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June 25, 2014

A Sneak Peak Inside The Whitney’s Massive Jeff Koons Retrospective

After 54 years on Madison Avenue, The Whitney Museum is moving downtown, and making sure their final exhibition is as grand as their art mecca reputation. And no better way to show off as the biggest, brightest and best than with a show just as opulent: the first ever retrospective of the king of contemporary pop art himself, Jeff Koons.

_MG_4619Photography by Glenda Cortez

“Balloon Dog”, the golden “Michael Jackson with Bubble,”, the “Pink Panther”, those re-appropriated vacuums he showed at the New Museum once; all the iconic Koon’s work you’ve seen and heard of, all in one place. With four floors dedicated to artist’s massive (in every sense of the word) body of work, the Whitney has managed to pull off a chronological display (1978-present). Letting the energy build as the pieces grow, the viewer travels up the floors and forward in time, ending in an almost orgasmic crescendo of the largest, newest and mostly unseen sculptures.


At 59 years old, with a solid career for the last three decades, it seems strange that this would the first retrospective for Koons, one of the most well known, highest grossing, publicly recognizable living American artists. But big don’t always come easy, especially when you’re dealing with so much work, and so many delicate, large pieces. “There were huge logistical challenges” says curator Scott Rothkopf. “How do you get so many fragile objects that are so large into one place at one time, how you convince lenders to part with these works, how you put an object that weights more than the elevator can carry into the elevator; it’s a big challenge.” They had to finish building some of the works inside the space, and some pieces, like the big ball of play dough on the top floor, were only finished a day before the opening. It makes sense then that Rothkopf’s WILD Wish is just “to make it through the next three days,” and open to the public on Friday June 27th without any huge disasters.  It would be a undertaking for any museum, but for the Whitney, to celebrate it’s last exhibit in the space with a legend like Koons, it was worth the head (and back) ache.



When you explore the many realms of retrospective, from the hovering basketballs, to the intricate glass statues, to self portraits that looked ripped from a romance novel, it’s apparent there are things we never knew about Koons. His style is undoubtably grandiose, but seeing the variety in the collection through the years brings a subtly that is often lost when witnessing just one towering balloon creature or kitschy pop reference turned sculpture. “I really believe in art.” says Koons, “I believe in the transcendence. It taught me how to feel.”


As we reach the end of the exhibition it is apparent that here, the real stars are not the biggest or the brightest, but instead, it’s those small intricacies that offer us what we want to see most. A spec of empathy in the celebrity, a touch of honesty in the politician, a glint of humanity in the giant; Koons offers us a welcome and unexpected twist, that the man of grandeur and excess might actually be pretty down to earth.


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text by: Kate Messinger

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