Give the devil his due. Jeff Koons may be the living embodiment of Herbert Marcuse's one-dimensional man, and a mean son-of-a-bitch to boot, but only Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso equal him among 20th century artists, and after seeing Koons' spectacular retro at C&M Arts, you may peg him numero uno.
Three security guards watch over these multimillion-dollar pieces, not just to prevent theft, but as one guard explained to us, "to prevent visitors from bumping into anything valuable." The always friendly C&M staff remarked that "it was quite a job to assemble all this material," and, indeed, all the usual subjects are well represented: especially Peter Brant and Anthony D'Offay.
The sheer psychological power of seeing iconic objects such as the Pink Panther, the bunny, the Hoovers, the basketballs and their new pal the lobster is at first overwhelming and upon a second visit, appropriately, banal. For Koons has always argued, pace Bellini, that beauty is the most banal thing of all, and, in this selection, he has proven it.
Mass production and industrialization have neutralized the uniqueness of everything around us. It is the brilliance of Koons that he has, from this sick truism, manufactured a set of desirable objects which repeatedly separate the rich from their millions.
And it is the key to deciphering the sour mystique of Koons' personality, or lack thereof. A sort of benign Hannibal Lecter or a more talented Mr. Ripley, Koons is as inert, unchanging, formally sterile, and unresponsive as his objects.
There is nothing self-reflective or introspective about man or object. What is is, or not is, for that matter; what's the difference? This is diametrically opposed to Duchamp, whose work and life were full of jokes, mystery and plenty of back story.
Koons' persona, history and work are as soulless as a $20 bill and thus a far more precious commodity, in this particular world and time. A hundred years from now they should be worthless junk, scorned for the derivation, the kitsch and the unpleasant man who didn't make them.
Only then will they, the "Bubbles," the pigs, the flowers, the toys, aspire to their true value, as reliquaries of the new Byzantium.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).