Jeff Koons Play Doh exhibit

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective Cheat Sheet

Jeff Koons Play doh

“It’s taught me how to feel, it’s taught me how to enjoy ideas… And really, it’s taught me how to be a better human being.” – Jeff Koons opening remarks

There is the art world and there is the real world, then there is Jeff Koons. Somewhere between the age-old debates of “what is art?” lie sculptures of balloon dogs in punchy, iridescent hues, lithographs of celebrated sports heroes, and vivid 3-D objects of every medium blurring the lines between fantasy and what we think we know to be true. This weekend the Whitney Museum of American Art will celebrate Koons 35 year career with the artist’s first Retrospective.

Jeff Koons is the most successful, and often most controversial American contemporary artist in history.  A student of fine art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Koons is known for his larger than life sculptures, and use of readymade objects to create original works.

Amidst Oscar Wilde quotes and shout outs to H&M from various curators and contributors, Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam Weinberg closed out remarks on the retrospective on Tuesday by saying, “If Jeff Koons didn’t exist, we would have had to invent him.” Giving Koons the ultimate platform– essentially the entire museum, the exhibition will display well known pieces like Michael Jackson with his monkey Bubbles  alongside pieces that have been tucked away in Koons’ private collection for decades.

The exhibition ranges in scale from the traditional form, paying homage to Koons’ works in small galleries beginning 1987, and grows to the monumental scale (and success) of his exhibitions in the present day. The museum’s lobby, second, third and fourth floors, along with the outdoor sculpture court have been transformed into a Koons-themed Fantasia of epic proportions.

We’ve created a handy cheat sheet for Jeff Koons and his new exhibit:

  • The Retrospective unfolds in chronological order and is divided into thirteen collections: Inflatables and Pre-New, The New, Equilibrium, Luxury and Degredation, Statuary, Banality, Made In Heaven, Easyfun, Easyfun-Ethereal, Celebration, Popeye, Hulkelvis and Antiquity.
  • The Retrospective explores the themes of controversy, freedom, trust, humanity, and of course pop culture.
  • Koons’ new work, which can be seen in the outdoor sculpture court, Popeye, was finished just weeks before the Retrospective’s opening.

Jeff Koons Popeye

  • In a 2013 interview, Pharell Williams asked Koons which character from his work he identified with most. He answered “Popeye,” saying “He represents my father, and my father’s generation. And also, Popeye transforms. He eats his spinach and he transforms. And art’s the spinach. And you know, art can transform your life.”
  • One of Koons most famous works, One Ball Total Equilibrium is part of Koons’ first solo show held in 1985 on the Lower East Side. The Equilibrium series also includes framed mint-copy Nike posters of 1980’s star athletes obtained directly from the company’s Oregon headquarters. (Second Floor)
  • The New explores the popular concept of everyday objects as art. Taken from Koons’ 1980 series, household appliances are set in a pristine, “shiny and new” light fill an entire room of the Retrospective.
  • After his divorce from Italian pornstar and parliamentarian Illona Staller, Koons claimed he destroyed many of the works from his famed Made In Heaven series. Seeking to emancipate the shame of sex,Koons’ created billboard size paintings of himself and Illona in illicit sexual poses as a kind of fantasy-meets-modern day version of Adam & Eve. Luckily for the Whitney (and us) a few of the most provoking billboards are on display on the Third Floor.
  • Yes there is a sandwich.

Jeff Koons Sandwich

  • And Michael Jackson.

Jeff Koons Michael Jackson

  • And inflatable sea creatures in trash cans.

Jeff Koons Sea Otters

  • Koons’ Celebration installments comprises some of the most technologically demanding objects ever produced in the history of postwar art.
  • This Retrospective unveils Koons’ gigantic Play-Doh sculpture, a piece that has been in the works for more than 25 years.  (Fourth Floor)

Jeff Koons Balloon Dog

  • Jeff Koons is the first artist to collaborate with apparel retailer H&M. To celebrate the opening of the brand’s newest flagship store on Fifth Avenue on July 17th, H&M will debut a limited edition Jeff Koons Balloon Dog (Yellow) handbag.
  • Coinciding with the exhibit at the Whitney is Koons’ Split-Rocker. The thirty-seven foot high sculpture constructed of soil, stainless steel an internal irrigation system and over 50,000 flowering plants will reside over Rockefeller Plaza beginning today through September 12th, 2014.

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is on display at the Whitney Museum from June 27th – October 19th 2014. 

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