artist / participant
This retrospective is designed to take stock of an unquestionably great body of work, now inseparable from the man who created it.
In 1987, the Musée National de l'Art Moderne staged a group exhibition under the aegis of the great Walter Hopps (then director of the Menil Collection in Houston), with the alluring title of Les Courtiers du Désir ("The Courtiers of Desire") featuring five artists, including a young man of 32 who was enchanted to be taking part: Jeff Koons. In 2000, the Musée National de l'Art Moderne, I invited to the Centre Pompidou, with the collaboration of the no less great Philippe Vergne, a mature man of 45, still enchanted by being able to take part: Jeff Koons. Today, under the aegis of Scott Rothkopf and myself, the museum is devoting a retrospective to a still more enchanted, now ripely mature man of 58: Jeff Koons. Twenty-seven years have passed since Rabbit came to the Centre Pompidou – and alas, left it again. The creator of the famous stainless steel balloon has become one of the most famous and controversial artists in the contemporary art scene. He is one of those who attracts so much biting criticism that you wonder whether it is actually the work that is being judged, or the mythology of a man who has become a figure.
This retrospective is designed to take stock of an unquestionably great body of work, now inseparable from the man who created it. Because the work of Jeff Koons is undeniably an American story, an American dream. A pragmatic, resolutely positive body of work; a joyous challenge in a world full of ups and downs; a vision that is certainly playful but more subversive than it seems – an aspect its creator avoids mentioning. Intimately linked with the work he has built up, Jeff Koons has been in the news more than once during the last 35 years. From his first deliberately childish objects to the archetypal polychrome steel figures standing proudly in public institutions and the private foundations of the great and the good; from the advertising images transformed into paintings to the corporate gifts that have become trophies in the top public sales, and from advertisements for masterclasses awarded to attentive children in art magazines to pornographic images embodying what the artist calls "love and spirituality", the work of Koons has constantly defied good judgement and taste, stimulating desire in a quest to assert its iconic and symbolic value.
This first retrospective in Europe was essential for a decision on the actual evidence. Visitors will thus see that the artist, all through his obsessional work, has constantly called on artisans and manufacturers to produce pieces of increasing technical ambition. From the early assemblages seeking to synthesise Pop and Minimalism to the plaster moulds embellished with decorations for parks and gardens, Koons has sought to establish his approach through a succession of series with subjects that speak to everybody, in an attempt to reconcile modern art and popular culture in a celebration of finally-reunited opposites.
For the artist's ambition is considerable. And it is not only immense – even if Koons, as we know, does not scorn the physical, symbolic and majestic weight of the monument. His ambition is to fault the paradoxes of a theoretical discourse which in modern times has often only found justification in what it believed was its opposition to power. For Koons, this is a challenge – a turnaround, even.
Several decades have passed. America has been shattered, and Jeff Koons seems to have maintained an incurable optimism. Integrity and authenticity, self-acceptance and dialogue, confidence and responsibility are certainly present in Jeff Koons's practice of Dale Carnegie's method "How to Win Friends and Influence People". And if the so-often thwarted promise of happiness finally does come to pass, it is quite possible that he would resolutely want to be its messenger. Enjoy!
Curator : Mnam/Cci, B.Blistène