Jeff Koons, Serpentine Gallery, London

A surprising note of anxiety underlies Jeff Koons's new show. He should relax: his ability to provoke is strong as ever

I'm looking at a splashy, white-framed painting called Moustache Lobsters, its background a scribbled cityscape, its picture plane overlaid with red toy lobsters and a cartoon moustache.

The label says Jeff Koons, although the work – all computerised doodles and saturated colour – looks more like a Gilbert & George. As I stare at it, a slight figure in a suit and tie slips in beside me. I take it for one of the Terrible Twins, but no – the figure is Koons himself, frowning at his work as though surprised to find it here; as if seeing it in the Serpentine Gallery has made him somehow fretful.

None of this is to suggest that Koons shares G&G's taste in art or tailoring, merely that there are moments in this show of his new work when it is easy to mistake the 54-year-old New Yorker for someone else. Moustaches in modern art conjure up Duchamp, who put one on the Mona Lisa. Dali, typically, went one better and gave the picture his own moustache; earlier, he had made a telephone out of a lobster. The cartoon dots in Koons' Popeye (2003) hint at Roy Lichtenstein, while his inflatable turtles and dolphins echo the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg. Splashy gestures in the Popeye series look like Abstract Expressionism. Over the whole project hovers the whey-faced shade of Andy Warhol, the man who added kitsch to the high-art ranks of portraiture, still life and history painting; who underlined the off-the-peg nature of his art by calling his studio a Factory; who pissed in our soup and then made us pay, handsomely, to drink it.

All of which is to say that the Koons at the Serpentine Gallery seems more complex than the Koons of old. In part, this is because we tend to see his works singly rather than in groups – the Hanging Heart in the hall of the Palazzo Grassi, say, or the busy-lizzie dog, known locally as el poopy, that guards the door to the Bilbao Guggenheim. To see a number of Koonses together is to see connections between them. Even so, individual works in this show lack the monolithic quality of pieces such as Cracked Egg (Blue) or Rabbit or Michael Jackson and Bubbles – works whose power lay in their simplicity; in asking vast questions about taste and markets and high and low art and then, shiny and amiable, in refusing to answer them.

If Moustache Lobsters is a complex case in point, then so are the more classically Koonsian works in this show. As its name suggests, Dolphin (2003) is the aluminium rendering of a blow-up dolphin, following in a line from inflatables such as Rabbit (1986). But next to Rabbit, Dolphin feels baroque: it is polychrome, and it hangs above one of those suspended pot-racks you find in trendy kitchens. Rabbit's mirrored surface reflected questions back at you – the more you asked of it, the more mute it became. By contrast, Dolphin begs to be read. Its juxtaposition of two unalike things – blow-up toys and saucepans – is like a clue in a cryptic crossword.

A solution that springs to mind is "consumption", the unvarying theme of Koons' art. Whether his subject has been blow-ups or blow jobs, he has always involved us in the act of consuming. His readymades have come from the trashy end of consumerism: cheap plastic toys, pound-store tchotchkes. That is still true, but there are more of them now – to every dolphin its saucepans, each walrus and caterpillar its chair or stepladder. The logs in a metallised kiddy pool, Dogpool, are actually logs. Where Koonses of 20 years ago were wonderfully, cleverly simple, these feel merely clever – as though, given time, we can figure out what the artist meant by juxtaposing moustaches with lobsters, or dolphins with pot racks. And they feel historicist.

I'd say as a result that, while Koons remains a fine artist, his new works lack the dumb majesty of the old. He has always been fascinated by the art market, and maybe it is market forces that have pushed him to change. Or perhaps, at 54, he has decided to court art history by buying it wholesale.

The young Koons once visited Dali in his Manhattan hotel room; in middle age, he has his own Factory in downtown New York. The irony, though, is that he doesn't need Dali or Warhol to make him look great; his own banal genius does that for him.

Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London