Chris Maume: 'Jeff Koons's Popeye series is fabulously exuberant. Rothko it ain't'

Tales of the City

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
Share
Related Topics

While we have Damien Hirst, Americans have Jeff Koons – artists united in dividing public and critical opinion. Koons' reputation is as King of Kitsch, Boss of the Banal, Sultan of Superficial. We tend to be suspicious when fun enters the art equation.

I took the family to see Koons's Popeye Series show at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, a trompe-l'oeil spectacular. Painted aluminium casts of inflatable toys – lobsters, monkeys, walrus and caterpillar beach floats – are juxtaposed and intertwined with everyday objects like chairs and ladders, while on the walls hang fabulously exuberant paintings based on the eponymous spinach-muncher. Rothko it ain't. There was clearly no one plumbing their depths of their soul; no tears, no expressions of transcendence.

That's not to say no one was moved. "Wow!" was the most frequently heard word, and my four-year-old daughter looked round, wide-eyed. "I have to be an artist when I'm older," she gasped. The only negative response was to one painting, Elvis, a double image of a nude blonde, which attracted the ire of my 15-year-old stepdaughter, who's a born-again Christian: "It makes me laugh," she snorted. "The men are looking at it as if it's some piece of art. It's disgusting. We're supposed to be covered up."

"If only Adam and Eve hadn't eaten that apple..." I said. She smiled through gritted teeth. I was tempted to show her Koons's Made in Heaven series on his website when we got home, the pieces based on his rumpy-pumpy sessions with his then-wife, the porn star La Cicciolina. Apart from Elvis she'd loved his stuff, though, so I refrained.

Even before we knew the pieces were painted aluminium (they really are staggeringly lifelike), there was the almost irresistible urge to touch – the 15-year-old failed to resist, the four-year-old slapped her hand – and beside each piece a black-clad young thing hovered anxiously. All very different from the recent Tate Modern exhibit, a revival of Robert Morris's 1971 installation Bodyspacemotionthings, which was all about physical interaction – an obstacle course of see-saws, ramps, and tightropes. When it first opened there was pandemonium, apparently – "people became very over-exuberant," according to the current Tate curator Kathy Noble, who reinstalled it this time round. Hands-on it certainly was, and though no one went as bonkers as in 1971 (men were seen swinging weights on chains around their heads), 23 came a cropper despite the inevitable raft of Health and Safety measures: cuts, banged heads, rope burns and bruised ribs were the order of the day. Mind you, it doesn't take an obstacle course to cause injuries: two years ago during the Shibboleth 2007 run, 15 people fell into Doris Salcedo's crack in the floor of the Turbine Hall. None were blind, as far as I know, but all of them, I'm forced to conclude, were stupid.

Koons says there are no hidden meanings in his art. At the other end of the spectrum there's art that's freighted with meaning – art that wouldn't exist but for the cause it's pushing.

When we left the Serpentine, we were assailed by the noise from what sounded like a Slipknot gig across the park. Drawn towards it, we realised that there was a protest in progress – except that the distorted war cry blasting through the loud-hailer seemed to be "We want sausages!"

We never did find out what the cry actually was, but closer inspection revealed that it was part of a demo across the road from the Iranian embassy – and on the railings hung a different kind of art, a million miles from Koons's feelgood paeans to positive thinking. The only similarity was that there were no hidden meanings in the collages of bloody images from the Tehran protests and scrawled paintings depicting the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni as Satan: this is art as weaponry.

The protestors roared and danced, but on their faces the expressions were desperate. "I'm not happy about this," the four-year-old fumed when we'd explained about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the "stolen" election. "I'm going to write to that man saying, 'I'm not giving you any of my money unless you stop what you're doing'. I'll write it in big letters so he knows I'm shouting." That'll do the trick.



John Walsh is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing