Friday, September 26, 2014

Life Lessons From Jeff Koons

Artist Jeff Koons, center, surrounded by Cultural Alliance of York County Board Directors and Staff
On September 23, 2014, members of the Cultural Alliance of York County Board of Directors & staff got a most rare gift - we were able to look at the work of Jeff Koons with the artist himself as our lens. We trekked to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City for a personally-guided tour of "Jeff Koons: A Retrospective" - the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the artist's groundbreaking and iconic work. Comprising almost 150 objects from 1978 to the present, I expected to learn a lot about some of the most important, influential, and controversial works of art of our era. What I didn't expect was how much I would learn about Jeff, his memories of growing up in York, and how the lessons he learned at the different stages of his life influenced his art.

Life Lesson #1: There Is Art Inside Us All 

"Inflatables," Jeff Koons
Jeff spoke a lot about his York County roots in this part of the retrospective, which featured his inflatables and his ready-made works-some of his first creations when he arrived in New York City. "My father, Henry Koons, had a furniture and interior design showroom at 216 East Market Street. And in that store, I learned that the art was not in the object, but in the display of it.  A lamp is a lamp, but the art of it is in the way you view it. The Mona Lisa isn't art, your reaction to it is the art. The art is inside you. The object is a transponder, but your reaction to it is the transcendence."

Life Lesson #2: We Have To Accept Ourselves 

"Made In Heaven Billboard," Jeff Koons
Jeff was candid with our group, and let us know that the "Made In Heaven" series was one of the hardest of his bodies of work to discuss with audiences. It documented a time in his life when he was falling in love with his ex-wife, Italian actress Cicciolina, and when he received some of his harshest criticism. "It's hard for me to show these images to you, but at the same time this work is all about acceptance. Acceptance of your body, of yourself, of ourselves as organisms, our perfections and imperfections."

Life Lesson #3: Show What You Feel 

"Balloon Dog (Yellow)", Jeff Koons
"The Celebration Series was done at a very difficult time in my life," Jeff told us as we entered the area holding this collection. "My ex-wife had taken my son Ludwig to Rome, and I wasn't able to communicate with him. I wanted to show him how much I was thinking about him."  You could feel the joy in "Play-Doh" and "Boy with Pony," and the love he worked to convey when words weren't available to him.

Life Lesson #4: Remember Your Roots 

"Gazing Ball (Mailbox)", Jeff Koons

The Gazing Ball series is at the entrance, but is the last body of work that Jeff created. "Being from York County, The Gazing Ball series really represents my childhood, and my background. I'm sure you've all seen gazing balls in the yards of your neighbors. They're really an act of generosity; they allow us to see ourselves and our surroundings in them. It's about reflection."

The Jeff Koons Retrospective will be on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York until October 19th. Afterwards, the exhibition travels to Paris and Spain, where hundreds of thousands of people will be able to view his work and marvel, as we did, at what he has accomplished. And, I'm sure they'll all learn more than they bargained for.

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