On DVD: The Jeff Koons Show

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.

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