Opinion

Jeff Koons Offers Charlie Rose Art Enlightenment

Jeff Koons and Charlie Rose (screenshot via Hulu)
Jeff Koons and Charlie Rose (screenshot via Hulu)

When last we visited Charlie Rose, he was baffling Richard Serra by asking the artist hypothetical questions about being himself. Last night Rose had another Monumental Male Artist on the show, Jeff Koons — because, as Rose says, Koons is “having a moment.”

So much of a moment that Rose devotes his entire program to Koons. A full-museum retrospective merits nothing so much as a full 55 minutes to talk about it (by contrast, Serra got only 30). And talk about it they do! For a pretty much the entire second half of the program, Rose shows images of works in the show and Koons elaborates on them. But along the way, we are first made to become students in the Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™.

The Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™ begins with feelings, like the ones that Koons says he experiences when he listens to Led Zeppelin (the music played during a brief introductory look at the Whitney Museum show):

Koons: I love Led Zeppelin, Charlie. I always like the way they make me, ah, feel, like I come into contact with my feelings 

The school is about achieving success and succeeding at what you do, but still wanting deeply to do something — not just anything, mind you, but something:

Koons: Yes, it’s a tremendous platform, but at the same time, I wanna do something. I really wanna do something.

Rose: It’s not about being huge, it’s about doing something.

One of the central tenets of the Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™ is that in the process of working up to doing something, you seek enlightenment. And when you find that enlightenment, you try to share it with others by making big, expensive art:

Koons: There’s a point where you take on a moral responsibility to your community. I mean, I’ve already learned how to feel sensation myself, and feel transcendence in my life. And automatically then you want to share that.

It’s important that this art be extremely accessible, though, because people are perfect, and your art should never make them believe anything but:

Koons: When this “Kiepenkerl” became such a failure, it freed me because I realized that it was just metaphor, and what I really cared about was people. I cared about the viewer. And they were the readymade. And people, it’s about their flaws, their perfections, that they’re perfect. … So I made “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” I made all these works that tried to communicate very clearly to people that their own cultural history was perfect.

The Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™ is not only for things, though; naturally, there are things the school does not abide:

Rose: Does anything bother you?

Koons: Um … well, I would say stagnation, you know, bothers me. I think injustice bothers me, you know? I do think that I’ve been involved with the work that’s very much about kind of leveling, I’ve tried to make art accessible for people.

And lest you think everything in the Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™ is metaphysical, fear not: the school is concerned with making a tangible impact on people’s lives. Call it job creation.

Koons: I’m able to affect the lives of a lot of people — I work with hundreds of people. I mean, I’m not just working alone in a room, you know, I have 130 people at my studio, there’s another hundred-and-something people that work at the foundry in Germany, and other companies I work with … So I’m really, I’m affecting the lives of a lot of people.

As for how you should overcome obstacles, like negative reviews or dark periods in your life, the Jeff Koons School of Enlightenment™ says:

 Koons: I go on. I just go on.

Indeed, those who manage to go on for 50 minutes of Charlie Rose encouraging Jeff Koons to humblebrag will be rewarded with a priceless clip from 60 Minutes. Brought in by Rose as an example of how Koons “has influenced the culture,” the clip shows 60 Minutes host Morley Safer (notorious for his dislike of contemporary art) walking around and looking at Koons’s art with collector Eli Broad and Koons himself. Safer asks Broad what Koons’s balloon dog does to him, and Broad responds, “It makes me smile. It makes me feel good.”

Tune in next week, when we’ll be launching our new feature: White Men in Suits Talking About How Art Makes Them Happy.

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