“I couldn’t think of a better place to have a dialogue about art today and what it can be.”
Jeff Koons has been called the world’s most famous, controversial and subversive living artist, and in 2019 he’s coming to the world’s oldest public museum.
This major exhibition offers an exciting journey through a career that has pushed at the boundaries of contemporary art. From the moment he burst onto the scene with floating basket balls and ready-made objects to his recent re-working of classical statues and Old Master paintings, Jeff Koons has, at turns, delighted, shocked and intrigued his viewers.
Curated with Koons himself, the show features 17 major works, from the 1980s to today, 14 of which have never been to the UK before. They include some of his most well-known series such as Equilibrium, Banality, Antiquity and his recent Gazing Ball paintings and sculptures. In the galleries of the Ashmolean Museum, where the collections range from prehistory to the present, Jeff Koons’s work will be ‘in conversation’ with the history of art and ideas which has been his focus over the past four decades.
“In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, the world’s oldest public museum where the collections range from prehistory to the present, this exhibition will provoke a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages. I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it.”
-Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean
The Ashmolean exhibition will include important works from the 1980s with which Koons made his name through the novel use of the readymade and the appropriation of popular imagery: One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241 Series) (1985); Rabbit (1986); and Ushering in Banality (1988). It will also explore Koons’s more recent focus on the art of antiquity and the western art canon where layered images of ancient and modern art meet in Koons’s singular vision. Among the highlights will be the spectacular Balloon Venus (Magenta) (2008–12). While evoking the tiny Ice Age ‘Venus of Willendorf’, one of the world’s oldest works of art, Balloon Venus (Magenta) is made with Koons’s signature motifs: monumental scale; the inflated balloon with its intimations of transience and mortality; and the flawless mirror-polished surface which positions the viewer in the work. In his Antiquity paintings (2009 onwards) Koons creates thrilling, layered collages. Photo-realist reproductions of classical sculptures (of Venus, Pan and Priapus) are set against broken collages of other artworks or dazzling abstract backgrounds, overlaid with graffiti-like marks.
In more recent works, Koons has explored what he calls his ‘cultural DNA’, using sculptures and paintings from world-famous collections which have personal meaning for him. The Gazing Ball series (2012 onwards) positions perfectly blown reflective glass spheres on casts of ancient sculptures, meticulously painted replicas of European masterpieces, and museum-style plastercasts of mundane objects such as mailboxes and birdbaths. They continue Koons’s experiments with the remade ‘readymade’, the meeting of high art and the vernacular, while engaging in a new way with the art of the past. Shown in the UK for the first time will be seven works from the series including Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso) (2013), Gazing Ball (Gericault Raft of the Medusa) (2014–15), and Gazing Ball (Titian Diana and Actaeon) (2014–15).
Exhibition: Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean Dates: 7 February–9 June 2019 Venue: The John Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries Tickets: £12.25/£11.25 concessions; purchase at the museum or book online Publication: The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue; £20, available at the Ashmolean or online.