Archive for December 2010

 

I recently got to see Jeff Koons’s small exhibit of the “Made in Heaven” paintings in the Luxembourg and Dayan Gallery in New York. This is hailed as the 20th anniversary of the first showing in the Venice Biennale. I also got to see the exhibit titled “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection” in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) also in New York last year, including some of Koons’ works, and I finally got to see the Popeye Series exhibit at the Sepertine Gallery in London two years ago. I even arranged for the purchase of this catalogue before it went into print. I do not like Koons’s work. I do not think much of it and here I am engaging with it. I consider it shallow, superficial, childish, silly and self-mocking, not in a successful way. In short, it is banal. And I wonder how long one can inhabit such banality. He has dwelled there for his entire career. I cannot keep my attention in the concrete object for more than a few seconds. Yet, there is something nagging in my undying dislike that obviously needs a careful articulation of a critical value in relation to works that affirm their mocking shallowness and kitschy-in-your-face superficiality.


Think of it: How would X get on with Y, whom X considers shallow and superficial, if Y, seemingly undisturbed by the charge, remained determined to be the same shallow and superficial thing for sale? Would Y be in a position to be anything else? Would X seek the company of Y? Would X turn into Y, etc.? In other words, banality gathers around the issue of the suspension of value, and the presumption of the other side, worthlessness. Banality is here the vital core of this intellectual attraction. Not to do without but to maintain it, in the case of Koons. What is wrong with me that I need to intellectualize art objects instead of simply taking them in with all their graphic titillation and apparent silliness? Why do I insist on the banality of Koons? Is it because banality, or triviality, is precisely the enemy of thought, the insignificant other of artistic signification and thoughtful and careful transcendental execution? Isn’t banality precisely the bad or sorry lack of intelligence and of care, not to say devotion?


Who on earth could devote his career to such a silly endeavor, which is a debasement, a degradation? How does careful intelligence in the field of aesthetics engage with banality (zero-ground value, or even no-value) and keep it at a safe distance? It is not the pornography, per se, that concerns me in the “Made in Heaven” series. I do not hold an anti-pornographic stance. The point is valid in that “Made in Heaven” trivializes pornography while putting Koonswith no clothes onin the picture. It is accordingly not the graphic content of the series that disturbs me, but the larger framing and the function of the social embeddedness of this type of work, or any type of work by any other artist, for that matter, this is the danger: that banality may take over and spread to other art works and other artists in the contemporary capitalist marketplace, but also outside the blurred lines of the art world. A poignant point has to be made: there is no essential difference between this indelicate adult graphic content and the seemingly child-like or infantile Popeye series in the context of Koons work trajectory: the Serpentine Gallery exhibit combined explicit graphic material and toy-based, childish materials. There was limited sexual-material explicitness that I can recall in the MCA exhibit previously mentioned. This banality does not stay put: there is a a calculated or deliberate debasement at work here irrespective of the content of the material (genitals are no more banal than Popeye, inflatable monkeys are no less banal than inflatable dolphins, etc.). There is a banalization of a contained aesthetic world, that must go beyond content specificity, whether monkey figures or plastic dolphins hanging from the ceiling or close-ups of body orifices and liquids and genitals. There is a “so what?” that I do not think is conveyed by the work. Koons puts himself in these graphic “Made in Heaven” paintings oftentimes looking straight at the spectators, you and me. Seeking complicity? And in what? Wanting what from us? And what do we want from this art? The point is to keep these questions open and the additional gesture of institutional frame and social circulation must do away with the critical evaluation of this concrete selection inside the opus. It is a kitsch gesture: how on earth to seriously evaluate a piece of work that assumes triviality? But Koons is retro-kitsch that mocks originality. There is repetition instead: the latest exhibit is the “anniversary” of works presented in the 1990s. This is the event-and-nonevent that concerns me here. Been aware of Koons work for at least a decade, this is, I suppose, what sticks with me: the obstinate banality of this type of unendearing artistic creativity, since I remain as cold a fish and not amused as I can be by it. “Made in Heaven” does not turn me on in any way you may understand the dangling prepositional portion of the verb. It is instead the “off” that concerns me here in relation to the bad-taste or cheesy “heaven,” deliberately ironic. But don’t worry, Koons’ point is not some elaborate eschatological conflation of the “celestial” and the “tawdry.” Koons’ pornographic works arouse the main feeling in me of the evacuation not only of sexual desire but also of aesthetics and this worries me deeply. How could it not? So let us explore this assumed banality in art-making in the specific context of Koons’s “Made in Heaven” selections on display at the Luxembourg and Dayan Gallery.


I thoroughly agree with the general statement of Roberta Smith of the New York Times: “Whether taken as bad art, non-art or a crucial nadir in the career of an often brilliant mega-artist, “painting” is too strong a word for these injet monstrosities on canvas… ghoulishly miming various sex acts… thoroughly repellent as both art objects and images…” The evaluative language (monstrosities, thoroughly repellent), which I feel close to, is somehow suspended, even theatricized in the quotation marks (“painting”). Notice the triple, unresolved conditional (bad art, non-art or crucial nadir) sharing sentence space with the praiseful adjective qualifiers (brilliant, mega-), modified by an adverbial of frequency (often). There is no referentiality to place here, but I mentioned the New York, London, also Venice and the inevitable Paris of Old World of artistic prestige (there are other locations but US-Europe is the dominant axis). Think of it: You are Z and X says to you that Y is a big thing in painting oftentimes, not always and that the latest exhibition, which is a repeat, is possibly the lowest point (nadir) in a “big” career; that it is monstrous and repellent, and perhaps it is not even proper “painting.” What do you make of Y and what do you make of X helping you understand Y? What celestial, zenith or high point of Y is out there to look at? X is “polite” and lets you make the call for you and you only well, thank you very much: X is an official evaluator who smuggles the evaluation brandy under the art-business table possibly sharing table with “mega” or “celebrity” Y. This is really the interesting thing of the attenuation of evaluation in the artistic playground that now includes the deliberate tackiness and blown-up, close-up graphic rendering of sexual acts between Koons and Cicciolina. There is no uplift, there is no “up” of any kind, there is no gutter, punk gesture either (but perhaps some will disagree with “Made in Heaven”). There is instead a deliberate play with referentiality: heaven or the good or pleasure is equated perhaps with the visualization of female “dirty pleasure,” obscenity or the “bad”.

The Koons character in the Koons canvas is less ecstatic. There is no attempt to convey emotion in his self-portrayal. This is a mood-neutral, deadpan presentation of pornographic content that is not afraid to do close-ups of the genital parts. And I stress the previous adverb perhaps because referentiality could function in relation to the male or female characters copulating after all in the 9-painting series within the total work of the artist in question. Think of the use of language in brands (Coogie fashion clothing, FCUK French connection, Philosophy clothing): Koons’ Heaven. Foucault’s “This is not a pipe” reflection prevents you and me from taking the graphic figuration at referential face-value. There is a play with self-referentiality that also conveys incongruity in relation to image-discourse but also about the images on the canvas. Koons is about the pointlessness of it all. Hence, banality. I repeat the argument then: what if intellectual life here in relation to aesthetics must come to terms with an apparent corrosive opposite, banality? Or should one be happier assuming an anti-intellectualist, carefree banal mood/mode? There is no other way but to face up to it. Care to follow?

The catch for me is hence still the theoretical education in values or axiology that must come up in relation to interpretive endeavors. This is summoned in the carefully crafted prose of Roberta Smith maintaining the previous indecision (bad art, non-art, lowest point?) thus: “yet Mr. Koons clearly had to do them and has been the better, more accessible artist for them. Self-debasement works in mysterious ways.” Art approaches the negativity of its implosion of value judgment (non- or bad art, high or low, with no trace of counter-, horrid and repellent images and yet more accessible and better). What to make of the initial “yet” in relation to this elaborate indefinition of any hard evaluative lines that who knows how mystery! finishes in the “better and more accessible”? Do you feel you can lean comfortably on the “clearly” of Roberta Smith, a smart woman critic, with no doubt? There is a gesture of provocation in Koons my sex in your face so to speak and also of the withholding of the autorial intention of the artist by the artist I am not quite going to tell you what I am up to, but sex in your face so to speak also rendered in the logic exposed by Foucault of false or incongruous word-and-image association (the word “heaven” framing the theatrical “ecstasy” of the porn-star “Cuddles” exposing herself with her then husband, the artist Koons who is also the painter), and that is fine. But I wonder the vigor and the mileage of the provocation. Against whom or what? I would claim such strategy of incongruity or de-referentiality is used by Koons often, if not always. The objects he produces are typically presented in a tremendous isolation.


