What's the kitsch?
September 11, 2008 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Is Jeff Koons a fraud?

I am simply unable to take Koons, a former commodities trader, as anything more than a con. Am I not getting something?
posted by plexi to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Don't think of him as a sculptor. Think of him as a performer.
posted by gyusan at 2:48 PM on September 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Have you seen any of his work in person?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:02 PM on September 11, 2008

A fraud is typically someone pretending to be something that he/she is not, or offering something that is not what he/she says it is. (Though there's a variant of the Cretan paradox there.)

You make the call.
posted by holgate at 3:06 PM on September 11, 2008

Koons is the embodiment of the age-old phrase "Art is whatever you can get away with"

Overall, he's not my cup o' tea, but I do have to admit enjoying the visual fun of some of his stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:07 PM on September 11, 2008

Yes, there's something you're not getting.

Whether or not you should be getting anything is a different matter that's open to interpretation. On the other hand, this question is more about you than Koons. If you don't like him, ignore him. That has nothing to do with him being a fraud or not.

One of the very few ways in which the concept of "fraud" could even conceivably apply to art is signing your name to someone else's work. Which is sketchy enough concept as it is when the artist has an army of production staff.
posted by Su at 3:12 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm so glad the Astrup Fearnly Museum paid 10 million dollars for Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

Money well spent.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:14 PM on September 11, 2008

I don't think that his working as a commodities trader vitiates his ability to create decent art. That seems like a rather misguided justification for not liking what he does.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:16 PM on September 11, 2008 [8 favorites]

I think of him more as a huckster than a fraud, but his giant shiny metallic eggs are admittedly pretty.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:16 PM on September 11, 2008

These "yes" answers are ridiculous.

Take a step back from the artworks themselves. Look at the "fraud" you are reacting strongly to. It could be that Koons' manipulation of the art world is the real art of Jeff Koons.

You mention his background as a day trader. Well how about the bastard son of a slave? Seriously, that's some baggage you've got there.

This question is unanswerable in its current form.
posted by fake at 3:17 PM on September 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't think the fact that he was a commodities trader is entirely separate, as some suggest. I saw a documentary that included him, and he made a point of talking about his former career, and how that gave him the skills (manipulation? judging market value/demand?) to create a successful art career.
posted by Liosliath at 3:24 PM on September 11, 2008

No, of course he's not a fraud. When someone purchases one of his works (for instance, a large polychrome sculpture of him and his ex-wife the pornstar parliamentarian having sex, or a stainless-steel cast of an inflatable rabbit) they receive exactly what they paid for.

It's not like he claims to be selling meticulously crafted oil paintings and then sends them the giant polychrome sculpture or the stainless-steel rabbit instead.

Now, is he putting one over on the art world? That's an ENTIRELY different question.

And some of the greatest artists ever worked as customs officials, bankers, and what not. "Day trader" is hardly the same as "con artist".
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:26 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It could be that Koons' manipulation of the art world is the real art of Jeff Koons.

Ding ding ding. I think the description of Jeff Koons as performance artist rather than sculptor is apt. (See: his magazine ads for himself, his marriage to that porn star-cum [no pun intended, I swear]-Italian parliament member, etc.)

I do think his work has some merit, but also believe him to be vastly overrated.

(And P.S. homeboy went to art school...who cares that he worked as a commodities trader??)
posted by cosmic osmo at 3:28 PM on September 11, 2008

Heh...forget Koons, what about Richard Prince? Or Warhol? Or for that matter, the grandpappy of them all, Marcel Duchamp (although someone better grounded in art history could probably go even further back)?

The question about who or what is a fraud is part of the essential dialogue of art, and has been for a while now. I would revisit your assumptions and try to look at it from this perspective.

That being said, you're certainly free to look at any artist as a fraud if you want. And artists are also free to make millions and laugh all the way to the bank...
posted by dubitable at 3:33 PM on September 11, 2008

Have you seen this Iconoclasts episode? It explores your question a bit. I agree with Sidhedevil and others. His very existence and prominence in the art world is significant as a comment on what art is these days.
posted by edlundart at 3:36 PM on September 11, 2008

It could be that Koons' manipulation of the art world is the real art of Jeff Koons.

