Alison Chernick's one-hour documentary
about Jeff Koons strikes a generally admiring tone in tracking the career
of the accomplished and hugely famous visual artist. The film
hits the highlights of his varied and ever-evolving portfolio of projects,
from his earliest show, "The New," which featured spotless household
appliances carefully displayed in pristine glass vitrines, and his world-famous
oversized "Puppy," made of live flowers, and right up to his more
recent "inflatables" of "Celebration" - cast-steel balloon
animals and toys. All of Koons' art enshrines elements of American
pop culture in forms that are inert, gargantuan, and "perfect."
Koons uses enormously expensive methods of fabrication for his complex
pieces, processes that are made even more expensive by his perfectionism,
which results in casting and re-casting pieces until they meet his exacting
vision. The huge expenses associated with the creation of his
art - along with the unmistakably eye-catching boldness of his work
- are reflected in the prices they fetch at auction, which often reach
tens of millions of dollars.
In The Jeff
Koons Show, Chernick mostly allows Koons to speak for himself, although
she also includes commentary from fellow artists such as Chuck Close
and Julian Schnabel, each of whom interestingly qualifies his admiration
of Koons. Koons' own comments about his art tend to be simplistic,
filled with nonsensical jargon and self-congratulation. Listening
to him, I had the distinct impression that he didn't know what the
hell he was doing - which can't possibly be true. The man
is too successful to be a fool. But I do find his approach opportunistic,
taking Warhol's more astute and "observational" approach to pop
culture - an approach that highlighted the rapidity and ubiquity of
mass production - and perverting it through the obscene amounts of
money and time spent "perfecting" otherwise disposable artifacts
from American pop culture.
Koons has a uniquely American point
of view, capturing the essence of pop culture and converting into pieces
that are bright, colorful, and popular. His art is also a business
that he has keenly turned into enormous personal wealth. Koons'
choices of subject matter can be seen as cynical, as he often capitalizes
upon imagery that is already recognizable - Michael Jackson, Popeye,
kitschy clowns and toys - and appropriates them for these objects.
But these objects, in their native state, are made very cheaply; Koons
interprets and re-makes them using the most elaborate and expensive
processes imaginable. Perhaps this meant as some sort of ironic
statement; I think it one of the more ridiculous manifestations of the
already lazy and indulgent era of post-modernism.
After wading through Koons' more
aggravating work - particularly his unconscionably awful series "Made
in Heaven," which consists of images of Koons and his wife, the Italian
porn star known as Cicciolina, having sex - there are some gems to
be found. I can't deny the strange, fantastic, commanding power
of seeing "Puppy" in real life. And his early work with vitrines
mostly succeeded in suggesting some unspoken, indescribable power behind
mundane things like vacuum cleaners and basketballs. Chernick
does a solid job in providing an overview of Koons' career and his
significance as an artist. At just under an hour, the documentary
could have easily been longer, with more about the way Koons' career
developed and about his supporters and detractors, of which there are
many of both.
The enhanced 1.78:1 transfer is fair to good. New footage
fares much better than archival material, which in some cases has PAL
origins. Colors are generally bright and solid, and digital artifacts
The stereo track is serviceable, with good balance and some dynamic
use of music. Voices are clear, which is the single most important
thing for this documentary.
There is an additional short piece by Chernick about a recent exhibition
curated by Koons. It runs about four minutes.
Whether you love Jeff Koons' work
or hate it, Alison Chernick's documentary is informative and engaging.
It's a solid overview of this important artist's career to date,
and well worth a look. Recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.