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On View: “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” at Whitney Museum of American Art

If you think of giant stainless-steel puppy balloons when you hear the name Jeff Koons, think again. On Friday, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York celebrated the most comprehensive collection of the Pop artist’s work to date. The exhibition, which will be traveling internationally into 2015, is the artist’s first retrospective spanning his highly influential career. Notably, it is also the museum’s last showing before moving to a new space to be announced next year. There are nearly 150 works total displayed chronologically, dating from late 1970s series “The Pre-New, The New, and Equilibrium” to new works like “Play-Doh”, 20 years in the making. Often described as “kitsch” for his outlandish taste, Koons’ retrospective may redefine what taste actually is. Read more after the jump!

If you think of giant stainless-steel puppy balloons when you hear the name Jeff Koons, think again. On Friday, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York celebrated the most comprehensive collection of the Pop artist’s work to date. The exhibition, which will be traveling internationally into 2015, is the artist’s first retrospective spanning his highly influential career. Notably, it is also the museum’s last showing before moving to a new space to be announced next year. There are nearly 150 works total displayed chronologically, dating from late 1970s series “The Pre-New, The New, and Equilibrium” to new works like “Play-Doh”, 20 years in the making.


Jeff Koons with his work at his retrospective’s press preview.
(Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)


(Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Koons has been making art inspired by his dreams and his hero Salvador Dalí since his early stages. Often, these fantasies involved inflatables which he would use as commentary on consumer culture for 30 years- providing the perfect opening installation. As a young artist, Koons was very interested in the concept of newness, exhibited in his recreation of a vacuum cleaner showroom display. Decades ago, they stood as a symbol of the future but today, are preserved behind glass as monuments to the past. As “New” objects became outdated, Koons’ path to original innovative ideas became paved by the threat of time.


(Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)


(Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

It is a journey of contradictions. Koons’ artwork ranges from controversial sexually explicative nudes on billboards to his now infamous candy-colored sculptures of cute animals and comic book heroes. It begs the question if Koons is fulfilling a personal exploration for meaning as an artist and leaving interpretation to the beholder. His creative progression is made much clearer when placed side by side on the floors of the Whitney. For Koons, the idea of artistic integrity is clearly that which is unaltered, or unchanged. The soul of his inanimate subjects is left intact while elements like size, color, and even social value is enhanced. Does value lie in historic antiquity or the mode of contemporary trends? It is ironic that “the most expensive living artist in the world” should create work based somewhat on a fear of becoming obsolete. Often described as “kitsch” for his outlandish taste, Koons’ retrospective may redefine what taste actually is.

“Jeff Koons: A Retrospective” is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art from June 27 to October 19, 2014.

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