Articles

Meet the Ladies of the West Hamilton Koons Club

by John Seed on July 10, 2014

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I recently spoke by telephone with Amelia Landersen and Marilyn Upchurch-Devine, the president and recording secretary of the West Hamilton Koons Club. West Hamilton is a town of approximately 37,000 about 90 minutes from San Antonio, Texas, with a local economy that is largely supported by ranching and small petroleum-related service companies.

The Koons club, which Amelia and Marilyn co-founded three and a half years ago, currently has 21 members — all women — who meet on the first Thursday of each month in the Founder’s Hall of the West Hamilton United Methodist Church to discuss and celebrate the life and art of Jeff Koons.

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John Seed: Tell me ladies, how did you discover the art of Jeff Koons?

Amedia Landersen: There was a photo of him in Parade magazine one weekend, standing in front of his flower-covered puppy: he cleans up nicely!

Marilyn Upchurch-Devine: She called me right away. He was just so easy on the eyes!

JS: So, you liked Jeff’s appearance: was that all you liked?

AL: Hell no! I loved that flower-covered puppy: it made me feel the same way I felt as a girl of nine when my parents took us out to California to visit Disneyland and I saw the Mickey made of flowers on the lawn in front of the train station. All sweetness and light!

MU-D: Jeff is the new Walt Disney. I feel that in my heart.

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JS: So tell me how you got the club started.

AL: Well, Marilyn and I were the first members, but we put on a Jeff Koons party in the back room of the Olive Garden, invited all our friends and it took off from there.

MU-D: And you should have seen that party! We bought out all the pool toys from Billie’s Super Store, blew them up and spread them around the room, and I made, what: 300 balloon dog cookies. At each place setting I laid out a photo of Jeff framed in flowers and petals.

AL: People complain that Jeff’s art is super-expensive, but you can do a Koons theme for next to nothing: all you need is some mylar and some dollar store toys from China and BOOM you’ve got the centerpieces for a Koons party!

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JS: Once the club got rolling, what kinds of activities did you have?

MU-D: We wanted to have some fun learning about Jeff Koons, so we did scrapbooking. We would start the meeting by having one of our members read something an art critic had written about Jeff Koons, and we all took notes in our scrapbooks. We read Peter Schjeldahl, Dave Hickey, and John Yau.

JS: How did the ladies of West Hamilton like all that New York art writing?

MU-D: Well, understanding Peter Schjedahl isn’t easy — catching his meanings is like trying to bag flies — but we mostly figured it out. (laughter)

AL: Then, over coffee and donuts we would paste in photos of Jeff and his work that we had printed out from the internet. I did six collage pages just from Jeff’s show at Versailles.

JS: As you learned more about Koons and his work, did any of your feelings about him change?

AL: I just fell more and more in love with the man. We played the Art21 video of him at our June meeting two years ago and I was so impressed with his smoothness and sincerity: Jeff could talk the hide off a cow!

MU-D: Love that honey-sweet voice!

AL: We learned that Jeff employs a lot of people and that they are like family to him. Jeff is a family man through and through: did you know he and Justine have eight children between them? Jeff says they are his inspirations.

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JS: I understand that all of your club members are female. How did the men in your lives react to your sudden interest in Jeff Koons?

MU-D: My husband saw my Koons scrapbook and told me “this is all very airy-fairy.” But then when he saw the Made in Heaven series he warmed right up to Jeff.

JS: That brings up an interesting question: weren’t any of you offended by those photos when you first saw them?

MU-D: What: you think Texas ladies haven’t ever seen home bedroom photos before?

JS: So it doesn’t bother you that Jeff was once married to an Italian porn star?

AL:  Every young man is entitled to make a few mistakes: don’t get me started about my nephew Frank and that pole-dancing first wife of his … Besides, Ilona was hotter than a fur coat in Marfa.

MU-D: Hell, I’d do her! (Giggling)

JS: What are the members of your club doing right now?

AL: We have had a quilting project going since the New Year. Everyone is doing Jeff Koons themed quilts: I’m doing a Michael Jackson and Bubbles quilt with pool-toy lobster appliquéborders.

MU-D: I’m doing atufted “Split Rocker” quilt.

AL: Anyways, in August we are going to auction all of the quilts and the money will be divided in half.

MU-D: Fifty percent goes to the Ronald McDonald house in San Antonio and the other half is being put into a fund for one of our members to go to New York and see the big Koons retrospective at the Whitney. Whoever wins that raffle prize is going to be the envy of all West Hamilton.

