A predictable pan of Jeff Koons porn paintings at Luxembourg and Dayan by Roberta Smith shows up in The Times today. The early nineties series no critic seems to like, Made in Heaven, features Koons in pre-fucking, mid-fucking, and post-fucking stages with his then-wife, Italian porn star and politician Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Smith’s complaints: The inkjet prints are repellent, Cicciolina’s outfits are generic, the paintings might not be art, but rather documents, because no sex actually occurred, and no transformation of materials or of the viewer occurs.
Whatever you think about the paintings themselves, the rationale above mostly reveals an unwillingness to engage in the work itself due to a dislike for the source material. Arguably Koon’s Michael Jackson Bubbles doesn’t transform its source either, but fewer people complain about that, because it’s socially acceptable to gawk at Jackson. Fewer still take issue with the Jeff Koons puppy, an Edward Scissorhands tour de force of gardening and flowers, a piece also laudingly noted by Smith.
The piece came up as a result of a 1980 lightbox portrait of Koons as a child also displayed in the gallery titled “The New Jeff Koons”. “The contrast between the unspoiled child and the knowing, even jaded adult of the sex pictures is extreme, and yet even more disturbing is the notion that they are not all that far apart.” writes Smith, “The innocence of the child is replaced by the cluelessness of the man, one who confuses posing and empty exhibitionism with emotional vulnerability.” This line of thinking eventually leads her to tepidly conclude that Koons “perhaps” makes a better child than an adult.
This might be a reasonable conclusion if the only work Koons ever produced were porn and embiggened toys, but that’s not the case. Koons’ Luxury and Degradation series drawn from subway advertisements in the 80’s made very poignant social commentary as a call for underprivileged workers to “hold on to their economic and political chips“. As it happens many of these works were printed on canvas, pointing to a factual inaccuracy in Smith’s review. The critic claims “Made in Heaven” was his first attempt at painting and a failed one at that.
I suspect I’m one of only one or two critics in the city that like Koons “Made in Heaven” series, but so be it. Koons attention to detail is incredible. Granted his glass works offer a much more powerful interpretation of porno products — only one is included in the show, and it’s no sci-fi porno power crystal — but a fair number of the paintings are worth a second look. The badly painted waves behind Koons and Cicciolina in Fingers Between Legs and Cicciolina’s perfectly manicured hands, the Lord of the Rings type landscapes, and the butterfly winged beds; each strange enough to be interesting. Occasionally they even manage to be a turn on (NSFW).