One of the best-known artists on the global scale, Jeff Koons is more than just a creative individual; rather, he is a pop cultural phenomenon. His artworks such as the balloon animals produced in stainless steel are among the best selling items on the market and are featured in motion pictures, while certain aspects of his private life have become milestones of his career such as the marriage with an adult movie actress Cicciolina.
Throughout three decades, Jeff Koons has produced a grandiose body of work, but The Ashmolean Museum decided to release a retrospective curated by the artist himself and the guest curator Norman Rosenthal by featuring seventeen of his most important works (fourteen of them will be exhibited in the UK for the first time).
Shortly after appearing on the contemporary art scene in the 1980s, Jeff Koons was saluted as the subversive, controversial, rising star. The artist set off by exploring the notion of mundane objects and their cultural and social meaning and his approach was based on the historical examples of Duchamp’s ready made and Warhol’s pop philosophy. By using found objects, and by skillfully producing replicas of ancient sculptures and Old Master paintings, Koons quickly stood out with a deranged aesthetic suffocated with contradictions.
The Director of the Ashmolean Dr. Xa Sturgis emphasized the reason for producing this show:
In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, the world’s oldest public museum where the collections range from prehistory to the present, this exhibition will provoke a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages. I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it.
Jeff Koons' best-known series from the 1980s such as One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series) (1985); Rabbit (1986); and Ushering in Banality (1988), for which he gained recognition, will be featured in the show, as well as the more recent works focused on the art of antiquity and the Western art canon.
Among the highlights will be the spectacular Balloon Venus (Magenta) (2008–12), a monumental balloon replica of the iconic prehistoric Venus of Willendorf; the Antiquity paintings Koons has been producing since 2009 are collages made of reproductions of classical sculptures set against abstract backgrounds. On display, there will also be The Gazing Ball series which he started producing in 2012, inspired by sculptures and paintings from world-famous collections which have personal meaning for him.
This exhibition tends to once again reanalyze Koons' artistic practice which has been discredited by many during the course of years. Sir Norman Rosenthal, who co-curated the show with the artist explains:
Jeff Koons’s work plays with our memories of childhood and our “educated” cultural experiences as he blends high and low culture, inviting us to challenge the distinction as we gaze at art and at ourselves. Putting his work in the Ashmolean - the first museum in the very heart of academia, Oxford University – we can take his experiment a step further. For those of us willing to share in his visions, Jeff Koons makes art a magical transformation.
Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean will be on display at this Oxford-based museum from 7 February until 9 June 2019.
Featured image: Jeff Koons - Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso), detail, 2013. Plaster and glass, 181.6 x 75.9 x 89.2 cm © Jeff Koons. All images courtesy The Ashmolean.