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

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

Recruitment Genius: IT Installation / Commissioning Engineer - North West

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence