one that MFA’d art-world insiders are trained to gravitate toward. We’re supposed to recognize the richly conceptual as being superior to the cleverly, knowingly considered. Well, balloon dogs are trained too and that doesn’t make them smart. Give me Jackson’s wittier riff on Koons every time.

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Comments

  1. Oh, Tyler, Oh, Jen.

    Set the insider/MFA-bashing aside, and you’re left with the argument that 1 contemporary art reference=fail, but four or more=epic.

    Do Jackson’s explicit art world references somehow not require a knowledge of Warhol, Haring, Koons, Johns or whomever to “get” them? What’s the relationship of “getting” them to the viewer’s experience of the artwork?

    Ross-Ho’s work certainly contains enough visual clues to understand its making, even if the Koons backstory isn’t known. I’m sure Jackson’s work, like most trompe l’oeil, also rewards close study.

    But his Pop references are as press-release-dependent as Ross-Ho’s. And they’re still necessary to access the work’s “real” “meaning,” which is, of course, the violent fantasies the actually skilled painter entertains about the pop/conceptual charlatans who hijacked the art market and museum world.

    Sorry for the Frazell-length comment. I did try to keep it shorter than the post itself…

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