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.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

27 replies on “Jeff Koons Offers Charlie Rose Art Enlightenment”

  1. “…I think injustice bothers me”

    I’m a little surprised that the creator of the world’s most expensive contemporary art work can say such a thing with a straight face. I’m sure the oligarch and hedge funder collectors share Jeff’s concern with “leveling”

    1. Your statement is way too naif, Koons is not responsible for how much his works sells for, nor, just like any other artist, he’s in control of who buys or sells his works. When we feel up gas or but anything at most stores, etc etc we are in many ways associated with oligarchs and hedge funders just as much Koons is to them.

      1. What you say is no doubt true, but I imagine that for most people, works such as the balloon dogs aptly summarize the staggering economic inequality of our age.

        Koons’ argument that his work is equalitarian is completely disingenuous when you look at the economic reality of his art. Notice how Koons dodges all of Rose’s questions about the economy of his art and his fame (at the 13.40 min mark for instance).

        Money shouldn’t dominate our conversations about art – but it would be far more naive to ignore its role and impact.

  2. Koons isn’t the problem, the system is. I’m so sick of this topic. His art isn’t any more or less vapid than every other more respected contemporary artists’, yet he’s the one so consensually hated, because he’s got the money to make some really big shit. I like a few of his works, don’t really love or follow him all that much, I’m just really put off by this obligation in the art world to hate him, and to break down everything he says about his work in an effort to expose his vapidity. Because he sounds like most artists I hear. I wish this hate would be channeled into developing an art discourse that more effectively communicates the importance of visual art in the first place.

    1. I hear you that he sounds like a lot of other artists, but those artists don’t get 55 minutes in which to air their views, unchallenged. When they do, it’s fair game. I do also hear you on the art discourse thing, but FWIW, here’s my view: I’m a writer. I wear many hats. I write a lot of reviews of—and do interviews, articles, etc. about—projects and artists that I think are doing wonderful, important work. And then sometimes I take time out to call out Koons’s (and others’) nonsense, because I think calling out the nonsense and BS is sometime just as important as upholding and encouraging the good stuff.

      1. While I agree with you, I sometimes wonder if calling out their BS is helping, or part of the problem.

        Would it perhaps be more beneficial to the art world at large to just ignore them entirely?

        1. But how on earth do we get the art world at large to ignore them? The Whitney just gave him an entire museum to fill!

      2. The criticisms of Koons as vapid, shallow, kitsch etc., may be true, but maybe that’s the point. It’s POP art! We live in a vapid, shallow, kitschy, bourgeoisie culture that Koons has simply tapped into, as did Warhol, Lichtenstein and others. If you are mad about his art, blame the cullture not the messenger. Granted, I’m not particularly into his work, bc I don’t like shiny, plastic culture, but most Americans (and for that matter, now, Europeans, Asians and just about everybody else too) do, and therefore, as a reflection of modern culture and taste, it is very successful.

    2. The “system” awarded him the entire Whitney Museum. Of course he couldn’t say no. But yes, Salome, it is more vapid than other artists’ work. As another writer put it (and I’m paraphrasing) : Koons seriously attempts to give deep meaning to Tchotchkes.

  3. Well, to be fair: the quotes Jillian uses are quite out of context; Koons discusses how his work fits into the dialog started by Duchamp with the readymade… he discusses wanting to make work that cannot be criticised… he discusses is drive to make art that is an experience.

    I just don’t get the white man hating, money bashing, Koons dismissals.

    The Rose interview is very slow getting started, and Koons (love or hate him) is definitely a spinner, but it’s not all that dismissable.

    1. I love ya, Cat, but I don’t think the quotes are out of context at all. I’m not bashing the money (here), and the white man thing only got to me when there were four of them, all wearing suits, all talking about how art makes them “happy.” But Koons is either a snake-oil salesman, oblivious to the rest of the world, or absurdly shallow.

      1. Love you too, Ms. Jillian!

        I would, though, encourage anyone who cares to be fair to view the Charlie Rose video and note that Koons does move past those showllow quotes above to do a pretty good job of placing his career in art historical context, showing his intellectual curiousity in his discussion of working with famous physicist, Richard Feinman (perhaps spelled incorrectly here but I’m in a rush), and speaking to the ideas of simplicity and “making art that cannot be criticised.” These are thoughtful and intelligent approaches to interpreting a long career.

        Koons is ABOUT surface. And w/out surface you get no depth.

  4. Koons sound like a boss or CEO who thinks his inspirational platitudes improve workplace morale at his very profitable company

  5. One other thing to note, in fairness: Rose is a softball tosser. The questions are really quite empty.

    Someone should try asking Koons why he doesn’t realize that it’s condescending to insist that the banality series is a defense of our cultural tastes.

    Or someone should ask Koons if he really fails to see the irony building “accessible” art out of million dollar materials.

    Now those would be good questions.

  6. Koons is just one of a few musicians and artists I’ve knowN or read about who PROJECT mystical feelings onto something they do. Rather than transcendence (where wanted and appropriate) arising from penetrating the work in progress, there’s a brain-short, similar to people who hear voices or have conversion experiences, and deep meaning is FELT.

  7. The next time “Jeff”, wants to “…get in touch with his “feelings”; Somebody, Please! Give him an Anesthetic…

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