Ah, so the fraud is performance art, thus making it no longer fraudulent.

posted by goethean at 3:37 PM on September 11, 2008

The idea that he did none of the actual craftsmanship on "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" -- he didn't sketch it, sculpt it, cast it or paint it and yet made a fortune from it -- is so thought-provoking that I have to answer "no".
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2008

Is a better question, "Does he actually consider himself an artist?", which is, of course, something none of us can answer.
posted by TomMelee at 3:44 PM on September 11, 2008

Let's work backward: what modern artists do you NOT consider frauds? What qualifies an artist, in your book, as a non-fraud?

Koons is far from the only modern artist who does not manufacture their own work or even a maquette of same.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:46 PM on September 11, 2008

Is Jeff Koons a fraud?

I flagged this question as chatfilter, but rethinking this, there is a clear basis for establishing if he is a fraud or not:

1. Did you pay him money for a product or service he did not deliver?

2. Has anyone else paid him money and expressed dissatisfaction?

Unless 1 and/or 2 apply, by what other criteria can you hold his behavior fraudulent?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2008

Depends on if you think Marcel Duchamp was a fraud. Duchamp didn't sketch, sculpt or paint the urinal that made him famous. He just bought it, signed it with a fake name and submitted it to an art show.
posted by iviken at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2008

Yeah, what about Chihuly? He hasn't personally blown glass since 1979.
posted by Liosliath at 3:51 PM on September 11, 2008

One other thing: The fact that he doesn't really make his art himself, but rather designs it and oversees it as a manager, is part of his artistic statement, in my opinion. In other words, the process is as important as the product, which means I agree with gyusan's comment that he is a performer. In a lot of ways, I think he's brilliant, almost especially because he upsets people (including you and sometimes me) by being exactly what our culture asks him and us to be.
posted by edlundart at 3:52 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think deference to experts in all fields is proper. If curators want his work for their museums, they have assuredly arrived at that conclusion through a career's worth of deliberation and understanding of the place of an artwork in the world.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:55 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

An old teacher of mine once remarked in class that with all modern art one can never be 100% sure one is not being taken for a ride.
posted by Martin E. at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2008

plexi: Is Jeff Koons a fraud?

This is his annoying trick. So long as you ponder that question, he's not a fraud. It's been, what, ninety years since the toilet?

I guess you're asking: is he saying anything? Leaving aside whether that question even makes any sense any more, it's pretty clear that the only content Koons' art has beyond a kind of sunny optimism and idiotic giggle-inducing camp is the bare existence of it. And if you're the kind of person who still finds it diverting to stand at a museum and think about the interesting fact that we even go to museums to look at art, the kind of person who believes that the 'place of the object in society' is a fantastically engrossing thing to wonder about, no matter how much it's been talked to death already before, then you may well find it interesting to stand in front of a piece of art by Jeff Koons and ask yourself: is this a trick, or is he really saying something? And, if you belong to that category of people we're talking about, into which, quite coincidentally, most gallery owners, art dealers, museum directors, and collectors fall, then you might be delighted to congratulate yourself on the realization that that's what he's been saying all along! It's a statement, don't you see, about whether art is a trick; he's challenging us to think about whether we trust the artist's motives - he's pushing us to think about what substance is by presenting us with something that has no substance at all! And isn't it ever so interesting, then, that that substancelessness becomes the very substance of his art?

If you're one of those people. See? The modern world offers many conveniences to allow us to overcome obstacles. Pop art is just a modern convenience designed to help us surmount the immense difficulty which rational creatures encounter when they try to tell themselves that someone who is uttering obvious stupidity might secretly be saying something brilliantly wise.

Do what I did: decide. It makes things easier. And the people you meet in record shops are much more interesting than the people you meet in modern art exhibitions.
posted by koeselitz at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2008 [11 favorites]

Why pick on Jeff Koons in particular?
posted by bricoleur at 4:16 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

fake: It could be that Koons' manipulation of the art world is the real art of Jeff Koons.

Isn't that less of a possibility and more something that is absolutely certain now? I mean, even aside from his work, we're talking about a man who said of his latest retrospective exhibition in Chicago that

I have always placed order in my work not out of respect for Minimalism but to give the viewer a sense of economic security.

