Lips | Jeff Koons | Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa
Past exhibition

Jeff Koons: Easyfun-Ethereal

10.02.2001 - 01.20.2002

Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era and the attendant crisis of representation. With his stated artistic intention to "communicate with the masses," Koons draws from the visual language of advertising, marketing, and the entertainment industry. Testing the limits between high and low culture, his sculptural menagerie includes Plexiglas-encased Hoover vacuum cleaners, basketballs floating in glass aquariums, and porcelain homages to Michael Jackson and the Pink Panther. In extending the lineage of Dada and Duchamp, and integrating references to Minimalism and Pop art, Koons stages art as a commodity that cannot be placed within the hierarchy of conventional aesthetics.

Entitled Easyfun-Ethereal, Koons's new series of work commissioned for Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, features food, fashion, and fun. His seven large-scale paintings reveal enormous chocolate swirls and happy-face deli sandwiches, moist lips covered in lipstick and rich hues of hair color, as well as spiraling roller coaster rides and playful Halloween costumes. Working from computer-scanned reproductions taken from the media and personal photographs, Koons combines familiar yet sometimes unrelated images to create collage-like paintings rendered with photo-realist perfection. These works recall the advertising iconography and billboard-style painting technique present in James Rosenquist's Pop art. Yet by comparison, Koons's work exudes a sense of excess and effervescence; he compresses his imagery into the foreground of his works, treating his subjects as purposefully flat, opaque images that seem to deny any specific social critique or psychological implications. Instead, his imagery emphasizes complete and total self-gratification, celebrating adult sexual desire and allure, as well as an ever-wanting child's consumption of popular culture.

Although Koons's imagery overflows with familiar icons from everyday life, the artist has clarified his specific purpose in employing elements of kitsch. In reference to an earlier group of paintings also called Easyfun (1999), from which his new paintings derive, Koons said in an interview: "I've worked with things that are sometimes labeled as kitsch; but I've never had an interest in kitsch per se. I always try to give viewers self-confidence-a foundation within themselves. For me, my work is about the viewer more than anything else." Koons's work is infused with elements of the Baroque; the swirling, uplifting imagery depicted in his new body of work is designed to entice the viewer, to create optimism and instill in his viewer "confidence and security."

Koons's new brand of Pop painting cleverly engages other art-historical references, in particular Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. In looking at such a work as Lips, one is confronted by the disjunctive free-floating fantasy. The disembodied succulent lips and drifting lush-lashed singular eye recall the work of René Magritte, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí, while the surrounding streams and splashes of juice refer to abstractions like none other than Jackson Pollock. Indeed, Koons makes direct reference to the latter in another painting; although the title Blue Poles describes the support posts for a roller coaster, it is borrowed from one of the later works by Pollock. His fusion of Pop representations with Surrealist and abstract overtones creates a hybrid of fun and fantasy, forming a body of work that depicts gravity-defying forms of dreamlike pleasure. In creating this new series Easyfun-Ethereal, Koons engages both past and present, employing the new technology of computer imagery while recalling various movements from the history of art.

As part of a group of artists from the 1980s seeking populist idioms to explore the collapse of art and language, Koons has emerged as the most important international artist of his generation. His work has been the subject of many exhibitions and public projects both in the United States and Europe. Major museum retrospectives were organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1992/1993. In 2000 Koons mounted a floral sculpture entitled Split-Rocker at the Palais des Papes in Avignon and also recreated his Puppy from 1992 for Rockefeller Center in New York.


Jeff Koons
Lips, 2000
Oil on canvas
3 x 4.3 m
Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin