For his current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, Peter Pan's long lost uncle Jeff Koons is taking paintings he "enjoys" from art history and, in his view, making them even "stronger." The historically polarizing artist is accomplishing this by placing blue balls in front of famous artworks. No, seriously.
In Koons' language, his aluminum blue orbs are called "gazing balls." He's exhibited his gazing balls many times before. This month at Gagosian, the balls -- hovering before paintings like the "Mona Lisa," "The Kiss," "Luncheon on the Grass" and other original artworks Koons definitely loves and did not find in a college art poster catalogue -- capture parts of the artwork behind them and the viewer in front of them, reflecting everything like a funhouse mirror.
But the gazing ball experience isn't just about seeing your reflection juxtaposed with that of "Olympia," the artist asserts. As Koons explained to a group of Gagosian visitors, the gazing ball actually "represents everything."
Every. Thing. To be clear, there is no thing the gazing balls do not represent.
Koons, who is worth an estimated $500 million, has long been an art world fixture both magnetic and maddening. His genuinely ecstatic adoration of life's simple joys -- from a kitsch balloon toy to a vacuum cleaner -- has paved the way for a long and wildly successful career that leaves viewers ogling the endless complexity of shiny surfaces, sometimes too transfixed to wonder if there's anything underneath.
His childlike wonder -- coupled with tidbits from his personal life, like the fact that he drives his family around in a Koonsmobile -- leads one to believe the second richest artist alive is actually a bright-eyed boy undergoing some "Big"-like transformation, all the while attempting to lure us into his pricey Neverland.
At Gagosian, Koons himself engineered the small shelves upon which the balls sit. The paintings behind the shelves, however, are not the original masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci or Gustav Klimt, nor are they mere copies made at FedEx at the last minute. As Koons explained, "These are all handmade paintings. Everything has been painted by hand. There is nothing printed. Every mark on here has been applied by a brush." (You can safely add the phrase "by my assistants" to the end of each of the aforementioned sentences.)
The artist hopes the work strikes a grand and all-encompassing dialogue between the individual viewer, the history of art, the contemporary gallery environment, and perhaps the Halal truck across the street. (Remember: Every. Thing.) There is, however one thing this work is not about, and that is copying.
As Koons puts it: "It’s not about being a copy. It’s not art that’s about copies. This is about this union of being together, this dialogue. It’s the concept of the avant-garde, of being together in a group and participating."
Koons, the art world's puer aeternus, seems to finally be entering puberty. So long birthday hats, balloon dogs, pool toys and Play-Doh piles. Hello stoner-esque epiphanies involving everyone connecting with everyone and forming a historical narrative that makes you think about what it means to exist in a community, man.
In fact, Koons has spun his infectious narrative all the way back to cave art. "You know, it’s 3D," he said of the Paleolithic Lascaux caves in the south of France during his tour at Gagosian. "The drawings are against the ceiling that are amplifying the line that’s there. It’s always the highest strength of art when the 2D and the 3D are together. The gazing ball is functioning in the same way, where I had the purest form, which is just -- balls."
Jeff Koons' "Gazing Ball Paintings" are on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York from Nov. 9 to Dec. 23.