Jeff Koons: The Painter and the Sculptor, Liebieghaus and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt

Jeff Koons's kohl-eyed Michael Jackson is at home among the pharaohs in a double bill that shows a magpie artist at his best

Kitsch is a German word and so is Koons, an anglicisation of Kuntz or Koentz, the artist being of Pennsylvania Dutch stock. So the fact that Jeff Koons's biggest ever exhibition – an encyclopaedic two-parter, covering his 30-year careers as sculptor and painter – should be in Frankfurt rather than Los Angeles seems doubly appropriate.

Apt, too, as the city is the centre of German money-making, and money has always been Koons's special subject. You'll know his work, of course – the 40-foot West Highland Terrier, covered in flowers and nicknamed El Poopy, outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao; the eye-wateringly graphic images of the artist pleasuring his now ex-wife, the porn star Ilona Staller; Michael Jackson and Bubbles. This last, in life-size porcelain with a great deal of gilt, is in the first room of Koons's sculpture show at the venerable Frankfurt Liebieghaus.

The Liebieghaus is an historical museum, and the Koons show, dotted through its permanent collection, was curated by an archaeologist with an interest in Greek polychromy. Michael Jackson ... is in a gallery of Egyptian funerary sculpture. Placing a cat among dogs will not make it a dog; indeed, it may put the cat at a disadvantage. Seeing Koons in this context is clearly meant to suggest some continuum between his work and Dynastic tomb art. But does it?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, and in a number of ways. For all its kitsch, Michael Jackson and Bubbles understands the age-old link between money and immortality. Koons did not invent Jackson's taste: Jackson did that for himself. What Koons did was to monumentalise it by blowing it up out of scale – what is now a life-size sculpture started life as a trinket – and bring to it production values of a kind normally associated with Hollywood films. As with Pharonic sarcophagi, fame translates into expense, and expense into life after death.

Michael Jackson ... was made in 1988, two decades before the singer's demise. Yet seeing his kohled eyes among those inscribed on Late Period mummy cases tells us less about Jackson (or even Koons) than it does about the undying urge to defy death through art.

This likeness could be nothing more than coincidence, but it isn't. As you wander through the Liebieghaus's chronological display, Koons's sculptures become more and more difficult to tell apart from the museum's. His Louis XIV (1980), and Lorenzo Ottoni's Bust of Pope Alexander VIII (circa 1700), shown beside each other, could easily be of the same date. That is a specific resemblance, a likeness Koons means us to see. Much more compelling are the generic echoes of history in his work, spotted by the Liebieghaus's curator.

Thus the show's second room sets Koons's Sling Hook – a pair of Oldenburg-y soft sculptures of an inflatable dolphin and lobster in aluminium – alongside a group of Hellenistic marble muses from the 1st century BC. Sling Hook may lift the lilos from low art to high, but Koons has insisted that every flaw and crinkle in the cheap plastic originals be reproduced in his expensive finished product. That same playing-off of the impulse to perfect and a love of imperfection is there, too, in the headless Greek forms, whose marble drapery was carved to include the creases that come of being folded in a linen chest.

All this might suggest intelligent curating rather than an intelligent artist. Koons is clever, though, perhaps even brilliant. He may play the hick American, the lover of sweetcorn, soft porn, Lurex, Hanna-Barbera, plastic flowers, gilt, Franklin Mint and the colour pink. But the historicist echoes in his works are not there by accident, nor are they just there to show off.

Over at the Schirn Kunsthalle, this intelligence is spelled out in his paintings. Seen away from LA, the seriousness of these becomes clear. Koons's skill lies in his eye for kinships, between the shininess of gold, gold Spandex and glacé cherries, between the commercial artwork of 1980s booze ads and high art, the breasts of the Hellenistic sculpture in Antiquity 1 and those of the models in Triple Elvis. The title of this last is borrowed from Warhol, Koons's magpie eye alighting on the glittering things. There are references to Roy Lichtenstein and Pierre et Gilles, to gestural abstraction, Ed Ruscha, Claes Oldenburg and, naturally, to Jeff Koons. But his use of the antique is most like Picasso's. Born of a time when everything is recorded and nothing forgotten, when high and low art are relative terms, Koons's is an aesthetic of too-much. Everything is on his canvases, layered and overlayered until you want to shout, "Stop!" But he doesn't stop, thank God.

To 23 Sep (www.koons-in-frankfurt.de)

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?