I recall the statement that whatever Koons’s occasional declarations about his work may be, they have nothing to say about it. There are not explanatory statements, there are free-associative, even evasive in a calculated way yet always operative inside a controlled environment of desirable artistic legitimation. The “coherence” is that of the juxtaposition of word and image. Think of the google-images search option in relation to one noun of choice. The computer makes the association, in a sense the computer does the thinking for you. Not you. And there you are trying to see how on earth does that image correspond to that word. The show of such images based on subject and keyword-markers is something of what is at work in relation to Koons but also in relation to artists such as Damian Hirst in the general context of our consumer capitalist culture. My main point is not quite the flimsiness of authorial intentionality. The point is, rather, the deliberate, succinct formulation of sentences that mock referentiality and continuity, but never in relation to the branding of the name of the artist (Koons, Hirst or any other).

There is, accordingly, a larger process of de-semanticization of the artistic work in our contemporary society, which could be nothing, silly, banal, “shit” as in Serrano’s recent work that still keeps it perfectly operational within the artistic market. There is the aestheticization of “anything.” And there is also the commodification of “anything” : call “art” or “shit” or “banality” or what have you. Think of it: how would you relate to Y, who sustains that incongruity not for a couple of days but for a career? What kind of relationship would you have with this Y emotionally and intellectually? There is the commodification of any single thing, and there is accordingly the escort service of a complicit lightness of axiology caught up in the same “show business.” This light-touch axiology is not a minus, mind you, but a big plus, the funny butterflies in the canvas “Hand of Breast” (see above) so to speak, the least graphic and my favorite painting probably, and perhaps also the breeze, the flying curtains and the cascading pillow feathers in the background of the two figures, in some kind of post-coital bliss looking at you. Get the point of the critical circulation of such “cultural goods”?


My point is not at all to demonize Koons, Hirst or Serrano. My point is instead to try to see a bit into the playground that allows for such play of explicit in-your-face banality and apparent degradation with nothing else but the value-and-nonvalue of degradation. The fame of the infamous and say anything you want about me as long as you spell my name right: this is capitalist branding and there is an awful lot of it in relation to these artists acting on the embedded banalization of the capitalist market that allows and even promotes such outrageousness probably because it represents no serious threat. If the customer buys it, the customer is always right, aren’t they? Jeff Koons poses naked side by side the sign “banality,” looking straight at the potential customer. Do you feel like going to give him a hug? But this nakedness is no exposure. No openness. There is an awful lot of theatricality here and I wonder if all signs are equally replaceable with such ease. There is therefore a consistent levity or thinness of signs and images. The commodity culture does not quite want to promote seriousness of somber purpose, much less reflexivity. It is, accordingly, this expansive condition of critical indefinition here typified by Roberta Smith, whom I respect immensely that puts Koons with the “attitude” of Damian Hirst in the original context of the Young British artists of the 1990s, or with Serrano, that I find worthy of time, care and reflection. They appear to be mocking the assumption of veneration in works of art and they still want the money of the market for it. The not-subtle presentation of vacuousness, or silliness, inevitably puts in question the language of critical value or seriousness of evaluation. What if banality is corrosive of critical passion? Is banality banal? What do we make of the construction of such aesthetics inside the apparently value-free transatlantic sides of the cultural-capital centers of US-Europe? There is a structure and mechanism of functioning cultural goods inside which Koons wants to circulate (galleries, museums, auction houses, collectors). The said network intrigues me more than the specific objects that these artists may be willing to put out there. I doubt that you can hold your focus on each object for more than a few seconds. No “objective correlative” here in the formula of T.S. Elliot for convincing rendition of a powerful emotion. There is instead something of a repellent reaction at the deliberateness of the ugly thing: the scandal at the obscene object (silly, post-Warhol pop-culture tawdry, kitschy pornography, animal carcass, poster photography of close-up fellatio or shit), appears indeed small thing in relation to the bigger thing, I would say, of the shocking obscenity of the market mechanism that allows such intrinsic-value-evaporation mechanism in the first place: the shock value of the individual player, Koons in this case, is firmly passing through the playground that appears to do handsomely without interpretive bite.

