Challenging the established notion of history as linear entity, art history often manifests itself as an intergenerational pattern, embedding variant heterogenous theories, movements and phenomena onto compound structures, while just as often disregarding its most sound chronological hierarchies. Jeff Koons, whose current exhibition at Gagosian Gallery continues his entries in his series of Gazing Ball works, takes this opportunity to scrutinize the constellation of art history, drawing his own threads and theories through a diverse and complexly interrelated series of works.
Resuming the series that had its inception at David Zwirner in 2013, Koons’ Gazing Ball series paris the most iconic works of the Western painterly canon here, for which the New York based artist embarks onto a personal exploration, studying masterpieces that have enlightened his artistic path over the years, and inserting his trademark glass gazing balls before each composition.
Guarded behind glass windows and velvet ropes inside the world’s most select museums, the gloriously iconic, famously priceless paintings re-created here receive their share from Koons’ wit. Manipulated in size, replicas of Mona Lisa, Le Déjeneur sur l’herbe and Delightful Land, alongside many other canonized paintings (totaling thirty-five), come from Koons’ Chelsea studio, where they were meticulously painted with impeccable commitment to the original composition. Yet, as noted, the gazing ball, a gleaming blue orb, sits before each, offering a point of focus just before the work that continually distances the viewer’s concentration from the painting itself.
At first sight, these replicas pose intimidating and startling due to colossal fame and appreciation projected onto them, not only in art history but also in popular culture. The hygienic white cube gallery setting opposed to crowd filled empowering museum environment adds further unfamiliarity to the works on view, the exhibition of new work following Koons’ highly acclaimed 2014 Whitney retrospective.
Undeniably, what raises the volume of Koons’ accent in this series of otherwise perfectly executed replicas of classic western paintings are the blue gazing balls, perched on shelves attached to the paintings’ mid-lower parts. Bursting out of the dense landscapes, luxurious ottomans or curvaceous nudes depicted on the canvases in their organic forms, these shelves elevate immaterial implements beneath the paintings’ optic presence, consistently shifting the balance of power and notion of ground both onto and away from the mounted work.
Through their perfectly clean vividness and reflective surfaces, Koons’ globes, each hand-blown in his Pennsylvania hometown, trigger questions about inherent dialogue between art works and their viewers in the most tangible way, as the viewer sees themselves encapsulated within each work. Reflecting the onlookers’ physicality, Koons’ globes serve as portals, guiding viewers into these often misunderstood masterpieces, where art history meets contemporary pop culture, while never avoiding the viewer’s own visage in the engagement and experience of these famous pieces. For Koons, the act of viewing these pieces is as essential as their own objective histories, and while he cannot force a conversation face to face with each original simultaneously, the presentation here is an excellent start.
In final, there’s also perhaps a statement in the exhibition relating to Koons himself, and his position within the art world, not just of today, but of centuries past, simply symbolized by the blue ball, a moment of gilded intervention before the timeline of art history. The imposing, gleaming, toylike declarations of Jeff Koons, seen globally in public plazas, Museums and class A office buildings have for years been statements on the financial culmination of the art world, its industrialized production techniques and its meteoric market values. What more might there be for Koons other than perhaps a pivot back to claim position among, and in this case, literally in front of, the work of masters?
Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball Paintings is on view at Gagosian Gallery through December 23, 2015.
— O.C. Yerebakan and editors
*All images are by Osman Can Yerebakan for Art Observed.