When I agreed to meet my sister Sandrine at The Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, all she told me was that this was The Whitney’s last exhibition in its current location before it moved downtown to its new home in spring 2015. She neglected to mention what kind of exhibition we would be seeing  and considering the last experimental performance art show she had dragged me to had not been my cup of tea, I remained vaguely apprehensive.  When I saw the line to enter the museum, I was puzzled and wondered aloud why all these people were so nostalgic about saying goodbye to the building. Sandrine looked like her head was about to explode. “It’s the Jeff Koons retrospective!” she exclaimed throwing her hands up, “It’s the first time the Whitney has done such a large exhibition on a single artist. That’s why there are so many people!” Now why did that name sound familiar? And why was it associated with a mental image of a psychedelic flower dog sculpture?

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Aha, here you are! This is Puppy by Jeff Koons, which stands guard in front of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain which I saw back in 2011. Source

Since his arrival to the art scene in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Jeff Koons has garnered a large following comprised both of fans and haters alike. He seems to be quite the polarizing figure in artistic circles–either you will really like him and you will think he is brilliant or you will dismiss him as an overrated, mediocre artist. I am still on the fence about Koons, mostly because I am mystified by the divisive opinions provoked by his art. What is it about this guy and his work that creates so much controversy?

Let’s start off with this display of 1970s Hoover vacuum cleaners illuminated in cases of glass. This room is part of a series entitled The New, which sounds contradictory considering these vacuums are outdated models that are at least forty years old.

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Are these antiquated preserved vacuum cleaners considered to be art? On one hand, I really liked the set-up of this room and the way the vacuum display cases were laid out. The darkened lighting in the room emphasized the spotlight on the vacuums, creating an eerie atmosphere and an unsettling feeling. However, when I read the description on the wall describing the vacuums as having “sexual references” and being “anthropomorphic,” I was startled to see my sister dismiss the text with a roll of her eyes though I fully agreed with her. She works in an art gallery and is more familiar with contemporary art. I figured she would be better at ascribing meaning to the exhibition while I just muddled through.

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The New section of the exhibition focuses on the quest of “newness,” also described as the desire to possess the latest cutting-edge gadget or model. I really enjoyed this part of the exhibition since it felt like stepping back in time getting a glimpse of what was then considered to be the height of  the latest trend, such as this ad for a Toyota car.

The portion of the exhibition called Inflatables and Pre-New was harder to appreciate. I don’t understand how sticking random inflatable objects on top of mirrors is supposed to be celebrated as some kind of groundbreaking artistic feat. And quite frankly, that Easter bunny is the stuff of nightmares.

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However, for reasons unknown even to myself, I really liked the idea of this vertical tea kettle glued to this green striped lamp. It is one of those artsy trinkets I wouldn’t mind hanging on the wall of my future apartment. Might as well embrace my inner hipster.

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Following the befuddling assortment of inflatable objects and re-purposed tea kettles, these gravity-defying basketballs floating in tanks of water made me do a double take. My first thought was, “Why is this art?” which I promptly forgot because I was too busy trying to figure out how Koons had achieved this illusion. How had he managed to balance the basketballs so perfectly in the middle of the tanks? This series is appropriately named Equilibrium. It has something to do with mixing salt and distilled water in the tanks–you can read the full explanation here. I found the premise of this piece to be oddly riveting.

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Don’t they look like they are suspended in midair?

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Hello little sister!

Up next was a series named Banality, a long room filled with several sculptures lined up in a row, supposedly an attempt to capture the essence of kitsch in our culture. I did not see any particularly unifying theme in the sculptures–some of them were intriguing, some of them were just weird, and others were downright terrifying. For more information about the other sculptures I did  not include in this post, click here.

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Can you guess which famous deceased pop star this is?

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More nightmare inducing material. This sculpture justifies my life-long hatred of Cabbage Patch dolls.

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How does a semi decapitated woman being caught naked in the bathtub embody the concept of kitsch? Someone please enlighten me!

So far what do you think? The exhibition spanned four floors which means I took several snapshots, too many to be included in this post. See Part 2 here for the rest of the pictures of the Jeff Koons retrospective (which will be posted tomorrow!).

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