A possibly valid generalization could state that we are treading a blurry artistic landscape (bad, non- or post- “art”), but surely this “good” to be bought and sold relates to others out there. Here is the manufacturing of silliness, a glaring triviality, the blow-up of banality or non-value (not quite nihilism), that still however wants to remain economically viable and thoroughly functional in the current market of (cultural) goods. “Made in Heaven” is a manageable collection of pornographic images of Koons and his then wife, the Hungarian-born Italian-identified porn star Ilona (a ka Cicciolina, cuddles or the cuddly one). I insist that my stance is not anti-pornographic and that the term pornography is here not to be assumed as accusatory term, per se. And yet I am mounting a criticism of Koons’ “cool” pornographic paintings. Will they arouse your desire? They did not arouse mine. Anything wrong with you, dear FGH, in your libidinal infrastructure? It is the opposite: the deflation of arousal and a certain sustained “ironic” distance from evaluative appraisal that pulls me from the earlobes. There is no believable affect, a sort of neutral mood, despite the graphic figuration and the explicit mode of “heaven” exaltation. This is the antithesis of Baroque extremity, despite claims otherwise by the Luxembourg & Dayan information-sheet. The 8 paintings are titled: Silver Shoes, Fingers between Legs, Hand of Breast, Ponies, Red Doggy, Red Butt, Ilona’s House Ejaculation and Exaltation. My two favorite are the least “graphic” : “Hand on Breast” with unreal-looking butterflies and Fingers between Legs with yes, Cicciolina’s fingers between her legs. There is one medium-size small-scale figurine-sculpture composition titled “Violet Ice Glass (Kama Sutra)” with two copulating figures on some sort of heavy-set tray-like surface surrounded by iceberg-looking angularities. The technique in these paintings is “oil inks and silk-screened on canvas.” The materiality of the thing could be better addressed by the art critics. To me, there is painting-like rendition of a photo-reality feel with no effort at texture or context. The two frontal figures are Koons and Cicciolinain some cases their parts obscene — against a hasty-brushstroke background of curtains, oceanic waves, computer-animated butterflies, flat colors… (I recall the Eastern European convention that treats background as glaring unreality in relation to explicit erotic materials, there is some of this in “Made in Heaven”). There is something of a disregard for careful finish and craftmanship, there is photo-realist glaring colors on the canvas with lack of texture and context, let alone historicity. The graphic center of it is the genital area of the two protagonists in various degrees of exposure.

I’ll let your imagination arrange the previous titles with the close-ups of bodies mostly in the horizontal or reclining position, the woman sitting on the man who is kissing her breasts, decisive exposure of genitals in several moments of suggested sexual activity, the female sexual organ taking center stage, frontal and rear penetration, fellatio, a “cum shot” in the ecstatic woman’s face with glaring blue mascara, the eyes of Koons or both protagonists sometimes seeking the complicity of the viewer as though they were saying: “uh, are you wih us? Do you get it?” What is there to get?

