Sensation-seeking Jeff Koons opens his newest exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York this week. New Paintings and Sculpture will include Koons classics, such as the painting and sculpture series Hulk Elvis, along with his now-iconic balloon animals. (The L.A. balloon artist Buster Balloon, whom Koons hired, told New York magazine that it took him 85 versions using a 60-inch-long balloon to perfect Koons’s Balloon Venus piece. Koons cat-scanned it to guarantee the exact measurements.)
Suffice it to say, the Gagosian exhibit is a big deal. Curious then, that Koons is opening a second, competing retrospective this week, titled Gazing Ball, at the rival David Zwirner gallery in New York, just blocks away. In sync with the Frieze Art Fair, and interestingly timed–Gagosian has severed ties with two other mega-artists, Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama–the show makes it clear that Koons is angling for a less pop and more grandiose positioning. That sensibility is reflected in the pieces he’s showing. There’s no gold-plated Michael Jackson, no pristine vacuum cleaner housed away in a plexiglass box. Instead, Koons frames himself firmly in art history by designing white-plaster-cast sculptures that nod to their Greco-Roman originals. (It’s also his way of riffing off Picasso, who favored plaster.) The “gazing balls” are hand-blown blue glass spheres, which he places on the undulating white sculptures.
While each effort tries to be historically epic–in over-the-top art world speak, Gagosian describes the works as “baroque creations that extol innocence, beauty, sexuality, and happiness in confounding combinations of abstraction, figuration, sumptuous effect, and pure spectacle”–both shows nod to Koons’s obsession over working with epic parameters. Last year, we reported on his proposal to install a $25 million sculpture of a suspended train car over the Highline in New York. An ominous, crane-held locomotive hanging over people’s heads is no small statement. So while these two retrospectives don’t come as a shock, they’re worth thinking about.