Christie’s in NY is gearing up to auction Jeff Koons’ 12-foot-tall steel Balloon Dog (Orange), valuing it as high as $55 million.
This warrants discussion.
“Balloon Dog” mirrors those long balloons you twist into toy animals for toddlers’ birthday parties and they typify Koons’ work. He duplicates banal objects.
Well, he doesn’t actually do the duplicating himself. He has staff for that. He (they) also duplicate(s) the duplicates. The Balloon Dog is but one of five. (Note: check out the slide show of one-of-a-kind, original sculptures by artists far less known than Koons).
Yet, Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of Christie's Post-War & Contemporary Art, calls the Balloon Dog to be auctioned “a definitive icon of the 20th century…the ultimate masterpiece… (that) transforms a collection to an unparalleled level of greatness."
Koons thinks about his work in grandiose terms, too: “I think the balloon dog is really a symbol like the Trojan horse—something kind of mythic, and an aspect of a history.”
Significance is Koons goal, you see, not fame. To hear him tell it, "There’s a difference between being famous and being significant. I’m interested in significance, anything that can enrich our lives and make them vaster...I’m really not interested in the idea of fame for fame’s sake."
This from a man known for hiring an image consultant.
Some critics seem to have swallowed Koons’ twaddle whole: Jerry Saltz, art critic for New York Magazine, exulted over Balloon Dog this way: “It’s so perfect it exists in some undisturbed eternal state. Call it the reflective sublime.”
Running counter to that kind of beatification is an assessment from the late critic Robert Hughes: “Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him.”
Hughes classed Koons just a smidgeon above Seward Johnson (famed for multiple re-iterations of his 25-foot knock-off of Albert Eisenstaedt’s famed photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse on V–J day in Times Square). Hughes compared their careers to "debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement."
Enough said, except maybe some pats on the back for all image consultants near and far.