Opinion

The Augmented Banality of Jeff Koons Sculptures in Snapchat

The new “Jeff Koons Lens” allows Snapchat users to find augmented reality versions of Koons’s shiny sculptures in parks around the world.

Screenshots of the Koons Lens in action (image courtesy Snapchat)

Jeff Koons in reality is enough; Jeff Koons in virtual reality is excessive. And now, thanks to Snapchat, we have Jeff Koons in augmented reality, which really sounds like the most unnecessary experience ever. Also, definitely the least exciting.

So it’s apt that works from the artist’s Banality series were chosen to launch the social media app’s new AR art project, art.snapchat.com, which allows users to interact with art around the world in a seriously underwhelming way. Koons’s world-famous balloon dogs are among nine sculptures of which Snapchat has created virtual representations, then digitally “installed” in nine major parks and landmarks across cities from Chicago to Sydney.

Starting today, Snapchat users within 300 meters (~1,000 feet) of these sites will see options to activate the “Jeff Koons Lens,” and then follow an on-screen guide that will lead them to the AR version of a sculpture. It’s an extension of the social media platform’s collection of Lenses — which already includes animated filters like dog ears and flower crowns that fit your face  — except, you know, #art. Basically, Snapchat has created a treasure hunt where the gold you’re searching for is a shiny image of a Koons, standing about three stories tall, that you can snap a selfie with.

The promotional video below shows the new feature in action, and includes sunny scenes of young cyborgs roaming around a park as they hold up their smartphone at arm’s length to stare at the screen.

“Hundreds of people can be doing this at one time,” Koons exclaims in the video. “Thousands! And to think that we’re going to be able to place these in major cities throughout the world. It could be England, it could be France. It could be on the moon.” Sounds like that nightmare summer of Pokemon Go, except the people who bumped into you were on missions more worthy.

Aside from two balloon dogs, other sculptures of Koons’s included in the launch are “Rabbit,” “Popeye,” and “Play-Doh.” Each will remain at a park for a few weeks before traveling to new locations, and Snapchat will also be adding additional artists to the lineup.

Koons is the most obvious artist for a tech company to choose to premier a worldwide campaign (blue-chip, crowd-pleasing, and, most importantly, perfect for selfies), but Snapchat at least seems to want to eventually include others who actually need this kind of publicity. A button at the top of the project’s website welcomes artists to submit a link to their portfolio for Snapchat to consider and potentially feature on the app. The possibility for emerging artists to gain more exposure to the platform’s millions of users is the initiative’s only saving grace.

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