RIEHEN, SWITZERLAND – A retrospective of the controversial American artist Jeff Koons opened to the public Sunday 13 May at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, near Basel, and the artist encourages viewers to engage in a dialogue with his work.
Koons’ work, presented here for the first time in Switzerland, includes “hybrids”, as he calls them, of some of his most renowned pieces such as the shiny “Hanging Heart”. It gained notoriety in 2007 for being, at $23.6 million, the most expensive piece sold at auction of any living artist.
“Michael Jackson and Bubbles” a porcelain sculpture of the pop singer and his pet monkey, is also present, reflecting, as co-curator Theodora Vischer explains, Michelangelo’s Pietà by its layout.
The artist, born in 1955, was present at the show’s opening. He told journalists at a press conference that his art is the result of a “process of acceptance and discovery of the world around oneself”.
Part of that process is to break the taboo amongst artists, who would not admit to want to manipulate viewers through their art. “The objects are transponders, the art is in the viewer”, he says.
The viewer is reminded of his existence through his reflection in glittering oversized glossy metallic objects such as “Balloon Dog”,
Koons’ marriage to Italian porn star, Cicciolina and his subsequent custody battle for their son led the artist to destroy much of the explicit pornographic pieces of Koons and his ex-wife. “They were beautiful”, he says, but “they could have affected the custody rulings”.
The presence of the sexual is evident throughout the repertory on display at the Beyeler. “Balloon Swan”, another glossy sculpture, “is at the same time masculine and feminine,” says Koons, ” It calls out what it means to be human, offering a male perspective of sexual harmony.”
Even the multiple neon-lit displays of pristine-new Hoovers filling one of the gallery’s rooms does not escape Koons’s “trail of thought”, according to Vischer, who points to the “androgenous sexual nature of the objects, with their orifices and sucking power”.
In the museum’s garden, visitors will find Split-Rocker, a half pony-half dinosaur monument made of thousands of blooming flowers, which had only previously been displayed in Avignon in 2000 and Versailles in 2006.
Beyeler director Sam Keller defends the artist, who has been lambasted by critics for commissioning the production of his pieces to others, saying that Koons resembles the “conductor of a symphony orchestra … responsible for an industrial renaissance” among qualified artisans.
The exhibit regroups the artist’s work into three phases, called The New, Banality and Celebration.
It is showing at the Beyeler in Riehen, 13 May – 2 September 2012.