The gallery handout claims that “[Koons’s work] has been devoted to the aestheticization of contemporary desire [and that] “Made in Heaven” represents a moment of apotheosis.” Perhaps too many poly-syllables for the interested American public? And the juxtaposition: “The painting of the series reference art from the Baroque and Rococo [sic] periodsBernini’s expressions of physical ecstasy as portal to the realm of the sublime, and the carefully staged, allusive love scenes of Fragonard and Boucher that titillated audiences of the day –and also draw upon the breakthroughs of such early modern painters as Courbet and Manet…. The subject of art history is a constant undercurrent in Koons’ work.” So this is the effort at legitimation, the unwarranted proximity to high (read: historical European) culture and art. There is kitsch Americanization of aesthetics used selectively in a way that is perhaps entirely gratuitous and thoroughly unconvincing (Umberto Eco wrote about it in his Travels in Hyperreality decades ago). Baroque Koons? Historicist Koons? And I am a cute Honolulu girl with bright lipstick, a mini-skirt and long pigtails! But this is, I hope, convincing Marx Brothers’ type of incongruous humor, and Jeff Koons’ retro-kitsch, if not retro-chic, includes no infectous ironic humor whatsoever. There is a genuine anti-Baroque, phlegmatic, undemonstrative presentation of banality. I find the vocabulary around him promoted by himtotally unwarranted, accordingly. It obfuscates. It does not clarify his aesthetic proposals.


One detects a promotional one-line addition of discursive incongruity that never gets developed into anything substantial. There is nothing in the canvas that refers you to Bernini or anybody else. And everybody, I suppose, is entitled to his  or her virutal train of free associations. I remain unpersuaded. There is instead, I would say, an indelible sense of a deliberate play of de-referentiality, emptying out of meaning (or de-semanticization) and a calculated manufacture of single-sentence non-sequiturs. There is no lack of control of information, but instead a controlled-environment of customer-service presentation of the banal product by the gallery and the author himself. The point of it all, the endgame: the branding of the work for marketplace consumption. Historicity is an ornamental-surreal-butterfly, light touch, small bits-and-pieces of single-type sentences that will always remain under-developed around the “AP” (artist proof) and “unique” labelled object to be bought and sold (both quotations of authentic value are included in the gallery brochure with the conventional gallery etiquette of price omission, more about this soon).

The explicit point promoted by the gallerysurely with the artist’s approvalis to spin and generate buzz around the work inside the circulation networks of visibility and legitimation. No big intellectual jargon of authenticity is needed this time, thank you very much. Think advertising. There is, in fact, a retreat from language. The First-World European-American framing appears enough (a certain Europe and a certain America, it should be increasingly obvious by now, despite the repudiation of referentiality painted in the canvas). I would also say that there is an explicit repudiation of any whiff of sociology, politics, issues, and yes, of art history in “Made in Heaven.” Any issues! Koons appears most at ease –yet what is the risk of this art really?—with tv-show materials, preferably American childhood materials of already a historical time (Koons was born in 1955). Perhaps with a bit more of an axiological bite: we are dealing with the deeds of adults doing unenchanting childlike things, this should be properly called childishness, and adults insisting on childishness could also be properly called childish, and you may wonder what will happen to you if you keep this company… Koons’ “Made in Heaven” kitsch art is stuck-up childish art accordingly, twenty years later. This is a deliberate shallowness that will not tolerate proximity with anything else that may question such shallowness. There is also a process of infantilization of the artistic work that appears to go ever so easily to becoming ever-so-silly commodity (I do not know what the market share of these objects is). Once more: Koons represents the banalization of aesthetics that is also always already everpresent in the general playground of capitalistic art market. Childishness appears a very proper mood / mode and I am sure you can witness some of this in other social domains, university education included. There is the blurring of art-and-non-art, and good is bad and bad is good, and high is low and this sign is its non-sign, remember? And there is no thesis. The branding is accordingly strictly non-thetic. Should we worry? Should our response be pathetic or bathetic? Get aroused, worry or whistle a “don’t worry be happy” tune? Do we celebrate or deplore such process? Do we care? Are we for it or against it? And how to do the latter? Would you be happy sharing your living space with make any of these “Made in Heaven” paintings? These are big questions that surely go beyond “Made in Heaven”.

