At the beginning of the period of lunacy that we otherwise referred to as December 2014, the Purrito and I went to see the Jeff Koons exhibit at Pompidou Centre (the Purrito was supposed to be working on a post entitled Pompidon’t (given that the hold period for the name has expired, I’m shamelessly appropriating it), which gives you some idea of our impression of this particular venue, and the experience was, shall we say, interesting.
From my superficial knowledge of the art world, it would seem that Koons is a polarizing figure; he seems to be reviled by the Art is Important crowd while being beloved by the people that actually shell out money for art (check the selling prices for some of his more recent pieces; I seem to recall reading that one of them set a record for most expensive piece by a living artist with a sale price that was in the neighborhood of $23 million). The Purrito has (jokingly) suggested that I begin compiling what is tentatively titled The Engineer’s Guide to Art, which would, at the moment, largely consist of me ranting about the atrocity that is impressionism (seriously guys, you ruined the still life), except for that Monet painting of turkeys, which is awesome, because it’s a huge, wall-eating painting of turkeys.
Terminating that particular tangent before we get too far off track, we return to Koons; I found myself grinning and giggling through the exhibit to the point that the Purrito pointedly asked me if I was indeed enjoying myself. I was; I can’t speak to artistic intent, but it seems to me (uh oh, just made a philosophical statement about authorial/artistic intent) that Koons is significantly more meta than the exhibit explanations gave him credit for, and instead, might be of the gleeful opinion that art is bullshit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wrap it in a cute bow and sell it to people.
The Koons exhibit itself, entertaining as it was, however, is not what has been gnawing at the back of my mind. The exhibit had what the Purrito has termed a “naughty room,” something that it had in common with both the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit that we saw over the summer and with the Sade: Attack the Sun exhibit that we saw a few weeks ago at Musee d’Orsay. In the case of the Jeff Koons exhibit, the “naughty room” was a mostly-enclosed room (a docent was stationed outside to prevent the too-young from entering) that featured four pieces from his Made in Heaven series, the center (and best shielded) piece being Ilona’s Asshole, which is a large scale photograph of his then-soon-to-be-wife’s shaved, bleached asshole (she was, at the time, an Italian porn actress). Oh, and, his dick in her cooch. The Mapplethorpe exhibit’s room had a collection of his more borderline-pornographic photography, and was anchored by his somewhat infamous self-portrait (Mapplethorpe from the rear holding a bullwhip adjacent to his asshole). I can’t actually remember what made up the Sade exhibit’s naughty room, but I remembered wondering how those pieces in particular were materially “worse” than the rest of the exhibit (which featured some of the best romantic painters’ most violent, sexual, depictions of sex and death and war.
I find myself wondering: will we ever be so freely exposed to ideas again? As it’s my argument, I’m going to pre-empt the obvious “do we need to see this,” “it’s filth,” “think of the children,” “it’s obscene,” “what about jesus.” I don’t feel the need to entertain bullshit. That said, neither of us can think of an exhibit in the States that has ever had one of these rooms. I find myself wondering if exhibits with what I can only describe as non-puritanical content come to the coasts, as they certainly don’t come to Texas; as I wrote the initial draft of this post, one of the headline articles on the Houston Chronicle website was Scandalous Elf on the Shelf Pictures (just to be clear, the article itself was uncomfortably lacking in the irony department). The Chron is a terrible paper, particularly for a city of Houston’s size, with vapid content (and it’s written below the typical 8th grade reading level that used to be the standard for newspapers), but it’s representative of the city to which we return, which is why I’m asking the question: will we ever be happy in Houston again? Will we really be able to simply return and settle back in to the banal routine that is life in flyover country?