Jeff Koons was on last night’s edition of The Colbert Report to discuss his involvement with Studio in a School, a New York program that brings professional artists to teach art to underserved schools.

While Koons had the chance to plug the organization, Colbert also asked about his infamous balloon dog. Koons explained that it is a trojan horse of sorts, elaborating that “there’s information inside.” Colbert went on to ask why many of the artist’s works are shiny, and Koons suggested that they were about “affirmation,” which means, he said, “to affirm the viewer.”

About his art objects, Koons offered this:

“The art happens inside the viewer. The art isn’t in the object. If you go to a museum and you look at a Van Gogh or you look at a Picasso or you look at a piece like this, the art is not there. The art happens inside you the viewer, and the art is your own sense of your own potential as a person. That’s where the art is. These are just kind of like transponders and they trigger that information within you.”

Like all art, I guess that’s subjective. The explanation generally comes off as a type of pseudo-spiritual gibberish, though I can’t help but sense a tad of Ayn Rand in the notion of personal potential. During the recent financial crisis, there were many discussions about Ayn Rand and her flawed ideas, but that’s far too large a discussion for this blog post.

The question is the “affirmation” of the viewer a good thing? I vote no in this case.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

9 replies on “Jeff Koons’ Pseudo-Spiritual Explanation of Art on Colbert Nation”

  1. I’m surprised to see Ayn Rand’s name pop up in response to Koons, but he does shy away from talking about art / himself in purely “pop” terms. In 2005 he did a lecture at MICA about his work. He was often referencing more from Renaissance masters and Dali in his own work than the ironic objects he was painting or sculpting.

    1. i saw him at mica this year and he talked a lot about empowering the viewer. i asked him how do you reconcile the fact that some people might feel disempowered–or shut out–by your art, and he kind of sidestepped the question, talked about the media’s role in influencing people’s ideas of art. not that he needed to answer any other way but i did sense the question might have made him a bit uncomfortable.

      1. His “the art isn’t in the object” explanation is a very… Art as
        Experience/Art as Language type of answer, and I get that this would not
        really resonate with the non-art population. I think it’s a difficult line to walk, making Pop art that draws on and reflects contemporary culture that “affirms” the viewer without disempowering some and still having a semblance of depth or intention.

        1. Is it just me, or does the “art isn’t the object but the experience” explanation ring particularly false when his objects costs so damn much? And when he sued a design firm over balloon dogs bookends?

  2. Thanks for posting this- Jeff Koons sounds so disconnected from the “non-artist” population in almost the way Mitt Romney sounds disconnected from non-rich people. I think the program he’s involved with is great, but this is the kind of art speak that gives art a bad name.

  3. One thing we do as humans is attribute meaning to everything. What I’m
    hearing here is that the viewer brings his whole life experience to bear
    on his experience of the work. Koons makes the joke that that is why is
    art is shiny. The viewer is part of the work. No viewer, no beauty, no art.

  4. Yeah..I have agree with the other posters and Vartanian. Affirming the viewer can be good, but it feels awfully disingenuous here. The one thing I love about this video is that Colbert makes the whole interview so immensely awkward…he actually gets Koons to defend that he “can draw” when Koons could have easily used that as a chance to elaborate on the value of the program and affirm the student’s gift/opportunity.

  5. I think its great he is at least trying to engage with people that might not get his art, rather than to field away questions with sarcasm.

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