"If the Beatles had made sculptures, they would probably look like mine". Koons introduces, by this comparison, the notion of bipolarity into his work, his faculty to split and multiply accesses and interpretations. It perfectly fits the "Jeff Koons - Versailles" exhibition (Did they hold a meeting before choosing such a punchy title?). Once again, Koons' joke is anything but neutral. As a matter of fact, when Capitol Records realized the unlikelihood of said cover for the American market and the possibly disastrous repercussions on the Beatles' image towards their audience, the record company decided to stick a new cover (four Beatles quietly sat around a steamer trunk) as a replacement for the original. The superposition of work's reading grid could hardly be clearer. Equivalently, Koons, after his directly provocative series Made in Heaven, changed his strategy and tried to insidiously intrude the market. He notably worked on surface, one of the major components of his work. The steel made Balloon Dog, Louis XIV and Balloon Flower are some of the obvious pieces.
When McCartney composed Yesterday (the most covered song of all times, a phenomenon that should be analyzed...), he was totally convinced that he already knew the song (he declared he'd actually dreamt it). Worried, he investigated and asked that his entourage find the genuine one. "If no-one claims it after a few weeks, then I can have it". He considered the song as a mere musical ready-made. The same déjà-vu feeling can be found into Koons' work, even though his work is highly personal and deeply linked to his personality. Ready-made artifacts can be real works of art: Lobster, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train or Ushering in Banality, already signed. Jeff Koons' work is about falsehood, appearance, like the press photographs with Rabbit and Moon in which galleries and workshops upside down views are reflected then artificially put into their future site.
The money dialectic is at the heart of Koons' work. The prices are more disputed than the quality of his pieces and most people forget what created interest for and reputation of the American giant. This monetary issue deprives the exhibition of new and unseen works. The most recent piece is the reactivated Chainlink from 2002. Like a reversed symbol, Yesterday and Today is the only album the Beatles published for Capitol Records with a deficit. Cover shame costs.
Michael Jackson & Bubbles in the Venus Salon or Pink Panther in the Peace Salon are both perfectly polished. Koons can disregard sarcasms. He claims a position filled up with fierce humor and laughs at his arrogant success. Such a dark sense of humor shows through Yesterday and Today, which contributed to the Beatles' persona. Robert Whitaker took the cover photograph. He wanted to mix Bellmer, Oppenheim and Surrealism. He also showed that the Fab Four were much more virulent than their polite faces seem to show.
Lennon, always delicate into his declarations, said that the Yesterday and Today cover was "as relevant as the Vietnam War". Koons knows how to be tactful too. Provocative and brave. These two words are for the Versailles Palace Committee, who accepted bringing Koons upfront, hiding its antique treasures. Despite what politics or critics might think. There is no integration, but a disintegration of the place, an invading strategy (including Large vase of Flowers in Queen's Bedroom), which is a nice change from the dull "white cube". Even the cartels are proportional.
The windows protecting the works, like John, Paul, Ringo and George's haircuts, are definitively not necessary. They spoil the apprehension of the pieces and introduce a regrettable distance. Are they afraid of an art attempt? We can also regret the somewhat too didactic display (Bear and Policeman in the War Salon, New Hoover Convertibles in the Grand Couvert Anteroom) even if it makes comprehension easier for people at large, and specifically concerning wished confrontations.
Like his Split Rocker, Jeff Koons is a two-headed monster... or shows two sides of the same sweet monster. Half-Dino and half-Pony, 100,000 flowers smell good, too good and their perfume intoxicate us with their bitter scent, cover up the violence, put us to sleep. Jeff Koons molded a character and created himself in line with his work, not the other way around. He is smooth, reliable, self-confident, nothing grips him. He is deep, he looks at himself being one of the greatest artist of our time (Self-portrait on the Apollo Salon). He masters artistic strategies and theories that he has clearly revolutionized. As smooth as Lennon's smile on the "butcher cover", certain that an honorific place is waiting for him for his musical revolution and his indelible imprint on Western culture. Both are adulated by the crowd, admired by connoisseurs, both are two sacred monsters, having planned with mastery the reversal of our contemporary society's values.
Let us add that this is the first retrospective of Koons' work in France, from September 10th to December14th 2008, in Versailles, the city which welcomed the Beatles first French show. The cycle is complete. So, if the Beatles had made sculptures, would they look like Koons'? Well, let's say that Koons' sculptures are similar to Beatles' image, both pervert in their superficiality, vaguely deep in their implications, universal in their appearance of simplicity.
In summary, Jeff Koons - Versailles? A quaint butchery...