Yet I wonder if the academy not left untouched by some of these processes and mechanisms can raise them convincingly? The challenge is how the critical passion goes around to engage these concrete works of art –emphatically not of beauty— in the general society of customers and consumers of goods. There is an unrepentant debasement of beauty in the contemporary art world and it is safe to say that there is no whiff of denunciation in Koons about anything on this earth about anything in relation to the history of the world, art history included. No protest, no counter-anything in the theatricalized sexual acts between the 55-year-old American Jeff Koons and the 59-year-old Hugarian-Italian Anna Ilona Staller, ever so incongruously presented in relation to the theoretical conflation of the theoretical conflation of high and low, good and bad art and non-art. There is a nihilistic futility in the inquisitive endeavor that still wants your money, if you have it. There is the arrested development of eroticism, the banality of erotics, despite, or because of, the grotesquely big-canvas, hyper-real, kitschy-glossy photographic-feel visualization of sexual parts and actions. There is sexualization and it is an infantilized kind. There is even a close-up explicitness, even a pornography, clearly of an a-historical kind: “apotheosis”? No. This pornographic does not arouse, hence it fails as pornography. The point of “Made in Heaven” is not to hold any conviction, not even pornographic conviction, for long. Koons does not go long. That is the point: never to go long at anything, but instead keep manageable things manageable, silly, light, trivial. “Made in Heaven” borrows from pornography for something of a desired theatrical shock. The real shock to me is the class privilege that will get to claim ownership of this sort of cultural good for good standing in some minority social circles. Would you have your picture taken against the close-up of Cicciolina’s pink flower having a good time and holding a dirty martini surrounded by your friends in high social circles in the big city? If there is humor, it is not contagious. There is a congealment of affect and the bigger the frame of the piece, surely the more expensive the purchase… There is no insight into human sexuality. There is no depravity either. “Made in Heaven” is the opposite of intimacy and warmth: a coolness and a coldness of silly or kitschy theatricality that does not rise up to make parody of something meaningful, not even of Koons who is thereyou seewith no pants. But this art reveals nothing. This nothing-art is not about revelation, much less deification: Apotheosis? Again, Marx Brothers’ apotheosis! Koons does not leave the territory of deliberate meaninglessness, perhaps another valid synonym for banality. He does not want to leave such territory. I would argue that he can’t. Kitsch, pastiche does not tolerate proximity with other aesthetic modalities. It must become totalizing. Koons is no Derek Jarmar of political punk and historically aestheticized film production, and no Gerhard Richter of many styles mocking mono-singularity of purpose and focus in art making. Koons’ world is small, matchbox small. He has no tradition to turn to except post-Warhol American pop-culture commercialism. This is his safe playground. This is where our Peter Pan will reside for ever and ever. This art will bring no delicacy, erudition, warmth, intelligence, comfort or despair. It is ornamental in the thinnest possible meaning of the word ornamental.

You may wonder by now why I take this banality so seriously. I wish to conclude with one revealing dimension that will hopefully put whatever has preceded in greater perspective. The price tag of each canvas is emphatically not on display and it is also missing from the information sheets, side by side the “AP” and “unique” identity-proof, in case you are picky about these things. This is the “real turn-on” that is hidden among such explicit adult material of a pseudo-pornographic kind. This is the money shot, the pop-it like crazy kooky value of the banality series, as one sweet crazy kooky artistic friend of mine would put it. The “pseudo” prefix will take the reflection in the direction of the self-referential wink, tacky, kitsch that refuses to make a meaningful dialogue with the genre of pornography, much less with Bernini’s Baroque period, despite unwarranted claims otherwise. Forget about that. Pay attention to the numbers. What we witness is the process of market-value maximization through the calculated display in selected venue and controlled-environment production of information that does not put the price tag upfront. This non-disclosure is perhaps the most revealing aspect of the visit to the Luxembourg and Dayan gallery. I was curious about the cost of the paintings. I approached the young lady in the galleryshe was fully dressed and fully seatedand I asked about the price of two paintings, “Hand of Breast” and “Fingers between Legs.” I genuinely wanted to know. “Only formal inquiries [about prices] in email.” I got the business card and I did. By the time of submitting this writing, I am still waiting for a response. The information-sheet includes a second email address to request more information about Koons. I sent a second email with a discreet message requesting more information, any kind of information. Again, no response. I used my Oberlin College professional personality thinking this would be a plus. Perhaps it is not in these circles. Yet, why the reluctance to engage with a potential customer when I had a good shirt on, a sharp haircut, I was carrying my computer, I thought I looked professorial and behaving like my mother told me I should behave in public in high society? You never know what the potential customer would look like (I have witnessed unassuming sweet high-school-looking Asian girls, Lolita-like types, if you indulge me, winning the biggest bid in the hundreds of thousands of good American dollars in famous auction houses, surely representing big money out there). I have heard the comment that it is messy out there and you never know what will come around, who will buy what, etc. This unrevealing gesture on the part of the gallery person got me thinking about much more than Cicciolina’s genitals exposed and the ironic expression of “heaven” provided by sweet Koons according to the graphic painting of sweet Koons. Money is the real thing not to expose it ever so carefree. This is the real obscene thing not to talk freely about. This is the non-ironic real heaven-business implicit in the possible buy-sell transaction of goods deemed “cultural.”


