Koons and decoration

Reposting a statement by Jeff Koons, originally quoted on LACMA’s blog1:

‘Statuary’ presents a panoramic view of society: on one side there is Louis XIV and on the other side there is Bob Hope. If you put art in the hands of the monarch it will reflect his ego and eventually become decorative. If you put art in the hands of the masses, it will reflect mass ego and eventually become decorative. If you put art in the hands of Jeff Koons it will reflect my ego and eventually become decorative.2

I think that deserves more attention. So, the impact of ego necessarily shifts art into decoration? Koons seems to be putting forward the King’s and the Masses’ (and by extension—immodestly/self-deprecatingly?—his own) as kinds of absolutist egos, egos in some final, bloated, cancerous state, smothering (“reflecting”) all, and leaving decoration in its wake. But what is decorative? Shininess does not necessarily mean decoration, after all. The pieces illustrated on the blog article go beyond decoration precisely through the attention Koons brings to them by presenting them as decoration. Strange: he asks us to consider them as decoration, and by doing so immediately undoes that very quality in the object. Not strange, typical of Koons.

  1. The LACMA Blog: Echoes of Louis XIV. Retrieved 2009/08/25.
  2. —The Jeff Koons Handbook (London: Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 1992), p. 76.
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12 thoughts on “Koons and decoration

  1. Hi! Only too happy t find this bit of blog three clicks away from LACMA front page and its bewildering text add [nice screen saver, thank you!]

    Between the Koon's statement and your reading, I find that an interesting definition of 'decorative' emerges: the sum total of unknown aesthetic interpretations – allowed to remain unknown or random at any extent – manifest through the perpetuation of an object of contemplation.

    The connection with matters of replication and authorship seems particularly interesting… I suspect that at least a few strands of debate in law, social sciences, ethics, economics… could get knotted into this neat ball Koons made, whether aware of it or not. In fact, a piece of 'decoration' like his might just be the only way possible to 'get' the whole pedantic brou-ha-ha all in one go, for whatever that's worth [likely not a trivia matter, this].

    [continued below]

  2. [ctd.]

    Quite possibly, I would never have a chance to know which was / is the case about this one particular view of his, but… either would be fun, really. Much like seeing the forms of J.K. cartoons replicated in fine jewelry after he did what he did to the wretched diamonds!

    I a intrigued by your observation: "he asks us to consider them as decoration, and by doing so immediately undoes that very quality in the object". How is decorative-ness being undone? Between the lines I am reading a possible assumption that the Art deco manifesto can be declared a failure… (something I would not know to agree or disagree with; I have never considered at what point art programmes of any kind can / are proven 'wrong' by time – although have spent some time tracking down similarly obscure considerations in social sciences)

    Awaiting impatiently your reply!

  3. Hi Ana, thanks for your great comments, lot's of things to get to grips with here.

    My post was a very quick reaction, just some thoughts off the top of my head, so I am afraid that it lacks much depth. Really, the way I look at things is very much from a reception point of view, i.e. the artist is not the only player in the meaning game, and the audience/the reception in society counts just as much. But I think Mr. Koons is particularly adept at playing both sides, some might say manipulating, but perhaps it's just him being able to leave enough ambiguity about the pieces that we actually read in the interpretation he expects by default. We think we know Jeff Koons, and that means that everytime we see a "Jeff Koons" we have already judged it: for instance, to be frivolous yet precious – a Jeff Koons' cliché.

    The whole concept of "decoration" is problematic here, or at least it very much depends on what you are expecting from decoration, I think. And hence, I'm not sure about your point about the "Art Deco manifesto" – what would that have been in reality? I guess you may think I'm reading too much into that, but I think Art Deco was not strong enough as a movement, at the time, to warrant a judgement about whether it succeeded or failed. That could only be judged on individual works, I think, and then only from a very personal point of view, as they were, after all, deliberately decorative.

    Aah, and then I'm getting all snobbish about what's Art and what's decoration there, I think. Something which always proves dangerous territory for me.

    Regarding JK's cartoons, I'd say that he has no need to replicate them as fine jewellery, as his task is already complete in the process of making the artwork out of them. That probably won't stop him though.

    Sorry, in the middle of writing an essay, and editing a book at the same time, so cannot give your comments the response they really deserve, but hope the above serves for the moment.

  4. The reply certainly does serve!

    To get two out of the way:

    – Must agree that the art/decoration divide is one very long, very demanding front line… not very befitting terrain for Blog 'blitzkrieg'. I am also more comfortable seeing the historic Art Deco movement as an instance of the 'big' argument more or less relevant for individual works before, during and after, then take its stance. 'Enough with that.

    – I am afraid I have no way to check whether Koons had any connection with the making of the several pieces of haute joaillerie I remember. My guess is that he did not. The works took on Koons iconography shortly after the cartoons commissioned by Christies. I took the case as proof of how finely Mr. Koons has tuned his play for and with the social mechanics of art: after all, the intersection between fine jewelry and art is quite thin… perhaps significantly so [I'd venture, leaving the long of it for another day].

    [continued below]

  5. [ctd.]

    I am only too happy that your answer cut neatly through these digressions!

