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a royal flush special
jeff koons' celebration

by Charlie Finch


Koons' tool rack.



Jeff Koons



A work from
"Celebration."




More "Celebration."



Donkey detail



Paint samples
for the assistants.




More "Celebration."



More "Celebration."



Working model for
Balloon Dog
1996
   Jeff Koons' studio at 600 Broadway (right below Kostabi World!) is full of more high quality tools than Santa's workshop.

It's easy to see how Jeffrey Deitch could have theoretically blown millions stocking these eight giant rooms with bric-a-brac. Modest prints of Koonsy klassics like Michael Jackson and Bubbles forlornly decorate the Koons front office, like so many pictures of old girlfriends.

Actual toys are stacked a little too neatly on shelves as "inspiration." Saddest of all are the two snapshots of Koons' son Ludwig Maximillian, age six, taped on a corner wall where only Jeff can spot `em.

Koons protests that he's not prepared to make a speech about his current work, collectively called "Celebration," but no insurance adjuster ever had a quicker grasp of statistics than Koonsy. He knows that his giant puppy in Bilbao weighs 88 tons, holds 60,000 flowers on its stainless steel mesh, and has 114 separate irrigation systems running through it.

He's on top of the massive output from the long-awaited "Celebration" series -- looking out the window, Koons happily points out a truck. "It's full of 21 paintings going to Los Angeles for Eli Broad's show," Koons chirps, like Darren Stevens clinching a new ad campaign. The Koons exhibition is to go on view at the private Broad Foundation in conjunction with the grand opening of the Getty Center in Malibu next week.

The Koons kampaign involves bypassing conventional gallery shows, placing the work in far-flung museum environments and then bringing the stuff directly to auction. The unprecedented Sotheby's - Deitch - Guggenheim partnership that appears to be designed to bring this off seems as internally intricate and sturdy as Puppy is described to be.

What about the critics? If anyone still cares what they think, they may trash much of "Celebration," particularly the paintings. The flat realism of Jeff's giant toy pictures is straight out of `60s Super-Realist Ralph Goings. In this style, Koons-cum-assistants are most effective at their most minimal in two paintings of a young girl's costume jewelry and a super poignant child's place-setting for a party.

The sad theme here is definitely the absence of a child. With young Ludwig in Europe, it's as if Jeff has built a giant playpen to draw the boy back, the way a weekend father buys his kid the most expensive toy.

More complex paintings, including a Lincoln Log cabin and a Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey, are less successful, cheap knock-offs of the movie Toy Story. This is what you get when you're creatively reliant on studio assistants. I'm sure Kostabi has the same problems upstairs.

Scattered around the studio as "evidence" of Koons' tactile involvement are small piles of Play-Doh, shaped like colored odorless dog shit. The huge, unfinished white plasticene model for the sculpture based on these mounds looms in front of us. "There are 27 separate Play-Doh slabs comprising this piece," Koons komments, "and their arrangement is very intricate."

One has an uneasy feeling that this piece is really about Koons' desperate yearning to toilet-train his kid. Most of the other models for the sculpture are out in California at the foundry. He's casting Oldenburg-scale sculptures in the shiniest chromium steel of things like a piece of popcorn, his trademark balloon dog, a Haringesque stick figure, a teepee and a giant kitten. Each sculpture will be in four versions, finished with a different transparent color coating -- one red, one blue, one green and one yellow.

While Jeff is perfectly nice, bordering on the goofy, and loves to chat about the complexities of his little factory, one can't escape his fundamental lack of soul. Koons is a reverse chameleon, whose colors flee into the objects around him, leaving him pale and bare.

He's not so much a kid who never grew up as a kid who never had the chance to live like one, and now must elaborately fake it from hunger. You wouldn't want to be inside his skin.

CHARLIE FINCH is the New York editor of Coagula Art Journal and has coauthored the forthcoming Most Art Sucks from Smart Art Press .