The Beauty of Art is in Dialogue
Its March 2022, a week before Qatar Museums’ most ambitious project, Jeff Koons: Lost in America, draws its curtains. The exhibition features more than 60 artworks from the four-decades long career of one of the most glamorous contemporary artists, whose work bridges Pop, Minimalism and the readymade.
With Qatar Museums making all the exhibitions in Doha entry-free, this is perhaps the best time to view one of the most exemplary works of an artist whose most recent work was auctioned for the highest auction price for a living artist, when Christie’s sold Rabbit for $91.1 million in 2019. Koon’s also held the distinction when his orange ‘balloon dog’ sold for $58.4 million in 2013.
Curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Jeff Koons: Lost in America gives a bird’s eye view of the American culture of consumerism as seen through the eyes of the artist, reflected through larger-than-life expressions of familiar structures, memory and identity, in shiny, almost reverent surfaces and shapes that have a particularly nostalgia. The exhibition is the artists’ first in the Gulf region and is presented as part of the Qatar-USA 2021 Year of Culture programme.
Lost in America presents a portrait of American culture as seen through Koons’ autobiography, beginning with his childhood in suburban Pennsylvania. The exhibition features more than 60 artworks drawn from Koons’ four-decades-long career and is divided into 16 galleries, each introduced by the artist, emphasising his memories, influences and fascination with American visual culture. Conceived as an expansive self-portrait, Lost in America also includes sculptures and paintings with mesmerising, mirrored surfaces that reflect the viewers and call attention to notions of self-transformation.
Starting the massive exhibition at Al Riwaq with a portrait of a kindergarten image of himself, Koon starts his self-exploratory journey saying, “I have always been an artist since I was born. Art has always been a way to define my own parameters, to externalise myself. The New Jeff Koons is based on my kindergarten photo, where I am seen with crayons. This was a time when I had felt that art had come under my feet and was taking me away.”
This process of self-exploration through art is seen in most of Koon’s works. He says, “When I choose an object, I am specifically choosing it to be able to show some aspect of what it is. I always try to make work that will help people survive that first moment of seeing things so that when they come into contact with art, it will be about their own history, their own potential.”
Sitting down for a short interview with Koons, SCALE asks him about his thoughts on the irony of having an exhibition on American culture in the Middle East, what it implies, he says “It means friendship,” he says, “For me, art is always about having dialogues with others, from a small group of friends to a larger audience. Art is about people interacting together, having an open communication.”
Exhibition curator Gioni, who serves as artistic director of the New Museum in New York, said: “With his aesthetics of plenty and his dreams of transformation and acceptance, Koons has been creating a strange mirage of America. This will appear even more exciting when seen in Doha against the background of a city that has taken the fascination with the new to vertiginous heights.”
“The job of the artist is to make a gesture and really show people what their potential is. It is not about the object, and it’s not about the image; it’s about the viewer. That’s where the art happens. so that’s what I’m involved with. I’ve worked with materials to incite the desire and visceral experience but it was never about the luxury,” he says about his work.
Koons is also fascinated by the opportunities that the Middle East, and Qatar has to offer for artists after his visit to the galleries here.
Koon hints on his long-standing friendship with the ruling family, and especially with HE Sheikha Mayassa. He reminisces about his first trip to the country in 2004 when he was invited by Sheikh Saud to visit the country, when he also met the Father Emir at his house and the “dialogues began immediately, to perhaps have one sculpture of mine here and also to have an exhibition.”
The central spine of Riwaq, the huge space that connects the gallery spaces that highlights Koon’s vast body of work is particularly spectacular. From the large Playdoh, the famous balloon dog to the comparatively smaller but highly valued Rabbit, the centre spine becomes the pivotal point in the exhibition, directing anyone who passes through this space, to stop and take it all in with awe. The grandeur of the white space framing the shiny works of Koon, is but a mesmerising sight.
Koon is quite pragmatic on how viewers from the Middle East will perceive his art and on the connecting feature of Koon art that fascinates its viewers. He says, “Lot of people think that you need to know more about art to have an opinion or even understand it. That is not true, all you need is to know yourself; you need self-acceptance and the rest follows. Once you accept yourself, you accept and understand what is around you. Art is the essence of who you are and is a projection of your future and what you will become. Nothing else matters.”
All Images Courtesy Qatar Museums