AL: Don’t you dare win Marilyn! (laughter)

JS: Is there anything else you would like to tell my readers?

MU-D: Yes, don’t listen to all those critics who are getting all tied in knots writing about Jeff Koons: they are just jealous. They can go pound play-doh!

AL: Jerry Saltz says Jeff is “a hollowed-out Howdy Doody.” I think Jerry is out there where the buses don’t run.

MU-D: Anyways, Jeff Koons is here to bring joy into our lives. I don’t have any use for any other of those other “no smiles allowed” New York hipster phonies. Jeff is the only artist who gets it: art should be innocent and fun!

AL: Julian Schnabel can just go break his arm patting himself on the back as far as I’m concerned!

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Author’s Note: West Hamilton, Texas does not exist, and neither does Amelia or Marilyn. This post is satirical fiction.

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  • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

    Between the comment Jeff Koons is the new Walt Disney and Jerry is out where the buses don’t run, I would say this has to be the best interview I’ve read in months.

  • nonorientable

    Wow – these women are idiots – how do they not understand the pervasive irony and deep cynicism suffused throughout most of Koons’ work… Koons uses a veil of sincerity to shield his work from criticism – what kind of prig could hate a giant flower puppy or shiny balloon dog after all? Apparently many critics find his work so offensive that they’re willing to risk being considered deeply unfun – a testament to their dedication to the arts.

  • lilk

    it’s interesting that Koon’s is hardly ever read AS critique of capital. koon’s supposed “sincerity” is not a veil but rather the content one should come to appreciate in his work, the way he has become the total, hollow image that commodity culture demands. it is in this creepy perfection that we are able to see the grotesque affair that is our own prompted desires.

  • Adam Zucker

    The picture you’ve painted of white middle-aged, well to do, conservative Texas ladies trying to “decipher” Peter Schjedahl is brilliant! This is definitely one of the best Art Historical Fiction pieces I’ve read in a long time!

    • John Seed

      Thank you Adam! The idea for this blog came from a comment that the author Tom Wolfe made: he says that in terms of New York society the lowest rung of the social ladder is reserved for housewives. So, that sets up a really funny situation in terms of what would happen if you put the art and career of a hot-shot New York artist and cultural figure smack in front of a group of Texas club ladies. As you probably noticed they respond to Jeff by forming a group ( in New York it would have been a feminist collective ) by decorating for a party ( an installation ) and then making art ( the quilts ). They also manage by the end to become critics, and frankly I think they have it right about Julian Schnabel.

  • Apryl Miller

    John what a great piece of art writing! So funny! Airy-fairy!!!! Love it! Can we be best friends?

    • John Seed

      Of course!

  • Apryl Miller

    So, John, I must ask you, where did you see this quote from Tom Wolfe? And then, I must ask you, to please explain it. I was confused when I read it. What is the hierarchy of New York society? And of course we are speaking of the world Tom Wolfe knows and writes about. Are these the same housewives who run all the fundraisers and are on the charity circuits? Are they ladies without jobs? I’m just not sure what constitutes a NYC housewife. Please enlighten me, via Mr. Wolfe.

    • John Seed

      Hi Apryl, it probably isn’t a perfect recollection of his quote, but it came from a party scene in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” The basic idea is that in a high-society or high culture setting being a housewife is not looked up to. So, the humor of this piece was meant to derive from the idea that the kinds of women who would be looked down upon at a party in New York or the Hamptons ( or Art Basel ) fall in love with the work of a red-hot New York artist. Part of what I also wanted to write into this was something about the gaps between “red” and “blue” America.

      An interesting note: four days after I posted this it was announced that H&M is marketing a $49.95 Jeff Koons balloon dog handbag. Mr. Koons attended the product launch… and here is a quote: “Scott Rothkopf, the curator of Mr. Koons’ retrospective, echoed Mr. Weinberg. “People like to speak about Jeff’s market as being so high, but on the other hand he’s someone who’s enjoyed and admired by a very broad audience,” he said. “It’s a paradox in his work, but it’s part of
      what is interesting to me about what he does.”

      Don’t you think all of the fictional ladies in this club would want these?

      http://galleristny.com/2014/07/behold-the-final-word-on-koons-at-the-hm-launch-party-for-the-balloon-dog-handbag/

  • Apryl Miller

    Yes, John, I believe the ladies would covet them and they would find a way to buy mass quantities which they would then keep and later place them for sale on eBay, at inflated prices, masterfully adding to their Ronald McDonald house donation. For myself, I must say that I find Koon’s sincerity insincere.

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