“Suddenly, The Koons Is Me.”

posted in: Art 0
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons, 1988. Photo: Mary Fons
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons, 1988. Photo: Mary Fons

Yuri and I went to the Whitney Museum yesterday for the Jeff Koons retrospective. We loved every second of it. If you are in New York now or will be between now and October 29th, I urge you to see the exhibit yourself.

Maybe don’t take your kids if they’re under thirteen or fourteen. There are a few moment of technicolor nudity writ real large in the show and that could be disturbing for a kid, I suppose (probably more so for the adult who has to answer the inevitable questions, e.g., “Why are that man and that woman stuck together like that, Mommy? Is she crying?”, etc.) But there’s so much that a child would absolutely go nuts for, though — the giant pile of clay, the inflatables, etc. — it’s painful to actively dissuade families. Maybe just skip the fourth floor of the show where all the porny stuff is?

Here’s what the Whitney says about Koons:

Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era. Throughout his career, he has pioneered new approaches to the readymade, tested the boundaries between advanced art and mass culture, challenged the limits of industrial fabrication, and transformed the relationship of artists to the cult of celebrity and the global market. 

That means he’s really cool, he’s super smart, and his art is very, very expensive. A lot of people cannot stand Jeff Koons (or his art) for those very reasons. Koons haters have long hauled out the tired, meaningless, “That’s not art,” defense, or — worse because it’s incorrect — they’ll sniff, “I could do that.” You couldn’t. Neither could I. You could make your art. And I could make my art. But Jeff Koons’s yacht-sized balloon dog (or the glorious, exuberant, first version of “Puppy,” made of 20,000 live flowers, which wasn’t at the show because it was an installation in a castle in Germany in 1992) is his art and I, for one, think it’s marvelous.

The “readymade” that they reference in the Whitney bit is the Warhol thing of taking a box of Brillo pads, for example, and putting it literally on a pedestal and saying, “This is art.” Now, Warhol got that from Marcel Duchamp, who did it first: Duchamp was a koo-koo-krazy Dadaist who put a ceramic urinal on a pedestal, signed it “R. Mutt,” and sat back to see what the art world would do. That was in 1917 and art has not been the same since. Plenty of folks (then and now) wished art would go back to nice, simple paintings, but that is silly because there has always been transgressive art. Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, Manet’s Olympia — today, these paintings are downright tame (albeit beautiful and kinda creepy in their respective ways) but when they were unveiled, they were not. People lost their minds and said the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Under the sun, there is nothing new for us. You do get that, right? I am reminded all the time.

If you want nice simple paintings, you can get them. Boy, can you get them. But for those who want their art to reflect back the world as it truly feels — fractured, splintered, beautiful, hilarious, ridiculous, frightening, etc. — we need our Koonses, our Duchamps, and our Warhols for sure. The Koons exhibit reminded me that the world is all of the things I think it is, but more, so much more than that as well: more frightening, more beautiful, more unknowable. It did precisely what art is supposed to do.

And you know, boobs and plastic and stuff.

**Editor’s Note: The title of this post is a line from a Lady Gaga song. Gaga’s latest album, “ARTPOP”, features cover art by Jeff Koons. I have listened to that album so many times, my iTunes is like, “Oh for heaven’s sake… REALLY?? AGAIN with the Gaga???”

Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

posted in: Family, Food, Word Nerd 10
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Incidentally, this piece lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum and I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.

My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, auntie.

It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a sub-optimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.

We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.

Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.

I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:

estranged |iˈstrānjd|
adjective
(of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.

My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.

“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.

“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.

My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.

“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”

I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”

I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.

I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.

Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.

I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.