How is this not brazenly counterintuitive and weirdly incongruous with 'art?'

Su: One of the very few ways in which the concept of "fraud" could even conceivably apply to art is signing your name to someone else's work.

fake: This question is unanswerable in its current form.

23skidoo: I have no idea how any artist could be a fraud, unless as Su said, he claims he made something that he did not.

Sidhedevil: No, of course he's not a fraud. When someone purchases one of his works (for instance, a large polychrome sculpture of him and his ex-wife the pornstar parliamentarian having sex, or a stainless-steel cast of an inflatable rabbit) they receive exactly what they paid for.

With all due respect, friends: if "is this artist a fraud, or for real?" were not a valid question, then none of the art critics who talk about Jeff Koons at length would find him interesting. That is Koons' message. It's the heart of his work. He said recently that:

For me, art really starts with acceptance, self trust. Wherever you come to with art, it's perfect. You don't have to come with anything. What you bring to something is the art. That's where it's found. It's found within you.

so of course he's about fraudulence or authenticity.*

Even beyond Jeff Koons' own views of his work... well, that's what's at issue, isn't it? Jeff Koons gives lectures and writes articles and makes artists' statements at his shows as much as anybody else. He could very well be a fraud if he went around saying "I'm making a statement about X and Y and Z" and yet knew very well that he was doing no such thing, that he didn't believe any of the things he said were even meaningful, that he was simply making money from fools. You may believe that this is an unfair assessment of Mr. Koons' character, but it seems to me indisputable that, of all artists in history, it is easiest to claim that Jeff Koons simply found a gravy train and rode it. He even comes very close to admitting that openly in some of his interviews and statements. Is he honest when he starts a sentence saying "My work is about..." ?

An artist is fraudulent if they claim to be saying something and meaning something when they're only in the business of selling things. They are fraudulent if they command our time, space, consideration, and bajillions of dollars in the name of something worthwhile and useful and then let us down by delivering nothing.

*... and of course you're going to say that there's no way for an artist to be a fraud if you side with Koons and believe that anything placed in the public sphere by someone referred to as an artist is in no sense fraudulent. But let's not assume what we're trying to prove; one is allowed to disagree with that point of view.
posted by koeselitz at 4:25 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

How can any artist be a fraud? I always thought Koons' art lay in the implications of what he did, and if you think of it like that it's brilliant. Clearly his work is extremely successful, otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion. His art is not so much the physical objects, it's the questions he raises in the same way that Duchamp challenged the assumptions of what art was with his readymades.

50 years ago you would have been asking "If Warhol's Brillo boxes are identical to the ones in the store isn't he a con? Doesn't his background as a commercial illustrator and how his assistants make all the art for him make him a fraud?" but see, that question right there is the whole point.
posted by bradbane at 4:31 PM on September 11, 2008

Wouldn't it be better said that contemporary art is a fraud?

But this is what people are paying for, or investing in, this is what will be recorded in the "history books" to document our time period.

If you look back at "Modern Art" very few if any of the lauded artists willed be remembered as time rolls on.

But they will all have left works that can be looked at and judged on any merit you wish to consider when thinking about the time period they lived in.
posted by Max Power at 4:42 PM on September 11, 2008

Whether he's an artist or not isn't really in consideration. He's an artist because he claims he's an artist, his work appears in arts-related things and he's paid for creating what people call art.

If you want to declare that there's not art being made there, well, you might be declaring you've spotted the emperor's new clothes, or you might just be one of those people who get really up in arms over seeing somebody's weenie.

A really good topic of argument would be whether he's a good artist or a bad artist. Personally, I think his output's mostly not so good, but a couple things make me smile. That's a better performance average than most artists.
posted by ardgedee at 5:37 PM on September 11, 2008

Wouldn't it be better said that contemporary art is a fraud?

No, of course not. Whatever the original poster objects to in Jeff Koons's work isn't typical of the work of all contemporary artists, or even of most contemporary artists.

Now, if what you're trying to get at is something like "The 20th and 21st century art 'establishment' has a broad enough definition of art that it includes {some/many} things that don't, in my opinion, meet that definition" then that's certainly a reasonable opinion for someone to have.