    Down to the bone, the one-two [my sentence with an actual question mark, answered by sentence 2 & 3 in your first paragraph, that is] is exactly what might get an economist with a particular interest on art and fashion, desires for the ideal tea-talk or blog-reading, as it were. [just in case: an example of literature in this vein would be the impending book by David Galenson: http://www.nber.org/authors/david_galenson%5D

    I'm going to stop right here, with a promise to revisit your blog and look for your writing.

    A book, you say? 😉

  6. I've not come across the NBER before, it's a positive gold mine of data. I can tell I'll be spending a lot of time digging around in there! Thank you for pointing me in that direction.

    Yes, I find economics and its relation to culture (and vice versa) a very interesting issue. I am particularly interested in the concept of false consciousness on the part of the players involved. I think pretty much everything I write makes an assumption that this takes place. But I need to spend more time thinking through the implications of that.

    I look forward to your next visit!

  7. Amen!

    Could you explain your acception of 'false consciousness'? [I believe I have some idea what you mean, and if so… this may turn out to be a fateful discussion indeed.]

    • OK, kind of putting me on the spot there! I've never been asked to justify the somewhat vague language I use before, but this is a good thing to be called out on. If I used that kind of language in a regular blog post I would be very sensitive about giving it at least a cursory definition, but it being in a comment, I was a lazy.

      But enough digressing!

      False consciousness is obviously taken from Engel's writings (and by allusion, Marx, although apparently he never used the term). Before I go any further I should admit to having read neither of these thinkers in any great depth and most of my knowledge comes via their commentators.

      I think my understanding and use of the term is really very simple (perhaps, simplistic), although complex in its consequences. False consciousness is what we think we know about something (not just society, or the economy, it can apply to anything), when actually our knowledge has already been formed by an external agent, be that someone or something (or even the thing itself). Hence it represents forms of ideology.

      The question is how would we know that? The answer might be through scientific investigation, through theory, through religion, etc. But we have to bear in mind that these are all in themselves ways of thinking about things, hence susceptible to false consciousness in themselves. A bit of a bind, no?

      I am not a nihilist, though (at least I don't think I am). I am of the opinion that thought in itself is the important thing, but it must have some affect on reality. Even if that just means that you are expressing yourself into the void (as writing a blog sometimes feels like!), something has changed in reality and there is still possibility there. And that is worth carrying on for, although maybe that's a very selfish view given my (negative) views on putting more "things" into the world. aaah, so complex!

      I hope this makes some contorted sense and serves whatever fate may have in store!

  8. Can't speak for Fate, but the 'simplistic' bit does it for me terrific. I am grateful you took the time…

    Quite frankly, I am not versed in Marx, Engel or nihilism either (unless you count a Romanian's default experience with the ideological dish those were eventually boilt into, and even that only from the receiving end and mostly ex-post! – long story.) Perhaps only in the process behind ideology as a form of public 'common knowledge' (another long story). Never mind, unless we both agree there is good reason to keep at it (which I hope we might!)

    [continued below]

  9. [ctd.]

    About the 'spot' (as in the saying you brought up) – I must admit I am enjoying blog-land a little too much: whatever the fellow who came up with this format had in mind, it sure stretched a reader's share more then their vote (now, that everyone could be a writer free of charge and of audience). One strange blessing, while it lasts…

    However, calling good folk out on imprecise language isn't much of a temptation. Finding out what the bits of history my field is wrestling with look like from other perspectives sure is!

    Inasmuch, I was intrigued and delighted to see Gaelson's book manuscript up there… however, now half way though I realize that he is doing something fairly different then I was hoping for. There really aren't that many in either economics or political science who would bother debunking art, language and communication (not the industry, the act). Mid-frustration I remembered Koons, then opened LACMA's web page and got faced with a strange 'add' that seemed to fit what I had in mind. The next step was your blog (what can I say? It is out there in the open…)

    [continued below]

  10. [ctd.]

    I believe I have come accross most of the building blocks of your take on false consciousness in the guise of meta theory recently. Interesting times, indeed! I do not think there is a suitable summary devised yet (*), despite considerable tension. The like of Mr. Koons need a colorful scrap of something to order the space of possible interpretations in amusingly human bite-size(**) . I am looking for a way to put one and two together.

    [contiued below]

  11. [ctd.]

    Considering the opportunity of said summary… I am about to give it a try in the 'lingo' of my field. However, I could not but feel the effort dulled by the limits to interpretation imposed by formalization (***). It seems possible that a certain kind of art objects (broadly speaking – as broadly as your gallery allows in) may give the 'break' to broader validity I am hoping to make a point for…

    * by 'summary' I mean a consistent common rationalization

    ** All more fascinating when it is an object that manages to bring home a good lot of the sides of such a difficult 'story' – philosophy would take a school and an awful lot of new words to do it, by some reputable estimate [quote!], social science theory about ten years of back and forth.

    *** Necessary, useful, sheltering, etc., but no less annoying for it! Took a while to get to grips with it, and wouldn't ask of anyone to just 'get it'. It isn't supposed to e fair game, just like philosophy.

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