In this field of artistic nonseriousness, we inhabit the thinness of axiology, the evacuation of the evaluation impulse, or the cooling of critical passion. There is an anesthesia of aesthetics. There is a mood-neutral mode of ironic-distance presentation of shallow and thin theatricality of the sexual act in “Made in Heaven.” There is play with de-referentiality and word-image incongruity and yet I claim that such ironic distance is false, and that there is an undeniable political dimension of this work of art in the field of art in our current global-capitalist society. There is a crisis of evaluation made obvious in Roberta Smith’s careful prose that exceeds her individual intelligence and the main artist in question, the one who has his photo taken by the sign “banality” with or without her clothes on. But there is no abandon, no exposure, no intimacy, except a highly theatrical gesture that exposes nothing important. In point of fact, this art makes the statement that nothing is important, that weyou and I and everybody else inhabit unimportance, insignificance. I claim such gesture is as contrived and unconvincing a one as such that stays strictly within bounds. It is quite the opposite of what Beckett said about Proust in which he defined love as the openness of the senses. There is no openness, exposure, vulnerability, zero eroticism in “Made in Heaven.” There is zero-value, or nihilism, or banality, in Koons’ work at large and yet this nihilism does not ever disrupt as far as I can see the system of official values currently at work in the artistic market and the capitalist society at large. Koons’ kitschy, deliberately silly work is conservative in that sense, however paradoxical the claim may sound. But think a bit harder and see the nature of the shock here. But perhaps you may disagree against the immediate context of “Made in Heaven.” But that means that you remain fixated on the graphic content of the sexualization of the series. Think instead around and about the abstract noun of banality and how such abstraction challenges us to come to terms emotionally and intellectually. The radical gesture of permanent dwelling in the zero-ground value, or no-value or even nihilism does not challenge here the status quo of the art world or the history of art or anything else for that matter. Quite the opposite. I suppose that what I am saying is that I grow restless on the creativity that offers no breakthrough from its own value-mutation and that lingering in such indecision concerns me and I find worrisome particularly when the institutional frame is never made part of the artistic process.

I am not saying the issue of devaluation, or banality, is easy. Yet the insistence on the devaluation twenty years later is stuck-up childishness in an adult who will not ever break into anything else. Do you want to bet on it? The questions remain: How to handle banality in an intellectually satisfying manner? Does the intellectual engagement render value to the object in question even the one deemed zero-value? Does an object commodified do handsomely all the same without the critical, intellectual apparatus of concerned subjects in a world of eminent branding and consumers and customers? Isn’t “liberal” societyAmerican-styleall about the individual selfishness, called euphemistically “enlightened self-interest” saying time and again in so many wayshypocritically, cynicallythat “the customer is always right”? Do you like this “Heaven”? It is clear that the art market is not simply a world in and of itself, but it is interconnected with larger social relations. We are dealing here accordingly with an arrested artistic development that is emotionally poor and intellectually miserable. Careful though, make the charge inclusive and expansive: the degradation in Koons’ offering, this misery of love, is not his alone, much less Cicciolina’s, it is also ours.

Any comments, suggestions? Get in touch, fgh2173@gmail.com