Or even "Since the 20th century, the art 'establishment' has stretched the boundaries of acceptance too far, and Jeff Koons is certainly one egregious example."

I don't agree with that opinion, but it's an opinion that reasonable, well-informed people can discuss.

Something like "contemporary art is a fraud" is just nonsense.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:59 PM on September 11, 2008

From The New York Times:
No one has been more important to the revival of public art than Jeff Koons, contemporary sculpture’s genius lightweight, whose up-and-down, hellbent-on-perfection career is the subject of an illuminating if rather crowded survey at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It was Mr. Koons’s giant “Puppy” — a West Highland terrier covered with dirt, planted densely with flowers and first shown 16 years ago — that broadcast most loudly and clearly that public sculpture was neither an exhausted form nor necessarily a dumbed-down one.

“Puppy” was well placed and well timed. It stood in the courtyard of a handsome, mustard-colored Baroque palace that framed it perfectly. It was June 1992, and a few miles away, in the German city of Kassel, the international megashow “Documenta 9” was opening. Scores of art-world denizens made the short schlep to Arolsen to see what Mr. Koons was up to.

What they found was a shocking simplicity, accessibility and pleasure. “Puppy” was intensely lovable, triggering a laugh-out-loud delight that expanded your sense of the human capacity for joy. It was a familiar, sentimental cliché revived with an extravagant purity, not with enduring materials like marble or bronze but with nature at its most colorful and fragile. The flowery semblance of fur made “Puppy” almost living flesh, like us.

The sculpture could also be read as a redemptive gesture, a kind of mea culpa after the sexually explicit harshness of Mr. Koons’s “Made in Heaven” series, exhibited the previous year at galleries in New York, Brussels and Lausanne, Switzerland. Four of these paintings hang in the Chicago show behind a wall flanked by dire parental warnings, showing them to be almost anti-public compared with most of his subsequent work.

“Puppy” also provided a karmic bookend for an occurrence that happened almost exactly three years before its Arolsen debut: the removal, in March 1989, of Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” from the plaza at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. The dismantling came after a court ruling, complaints by the people who worked in the building — they hated the Serra — and days of acrimonious public hearings overseen by the General Services Administration.

“Tilted Arc” was in many ways the dark before the dawn not only of the Koons “Puppy,” but also of the shining achievement of Mr. Serra’s post-Arc work. He has in essence taken his revenge on the public by making stronger, more elaborate pieces that it could not resist — judging from how people line up these days to walk through his torqued ellipses, spirals and arcs.

The “Puppy” set a high standard that Mr. Koons reached again only with his recent works in gleaming high chromium stainless steel, especially his big hatched egg and his prim yet erotic “Balloon Dog” sculptures. The dogs imbue a greatly enlarged child’s party toy with the tensed stillness of an archaic Greek horse while subtly evoking various bodily orifices and protrusions. “Balloon Dog (Yellow)” is on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it draws crowds, functions as a photo op and yet retains its dignity. “Balloon Dog (Orange)” is among the Chicago survey’s high points.
- Public Art, Eyesore to Eye Candy by Roberta Smith.
posted by Kattullus at 6:04 PM on September 11, 2008

Hating on modern art is kind of a silly pastime, guys.

To be clear though, if it's not art, what is it? Do you think purely commercial artists like Peter Max is a fraud? Or is only a fraud when the museum-system is involved? What if you saw a painting you didn't like, instead of an outlandish, oversized (and importantly, superficially beautiful) object like what Koons makes. What if you didn't know it sold for $100 billion dollars? Would you then need to know the psychology and intent of the painter; or would you step to the left?

Work like this is very good at bringing out the insecurities of the viewer.

(and if it matter, I would consider someone like Hirst more of a fraud than Koons, but it doesn't)
posted by apetpsychic at 6:08 PM on September 11, 2008

Also, it would be absolutely incorrect to say contemporary art is fraudulent. If you want the past, it's there for you already.
posted by apetpsychic at 6:11 PM on September 11, 2008

If he's a con, who exactly are the marks?

