In Pursuit of Perfection: A Koons Retrospective

“My work has always pursued perfection, which is unachievable; nevertheless, it has continued in its tragic quest,” said the artist Jeff Koons in 1987.

Koons’ quest for perfection is controversial. Images that come to mind include a gold-clad Michael Jackson clutching his pet monkey Bubbles, naked sculptures of Koons and his porn-star ex-wife entwined in bed, and three plump, rosy-cheeked children ushering a giant pig into ‘banality.’ Whether or not you like Koons’ provocative work it is impossible to deny its influence on contemporary art.

A newly released art book Jeff Koons (Hatje Cantz) helps contextualize his development as an artist by focusing on three of his most critical bodies of work. “The New” (1980–87), features his vacuum cleaner works illuminated by cylindrical light bulbs, inside custom Plexiglas cases. Of these works Koons said, “objects can achieve such ultimate states-of-being, while we humans cannot: we have to deteriorate. This confrontation shows the threatening aspect of the object, the power it has over us, because in many ways it is stronger and better prepared to survive.”

During the transition into his second phase, “Banality” (1988), Koons became increasingly aware of the communicative relationship between the audience and each piece, “earlier in the 80s, I always looked at my responsibility to objects, and then I realized in the mid ’80s that my real interest was in the viewer, in the individual.”  “Banality” features his iconic painted ceramic and wooden sculptural works such as Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988) and Pink Panther (1988) in which a smiling, topless blonde embraces a rather droll Pink Panther.

The third section, Celebration (ongoing since 1994), examines Koons’s stainless steel sculptures and hyper-real paintings such as Balloon Dog (1994) and Celebration (1994). Koons’s works inevitably throw their weight around—their dazzling glossiness demands our attention, implying, perhaps, that the ongoing quest for perfection lays in the irreverent realm of creating iconic, archetypal forms.