“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???”

Grace Coolidge, Raccoon Whisperer (or: On Not Being One Kind of Blog)

posted in: Art, Work 16
Grace, with raccoon, 1927.
Grace with raccoon, Easter Day, 1927.


That photograph is of First Lady Grace Coolidge with Rebecca, her pet raccoon. My younger sister’s name is Rebecca. Though there are zero Rebeccas in Fons or Graham family history, I am confident my little sister was not named after a White House raccoon. There was no Internet when she was born, for one thing. Did my parents even know about the Coolidge raccoon? Without the Internet, how did they know anything? How did they even know the name Rebecca? The mind reels.*

I don’t know if it shows, but I spend an inordinate amount of my day

1) panicking about the certain-if-not-imminent collapse of America (it’ll be because of the banks)
2) thinking about PaperGirl and its continuity, quality, etc.
3) in search of lost time

That second thing is the most surmountable here, so let’s mount. The goal for me with the ol’ PG is to never let it be about one thing. Life is not about one thing, after all. There’s a lure of making a blog about one thing. A “Mommy” blog can be marketed as such, same as “Foodie” blogs. You can’t blame a person for wanting to have a niche and stick to it. A blog that is about one thing has an easy elevator speech. Let’s listen in on a conversation between a food blogger (“FOOD BLOGGER”) and an advertising executive (“AD EXEC”) in an elevator at a busy blogging convention:

FOOD BLOGGER: (Noticing AD EXEC’s badge.) Oh, hi. You’re an ad exec.
AD EXEC: Yes, I am.
FOOD BLOGGER: (Extends hand.) I’m a blogger. I have over 15,000 page views a month and a bounce rate of 7%. Most people stay on my page for eight minutes at a time.
AD EXEC: Those are great numbers. What’s your blog about?
AD EXEC: Here’s my card.

Let’s listen in on another conversation. We’re at that same blogging convention and two ladies meet each other in a line for coffee:

LADY 1: Boy, am I ready for a latte!
LADY 2: Tell me about it. (Glances at LADY 1’s badge; it says “Blogger.”) What’s your blog called?
LADY 1: (With dreamy look) TheKidsAreAlright-dot-Mom-dot-Blogspot-dot-Com.
LADY 2: I’m a mommy blogger, too! (The women embrace.)

And what’s my blog about? Everything. Nothing at all. I’ve auditioned several replies to the question, but none seem to be winners. (This does not inspire confidence in the concept of the thing.) Attempts to answer “What’s your blog about?” have included:

“It’s a blog about… My… Life?”
Eyes glaze.

“It’s… Well, it’s about all kinds of things.”
Folks suddenly need to check for text messages.

“You know, it’s just sort of a clearinghouse for thoughts. But it’s not just me rambling on about this or that, no way. I try to keep things tight. I have a point of view and I try to…keep things…tight.”
No, no, no. I’ve totally lost them.

Putting a picture up there of Grace with her raccoon, that was me being my own trainer, trying lead my brain away from the trap of consistency. If I write about my diet too much, I’m a “health and wellness” blogger or — far more undesirable to me — a blogger who writes mainly about her chronic health problems. (I recognize the value of such blogs and have no criticism for people who write them, I just don’t want to write a blog like that.) If I write about living in NYC too much, I might alienate all the non-NYC (or non-NYC-loving) readers out there and be labeled an “urban” blogger, which sounds trendy and gross.

I must stay on my toes. While updating readers on the progress of my radical, intestine-rescue diet is appropriate from time to time in the name of consistency, I mustn’t offer daily reports of how it feels to eat hamburger patties for breakfast. (It’s weird but I’m getting used to it.) Though I had doctor’s appointments yesterday and today that I do want to share about at some point, I must vary my dispatches so that PaperGirl is not a long slog through the life and times of a gimpy gal with flagging chutzpah in the face of significant health issues. I have to do the slog; why should you?

So the raccoon. Does that make sense? And if someone wants to take a stab at the question, “What is PaperGirl about?” by all means do so. I need a good answer.

*An Internet search tells me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the Bible were both around before the Internet, so maybe my folks got the name from one of those places. I should ask my mom.