Think you can find a single Koons buyer since he became a FAMOUS SUPERSTAR ARTIST who didn't get that he/she/it was buying an object whose value came from the IDEAS that the person responsible for it freighted it with, and not from the miraculous HAND SKILLS of this person?

It seems to me that a commodities trader would be well situated to understand how things are valued, and why not take his understanding as far as possible in a related world—The Art (Trading) World—once he sees similar principles working out there, if that's what he did.

Doesn't mean you have to like him or either the objects or the ideas he's responsible for bringing into being, or send any money to him, any more than you have to like persons who've figured out how to profit from shortages of, say, sugar. Or buy sugar.

I don't like him, or his progeny, but I don't see any victims, either.
posted by dpcoffin at 7:01 PM on September 11, 2008

Look at this wonderful slideshow of Koons' work in Versailles.

The very idea of it seems preposterous, but once you look at it, it's perfect, it fits: strangely, there is no dissonance between Versailles itself and Koons' works. Suddenly, it tells a lot about Koons, and also about Versailles: both are over the top and play beautifully against one another.

Of course this is art.
It talks about our time.

Besides, what Koons did with this boat is the best use of billionaire money I have seen for quite a while (there are better pictures in a recent issue of Vogue).
posted by bru at 7:06 PM on September 11, 2008

art is not merit-based. anything koons or anyone else could produce could be called art by these people and they would be right. an artist cannot defraud by definition unless he passes something off as his that really isn't. it is further up to his customers to decide whether they agree or not - and by extension if there is a market for the works in question.

the way you phrased your questions indicates you don't understand what art is all about in the first place. perhaps that is why you think koons is a fraud. I'd suggest learning about modern art in particular.
posted by krautland at 7:20 PM on September 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't call him a performance artist, because he's not performing. Performance art doesn't outlast the performance. I would call him a conceptual artist, because the creation is in the ideas, and the execution is straightforward and could be done just as well by someone other than the artist.

Michael Jackson and Bubbles -- there's no performance there, unless the performance is Koons acting like an artist. But it'd be easy to convince me that the idea of what he did is the artistic effort there.
posted by mendel at 7:31 PM on September 11, 2008

Thanks for the Versailles slides, bru! Now, THAT is funny ART.
posted by dpcoffin at 7:49 PM on September 11, 2008

This sculpture scares me, yet, at the same time, I feel a giggle welling up from my stomach. Is it nervous laughter or laughter laughter?

There's something about the bluntness of this one that's almost too much, like a tangy citrus fruit that's almost painful to taste.

This one
frustrates me, because it's unresolved. It's like a scrap of paper ruining an otherwise immaculate desk. I know that I could fix everything by throwing away the paper; on the other hand, if I did that, the desk would be less interesting. I have similar feelings about this and this. I want to rip the clunky appliances off their backgrounds. But I also know I'd be bored with the results. So there's tension.

Why do these seem alive to me? Why do these make me nervous?

I know almost nothing about Koons. I don't know (or care) what he's trying to do. But I look at his sculptures and I have a reaction. I'm not sure how fraud enters into it, but I think what artists and museums do -- presenting things for me to react to -- is extremely valuable. It adds flavor to my life.

Koons isn't one of my favorite artists. I look at some of his stuff and have very little reaction -- except maybe a "that's cute" or "whatever." But some of his pieces stir me.

You don't have to view art in the "naive" way that I do. And if you went to college, it may be hard for you to do so. But if you're interested in trying, "my" way (and I'm not claiming it's the best way) allows you to cut through a lot of questions like this. Fraud? What does that have to do with anything? I'm looking; I'm reacting. The end. To my way of thinking, your question is like asking whether or not an apple pie is a fraud. Well, does it taste good? If so, how can it be fraud?

What if the pie-maker claimed it's a cherry pie? In this case, the key is whether or not you care what he says. Whether or not you care about his intentions. If you do -- if you like to compare what he claims to be doing with what he actually does -- there's room for questions about fraud. Still, at the end of the day, you enjoy eating his pie or you don't.

Or maybe you care about what everyone else thinks. Everyone is claiming that this is the best pie in the world. You eat it, and it's not, so you think of it as a fraud. But note it's not the pie itself that's a fraud -- it's people's claims that may or may not be fraudulent. The pie tastes good or it doesn't.

