Lot 5: Jeff Koons (b. 1945)
POST WAR AND CONTEMPORARY (EVENING SALE)
May 14, 2002
New York, NY, USA
Description: Cherubs insized with signature, number and date '3/3 91 Jeff Koons J FUX' (on the underside of her left wing) polychromed wood overall: 48 x 431/2 x 19 in. (121.9 x 110.5 x 48.3 cm.) Executed in 1991. This work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist's proof. PROVENANCE Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London LITERATURE J. Koons and R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London 1992, pp. 128-129 (illustrated) A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne 1992, p. 159 (illustrated) EXHIBITION Lausanne, Galerie Lehmann, Made In Heaven, May-June 1991 (another example exhibited) Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Aarhus, Kunstmuseum; and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Jeff Koons, January 1992-April 1993, p.64 (illustrated; another example exhibited) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-February 1993, pl. 60 (illustrated; another example exhibited) NOTES Few contemporary artists have elicited as much outrage over their work, as Jeff Koons, and yet his ingeniously mischievous exploitation of consumer culture can also be considered the quintessential art of our time. Equal parts visual allure and intellectual conundrum, Koons' work is undeniably provocative, forcing us to confront the simulated realities of our world. With his strategies of simultaneous attraction and repulsion, irritation and delight, celebration and critique, his art is the embodiment of the inevitable contradictions of contemporary life. Throughout his career, Koons has mixed the banal with "high" art subject matter, thus begging the questions: Whereas "high" art has always defined itself in opposition to the "low", what happens when the high becomes low? And similarly, what happens when the low aspires to be high? This, of course, hearkens back to Duchamp and his readymades. Famous works like Fountain initiated art's exploration of such issues, and Koons' work definitely marks a critical point in Duchamp's subsequent legacy. But Cherubs is not a readymade. Instead, this work is an amalgam of gift shop aesthetics. The result is an exaggeration of an already exaggerated devotional object, a further kitch-ification of kitsch. What is the effect of this? Whereas Koons has used found objects in the past, here he creates something anew. And yet, in this near-grotesquery of cuteness, we recognize the real-life objects that serve as their source. Any judgement we make on these overstatements would therefore have to be applied to the real commodities on which they are based. These questions circulate around the Cherubs, challenging the categories by which we classify things--both in art and in life. However, the reference is not just to modern-day kitsch, rather Cherubs has a very definite art historical context as well. Its most immediate reference might be the well-known putti at the bottom Raphael's The Sistine Madonna, 1512-13. Probably the most famous detail of a work in the history of art, this cuddly pair has been over-reproduced to the point that a work of high art has become kitch, adorning countless posters, t-shirts, and Valentines. With their rosy cheeks, pastel curlicues, and floral forms, Cherubs also incorporates the Rococo and Baroque styles from which these two angels derive. Ultimately, as with many of Koons' works, the implications apply not only to general notions of commodification, but to issues of class. Koons himself explains: "If somebody walks into a church and they're hungry and they do not feel secure with their own economic position in the world, they're not in a position to have a spiritual experience. So the church uses the Baroque and the Rococo, you just go in there and you feel like you're participating in social mobility. This is how the Baroque and the Rococo were used; so that the public felt their needs were being met. I've always tried to do the same thing with my work" (quoted in Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992, n.p.). One of Koons' basic points is to capture the style of traditionally "low" culture, merge it with "high" art, and thus disrupt both labels. The most important precedents for this kind of loving send-up are the early-sixties Pop masterpieces of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, such as Lichtenstein's The Kiss, 1962. But rather than imitating comic books, Koons here aims his caustic imagination at religion. The work therefore deals both with mass imagery at large and with the objects upon which we cast our faith. As Koons states, "I've always tried to use materialism to seduce the viewer and to try to meet the needs of the viewer, just like every church uses materialism. Every industry uses it, but the church is the great master and a great manipulator of materialism." Cherubs is part of the artist's Made in Heaven series, a body of images that depict he and his wife Cicciolina in large-scale sex scenes. Cherubs is in effect an alternate version of this group of work as it depicts a heavenly young boy and a girl sharing spiritual love which is expressed in a more innocent and childlike way. Of course, the aggressively confrontational Made in Heaven series appears to be the utter opposite of a work of such sweet sentimentality like Cherubs . And yet, maybe Koons is locating the seemingly opposite desires that these works embody--sex and faith--in a similar place. "To me," Koons claims in reference to works like Made in Heaven, "Cicciolina is the Eternal Virgin. She's been able to remove guilt and shame from her life, and because of this she is a great liberator. I'm trying to go through moral crisis myself to the highest degree that I can, to remove moral crisis from the visual vocabulary of the viewer, so that when somebody sees my work, the only thing that they see is the Sacred Heart of Jesus." Our first reaction, of course, is to not take him seriously. He is just being ironic. And yet, we wonder what would it be like to look at and enjoy objects like Cherubs without the overlay of kitsch. And this is exactly what Koons is getting at: "I [am] telling the Bourgeois to embrace the things that it likes, the things it responds to. For example, when you were a young child and you went to your grandmother's place and she had this little knickknack, that's inside you, that's a part of you. Embrace that, don't try to erase it because you're in some social standing now and you're ambitious and you're trying to become a new upper class.".