"Artist" Jeff Koons (left) and Owner of the Sacramento Kings,
Who Will Go Unnamed to Save Him Further Embarrassment
The latest Jeff Koons (born 1955) assault on public taste and mores just arrived in sunny Sacramento, CA. And in doing so, he made a cool $8 million. Nice work if you can get it.
The sculpture, Coloring Book #4, was just set into place outside the Golden 1 Center, standing on a pedestal near what will be the main entrance of the arena’s northwest corner.
Coloring Book #4 is 18 feet tall, and is part of his Coloring Book collection, a series the artist said was inspired by the (hardly Renaissance-worthy) notion of a child coloring out of the lines of an image of Piglet.
Just take a moment to let both the money involved and the inspiration to sink in. Good? Let’s proceed.
explained to The Sacramento Bee in 2015: I
hope that a piece like Coloring Book can excite young children who are going
hand-in-hand with their mother and father and with their sisters and
grandparents to a sporting event (at the arena), that all generations can find
some contemplative interaction with the piece.
Most of this latest attack on public taste was funded by the Sacramento Kings; the city of Sacramento also threw away $2.5 million for its share of the public financing of the Golden 1 Center. (This money came from the Art in Public Places program, which clearly has a very loose definition of both “art” and “public places.”)
I must make it clear that my disgust with this has little to do with city fathers spending $8 million on art. Actually, I think city, state and federal governments should increase arts spending, not cut them. Art spending increases, say I!
What I find so clearly offensive is spending money on bad art, or worse still, non-art. Think, for a moment, about “public art projects” (for want of a better term) of earlier times, and compare them to the rubbish pushed down our throats today. Where are projects with the sobriety, seriousness and artistic virtuosity of the Jefferson Memorial, the Tower of Pisa, Notre Dame … good heaves, we could even make a case for Mount Rushmore…
But we do not create public work like this, mainly thanks to Modernity’s flight from beauty, the decadent and debased language of contemporary art criticism, and the sick influence of money by uneducated, tasteless collectors.
Let’s look at this $8 million piece of “art.” It says … nothing. It is a towering, misshapen mess, made of reflective material that mirrors its surroundings, but does not comment or improve upon them. Even for the sake of argument, Piglet is invisible (for those Pooh fans hoping to salvage something from this debacle); and the contours and colors have no power of suggestion or reference.
Had Koons spent $1.95 on a bellows to blow color-tinted bubbles, the result would be much the same. Here is a work without intelligence, without virtuosity, and without any internal coherence. Simple human ethics should shame him out of the field of artistic endeavor, and make his name a byword for chicanery, hucksterism and bad taste.
Our feelings about Koons are best summarized by the late, great art critic and humanist Robert Hughes (1938-2012), who wrote (about including Koons in a new program on art): Jeff Koons [is included]: not because his work is beautiful or means anything much, but because it is such an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him. He fits into Bush's America the way Warhol fitted into Reagan's. There may be worse things waiting in the wings (never forget that morose observation of Milton's on the topography of Hell: "And in the lowest depth, a lower depth") but for the moment they aren't apparent, which isn't to say that they won't crawl, glistening like Paris Hilton's lip-gloss, out of some gallery next month. Koons is the perfect product of an art system in which the market controls nearly everything, including much of what gets said about art.
The United States is filled with artists, great artists, doing great work. Work that really is about transcendence, connecting us with the sublime, and fostering the better parts of our basic humanity. Why do we reward the Jeff Koons of this world, and not them? When will art replace hucksterism, and when will the public rise in a body and reject this junk?
We have recently arrived on the West Coast, having left a New York where countless people spend a significant amount of time urinating on public art. It may be the most base and unhygienic mode of criticism I have come across, but they were doing they best they could. And looking at Koons’ latest ‘masterwork,’ the memory brought a warm, yellow glow.