I agree with others here that you should reformulate your question, aiming for greater specificity. Do you mean...

-- Does Koons practice what he preaches?
-- Do critics make bullshit claims about Koons's sculptures?
-- Are most people who praise Koons's work disingenuous? Do they REALLY like it, or are they just following a trend?
-- If you look at Koons's work without being moved, does that mean there's something lacking in you?
-- If you look at Koons's work and feel moved, is there something suspect about your feelings, like enjoying "Triumph of the Will"?
posted by grumblebee at 9:27 PM on September 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

Have you ever seen the Michael Jackson sculpture in person?

It's big--bigger than an actual person. But it's not huge--it's not big enough to be a monument. It seems like it's exactly the size that's most deeply unsettling--an unfamiliar size, not the way we're used to seeing a human body.

And it's obvious it's not a representation of Michael Jackson, exactly--it's a representation of a miniature ceramic figurine of Michael Jackson. (It's not naturalistically colored, not expressionistically colored, not the monochrome of traditional figurative sculpture) So it's a big miniature--which is sort of a mind-fuck.

These are choices Koons made--about scale and coloring--and they're precisely sculptural choices, artistic choices.

I used to work in a museum that had the work in its permanent collection. It stood out like a sore thumb. There were all kind of works around it--from abstract expressionist painting to minimalist objects to contemporary piles-of-little-things-on-the-floor kind of sculpture, and it didn't look like any of them. Let's face it, it's tacky as hell.

I used to love to hang out and watch school groups go through the gallery. The teachers would go along, explaining how important Jackson Pollack was, how serious and spiritual Mark Rothko was--and then the kids would see the big dumb shiny Michael Jackson, and run to it, like someone just offered them a candy bar after a month of eating oatmeal. And the teachers always had the same look on their faces--embarrassed, uncomfortable, and helpless. But what could they do? This was in a museum--it was "art."

The unease of the teachers and the joy of the children--and the gap between those feelings: I think that's a big part of the "meaning" of the work. And I think that's something that Koons engineered precisely.

And creating that set of complicated feelings is one of things the art can do. I sure as hell wouldn't want all art to do it (I like Pollock and minimalism...and Vermeer too), but it's a particular space that Koons carved out for himself.

There's absolutely no need for everybody to dig it, and I think a lot of his work is repetitive and uninteresting--but he's done a bunch of things that hit some buttons nobody else hit.

(Also, I think his puppy made of flowers is the most beautiful goofy thing and the goofiest beautiful thing ever made.)
posted by neroli at 10:11 PM on September 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

-- If you look at Koons's work without being moved, does that mean there's something lacking in you?
-- If you look at Koons's work and feel moved, is there something suspect about your feelings, like enjoying "Triumph of the Will"?

Actually, that says what I was trying to, much more succinctly.
posted by neroli at 10:16 PM on September 11, 2008

Heh...forget Koons, what about Richard Prince? Or Warhol? Or for that matter, the grandpappy of them all, Marcel Duchamp (although someone better grounded in art history could probably go even further back)?

Of course you can. Right back to the old masters, who on reaching a certain level of demand, had their pupils paint much of their work while they oversaw the process and added a few finishing touches.

Who also used technology to assist their painterly skills when necessary or appropriate. (See, for example, David Hockney's examination of the use of optical tools like Camera Obscura in the paintings of many renaissance artists.

And of course, very few artists who worked in the format of large works of public art cast their own bronzes, etc. Almost all of them contract that work out to more specialized firms who render their ideas, their vision, through the technological processes in which they have expertise.

What artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are doing is no different, in my opinion. It seems to me that what we're really discussing here, is what percentage of an artwork must be a product of the artists own hand before it can properly considered to be 'art'.

And the critics, the market, the museums, and history all pretty well agree that the answer is that this has no bearing whatsoever. Though there has always been a segment of the artworld that tends to be involved with painting and figurative art that hates this fact.

