The Art World Responds to the Jeff Koons Retrospective

© Jeff Koons

Artists, collectors, curators and other art-world experts share their views on the Whitney Museum of American Art’s major Jeff Koons retrospective.

It’s been a big year for the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Ave.; whitney.org). Between prepping for its move to a new space in downtown Manhattan and putting on a much-debated biennale, taking up the massive, delicate (and extremely expensive) works of Jeff Koons for its sendoff exhibition hardly seems out of line.

Curated by Scott Rothkopf, the museum’s associate director of programs, the brand-new show marks the artist’s first major retrospective in New York and includes more than a hundred pieces that Koons created over a 35-year period (1979 to the present).

Here, various members of the art world share their thoughts.

Bill Powers, Owner, Half Gallery
“No other American artist can be so of his country—the Liberty Bell, Hulk, Play-Doh—and also have an entire dialogue with art history. On the outside it’s shiny and optimistic, but spend time with Jeff Koons’s work and you'll find it’s quite moving.”

Awol Erizku, Artist
“I think the show is going to be memorable, but in an over-the-top kind of way. I’m sure each floor of the museum will look great, but if I know Jeff, seeing all his work together under one roof would be like having too much garlic on your pizza.”

Melva Bucksbaum, Art Collector, Curator and Vice Chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art
“Jeff Koons’s retrospective is a glorious last hurrah to the Whitney’s decades-long tenure in its Marcel Breuer home. Koons’s exhibit encapsulates the images, spectacle and commonality of our time, not as 15 minutes of fame, but rather as representations of the plethora of manifestations writ large and portrayed as potent, hyped, gargantuan paintings of our fantasies and follies... Today he is the penultimate American artist—whether you like him or not.”

Ales Ortuzar, Partner, David Zwirner
“It’s probably one of the most important shows of the last couple decades in New York. Something like this has never been done before—a whole museum dedicated to one artist. It shows that Jeff is the most important living American artist. If he were ever going to do a show in his hometown of New York, so to speak, it had to be something spectacular. He was wise to wait for this to happen—it’s going to be a phenomenon.”  

Matthew Israel, Director of the Art Genome Project, Artsy
“It's a must-see—full of ambitious, obsessive, perfectly-fabricated objects. These objects are not at all vapid. They engage with big themes: taste, childhood, narcissism, value, sexuality and manhood. Thanks to Scott Rothkopf's deft curating, the show spends a good deal of time on his early works. This provides viewers important historical context for what comes later and is more well-known. Duchamp, Warhol and Rosenquist are heavy influences, but Jeff Koons comes out unique and additive to the history of art. What more could you want from a museum exhibition?”

Mary Ceruti, Chief Curator, SculptureCenter
“Koons can be infuriating. His work presents a conundrum of affirmation and criticality that is much more complex than irony. The show is an opportunity for those who despise him and his work to figure out why, and for those who champion it to understand the whole evolving enterprise. His critics should take note that one of the best works in the show is the most recent.”

Beth Rudin DeWoody, Collector and Whitney Museum Trustee
“This is a beautiful show. I loved seeing the really early works, all the different periods. I thought it was fun and exuberant and shows him as this, well, master of everything.”

Noah Horowitz, Executive Director, The Armory Show
“It is one of the seminal exhibitions on the art-world calendar this summer. A consummate artist-cum-cultural impresario, Koons’s seamless weaving of conceptual sleight of hand with his signature polished aesthetic is recognized the world over and I can’t wait to see what new light this show will shed upon his signature career.”

RoseLee Goldberg, Founding Director and Curator, Performa
“Entering the show is like stepping into a time machine: Set the dial at 1980 and fly through the Reagan years, the Jesse Helms years, the early impact of the new global economies. Each floor of this chronologically organized exhibition is a tour through some of our obsessions of the decades: consumerism, censorship, celebrity worship—all materialized in bold, iconic and unforgettable works.”

Richie Adomako, Writer, Artist, Designer and Member of the Yams Collective
“If this is the epitaph then I hope it’s something he can live with... I will see it to see where his heart is going—but don’t bank me on that statement.”

Mary Hoeveler, Art Advisor
“You can’t deny a kind decadent pandering in the Whitney’s choice of a Koons retrospective at this moment of its own and the art market’s hyper-expansion. It’s so obvious it’s perverse. It’s perfect. While Koons’s breathtaking prices have become a part of his content, the challenge of the exhibition for many will be to put aside the hype to see the work and not just dollar signs. It’s a unique opportunity to see all of the artist’s series in whole. Koons’s accomplishment is undeniable, his body of work remarkable and bizarre, accessible and alienating, full of pleasures, irritations and poignancy. No one in the art world will miss it.”