Jeff Koons: Now | Newport Street gallery | ★★★★★
Whatever your opinion of Damien Hirst’s own artwork, it’s hard to fault his activity as a collector and proprietor of the fantastic Newport Street gallery. A strong start with his debut exhibition of John Hoyland paintings continues in this blockbuster survey of Jeff Koons: Now.
Hirst’s collection is impressive, spanning Koons’ career since its beginning in 1980. Here he serves up the greatest hits: the iconic Three Ball 50/50 Tank featuring basketballs floating in water; the inflatable pool toys and hyper-realistic paintings from the Popeye Series begun in 2002; the oversized Balloon Monkey (Blue); kitch, eroticised (and highly explicit) prints from the notorious Made in Heaven series. We also get lesser known pieces such as Bowl With Eggs (Pink) from 1994-2009, a work staggering in size and immaculately constructed from seamless polyethylene, as well as a series of framed Nike posters from 1985.
Perhaps most interestingly, the show opens with his earliest sculptures of Hoovers displayed in fluorescent-lit boxes from 1980-83, reminding us of his roots in the traditions of pop art, lampooning consumerism and commercialism, and the culture of readymades (objects made into art simply by their selection and display in a gallery). The balloon dogs, Play-Doh sculptures and inflatables – all rendered in impossibly perfect stainless steel and aluminium, created using cutting edge technology – symbolise Koons’s evolution into the ultimate pop artist of today, or “Now”.
Koons will spin you a line about the meaning behind his works – that “the basketball is the womb”, or that Made in Heaven represents “the biological eternal”, but don’t be taken in: these glib descriptions are as empty and cynical as an advertiser’s pitch, the perfect salesman’s patter. But Koons – like Hirst – is the archetypal artist-businessman, employing large workshops to create what are essentially products, bright and shiny and infinitely marketable. They represent the logical conclusion of “art as commodity”. This is where their interest lies, and they are truly fascinating: just don’t strain yourself reaching for meaning that isn’t there.