And often, if you listen to these people's complaints, it's often borne of a sort of jealousy, in which they resent the fact that for the last 80 or 90 years, museums and public collections have been increasingly moving away from buying the kind of figurative painting that they do, and have been buying conceptual art, in which the artist's hand and the old fashioned notions of 'skill' and 'craft' are seen as ever-more redundant.

Personally, I take the opposite view. I think Koons *is* an artist, whereas people like Jack Vettriano and Thomas Kincade are little more than chocolate box/Christmas card illustrators, regardless of what prices their work fetches.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:49 AM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

No. (To the original question. Yes, to the second part of that question.)

People (including Koons) have, had and will continue to make money dealing in the products of his conceptualizing.

The objects he produces/has produced often move contemporary artistic discourse forward.

Some of his objects have emphatic, undeniable aesthetic impact. (Don't be silly and think because he made a couple duds he's never made anything of worth. Puppy rocked.)

He has never made claims to being anything other than what he was. (cf. J.Schnabel I kid, I kid. Seriously. His paintings SUCK, but I kid.... )
posted by From Bklyn at 1:33 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it is no accident that reflective surfaces are present in much of Mr. Koon's work. Look deeply into that mirrored surface... fraud? No, you are not a fraud, are you?
posted by R. Mutt at 10:37 AM on September 12, 2008

That Versailles exhibit looks "fun" in the pictures. But you've ever been there, you would think different.
posted by Zambrano at 10:46 AM on September 12, 2008


That's it for today's episode of simple answers for simple questions.
posted by mullingitover at 2:22 PM on September 12, 2008

I used to have the fashionable contempt for Koons until I saw "Puppy" installed at Rockefeller Center. It was a wonderful thing; it wasn't "Guernica," nor was it trying to be, but I was glad it existed and that I was there to experience it. I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to share that reaction, but I will say this with total confidence: if you haven't personally experienced an artist's work (by which I mean not looked at reproductions in books or on your computer screen, but actually stood in front of the physical object), you have no business trying to judge it.
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Though I've not really read up on Koons, I love what I've seen of his work.

Incidentally, my bachelor's degree is in art. I've found that this makes me no more or less qualified to define, analyze, or create art than a commodities trader.

About thirty percent of that degree came from the endless cyclical discussion of What Art Is, in which people argued over the artistic merits of overpriced ceramics in various fine-art galleries, Anne Geddes, Piss Christ, Eminem, 4'33", the World Trade Center attack, goldfish in blenders, and so on. I think everyone involved in those discussions got good and offended at least once, and nothing really got answered.

The rest of that degree I spent making things like collages of candy wrappers, paintings of Britney Spears/stick people/sandwiches that I considered delicious enough to commemorate in gouache, drawings of cartoon bugs done in lipstick, faux public service ads for dirt and clouds, and all other sorts of nutty stuff. That was the fun part! My artist's statements were things like "I enjoy bright colors" and "I thought it would be a good idea to do this while I was drunk" and "I hated this assignment so I spent six weeks painting this canvas black just to register my pissedoffness."

A couple of people thought I was brilliant. I'm fairly sure that most of them thought I was a dumbshit just fucking around. I ended up with a B average and an entry-level job in an unrelated area.

I am not an exhibiting artist, but I do still make art, if you can call it that, and call it what you will. My most recent paintings are titled "#001 Bulbasaur" and "#002 Ivysaur" and are currently hanging in my apartment. They're not for sale.

Do I have a point? If I do, it's probably not a very good one. Anyway, art is subjective and weird and awesome and sometimes kind of dumb, and figuring out what its definition encompasses will drive you crazy. If I am indeed an artist, I'm not a particularly good one, and if I made money or headlines off of what I did, I'd probably be called a fraud too. But hey, I made what I wanted to make and said what I wanted to say, and that's good enough for me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is the part where I get lost. I thought:
define, analyze, or create art was something you weren't allowed to do to art. I thought defining the art killed the art and made it...something else. I thought art was about the way art made you feel and the what it flowed inside your head.

I guess that's the difference between Art and art.
posted by TomMelee at 5:59 PM on September 12, 2008

I'm still looking around at Koons stuff. This 1975 conversation between (stoned-sounding) David Byrne and Jeff Koons is pretty cool, hey?
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 PM on September 12, 2008

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