Jeff Koons is in his early 60’s, still the enfant terrible of contemporary and pop art. The artist, as infamous for his hyperbolic claims as for his projection of kitsch ephemera into the art sphere, has never been one for subtlety or meekness. Nor has Koons ever been bothered by the notion of his work being labeled ‘kitch’, albeit the preferred term is according to the artist –‘banal’. And yet, regardless of all the labels and open platitude his work has been accused of – Koons can gloat with deadly braggadocio of his retrospective in Center Pompidou reaching blockbuster heights, as well as for his ‘Balloon Dog’ achieving a record amount for a living artist on an auction. Thus when the news that Louis Vuitton – considered the Zeus of luxury labels – had reached out to Koons, as the latest in a canon of well known names to lend artistic panache to the brand- were revealed, the match couldn’t be considered as anything other than made in heaven. Yet the collaboration encountered callous critique on social media. Met with dismay, the pictures of the bags (the actual bags go on sale 28th April) were quickly deemed vulgar – reminiscent of the ‘souvenir bags’ from a museum gift shop and accused of ridiculing historical canon as well as watering out the respective brand’s image. The bags, in leather ranging from saccharine pastels to ruby reds have been matched to a motif – a paintingInsert Contentof an old master such as Da Vinci or Fragonard. And just in case the customer wasn’t sure of his art lessons, the name of the master in question has been literary spelled out in block letters across the bags. One does understand where the ‘soulless souvenir trivia’ label comes from. Nonetheless the question that still hovers in the aftermath of the press-release is –
‘What did we expect?’
Koons has always poked and probed consumer culture with his wit.
His artistic persona is built on ostentatious appropriation and a self-proclaimed critique of consumerism and mass production, as well as on a complacent penchant for marketing.
The infamous ultra-polished balloon animals, or the notorious ‘Made in Heaven’ series have been equally lauded and shunned by art critics in an attempt to fathom Koons’ work.
For the most it has been a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation where one might have to accept that wrapping their head around Koons’ work– a critique of materialism that has itself become a valuable commodity – resembles a snake that bites its own tail – either proving Koons’ point or completely bulldozing its integrity. Which is exactly the reason why the Koons x Louis Vuitton collaboration, at this very moment, feels, from the merely contemplative point of view – A pure act of God.
Fashion has been in a state of turmoil for quite a while. Economical aspects, both external and internal, have rocked the bottom of the model that once existed, accompanied by the socio-cultural shift in how luxury and commodities are considered and consumed. The frills and frocks once emblematic of the industry have long been substituted with a less frivolous approach – and attire stripped down to the core of (east-European social) realism has gained quite a momentum. Media has become an omnipresent installment, championed by camera-phones ready to document and connect within seconds and alongside a society which is metamorphosing towards a New World,arousing the discussion of what is considered good and bad taste
They are absolutely unapologetic in the manner they are presented, their sheer existence reminiscent of the discussions that surrounded Vétements DHL T-shirt some two years ago.
It was a natural order of things as the fashion industry became more receptive to the needs of the consumer, resulting in a market in flux, ready to quickly adapt to whichever trend arose.
The social conduit’s that once demanded formal dressing loosened it’s grip as consumers appropriated life-events to fit their desires, thus shifting the focus towards comfort.
Subcultures became mainstream, and concomitantly streetwear, with all the charms of funky leisurewear, became acceptable to the point of sweatpants being worn together with a tuxedo.
Thus what was once regarded as dreadful style, or was even proclaimed tasteless became a prerequisite of the New world and millennials, going on Gen Z.
The discussion itself posed a window into the social and economical changes as globalization and social media brought fight for equality on to the table. As taste has no real measurable standards, it means that it’s proposition relies on socially constructed values – thus the idea of bad taste postulates an inferior set of values in comparison to those attributed to the notion of good taste.
It is quite obvious that today’s generations don’t identificate in such a manner that allows for certain groups to play on self-proclaimed superiority. These generations see through the hoofs and poofs of socio-economic constructs and seek to abolish such a division.
One of the visible signs of such a shift is reflected in the way we dress.
The rise of the East-European block with Demna Gvasalia and Gosha paving the way for high-low fashion is one of those signs; the personal mix that comes of the irreverence towards the archaic rules of fashion is another sign of consumers appropriating references to fit their individuality and lifestyle, as opposed to the alternative. It is a democratization of fashion on the highest level – just take a cue from Mark Zuckerberg who wears a T and jeans at his office.
And it is right here when we speak of unapologetic democratization that the glory of Jeff Koons becomes visible. The artist has always had a penchant for the witty, silly and ironical, but he has also alway insisted on the accessible. Koons has on countless occasions proved that his art goes beyond the discussion of a right/wrong or good/bad basis to form an opinion.
In that manner he encourages everyone to participate in the discussion.
Koons has adapted his own series ‘Gazing Balls ‘ that centers around the appropriation of old masters to fit a wide range of classic Vuitton bags.
Koons started working on ‘Gazing Balls’ in 2013, the glossy blue balls were at the time installed on white replicas of sculptures also appropriated from art history, while the most recent nd series deals with paintings – visually identical to the original, but flattened on canvas. In that manner the idea of masterwork prevails, and as one sees their own reflection in one of the blue gazing balls one is forced to participate and engage in the experience. While the Louis Vuitton bags do not necessarily have a blue gazing ball attached to them, they do offer a certain reflection of today’s society and the state of fashion.
They are absolutely unapologetic in the manner they are presented, their sheer existence reminiscent of the discussions that surrounded Vétements DHL T-shirt some two years ago. The bags are just as much a commentary on today’s tastes and preferences and frankly with meme- culture hijacking everyone’s adulthood, they also serve as a ironical notion that the industry doesn’t have to take itself so seriously. Alternatively, the bags spelling out in big glossy letters the names of grand masters offer wide audiences the possibility to engage with art on their own terms, and it might be just a little comfort in those words, but there is still some.
And if one can’t beat them – maybe one should consider joining them.
And while yours truly could imagine a Fragonard decorated Pétit Malle (for the reference it doesn’t exist ) partly as a guilty pleasure, and partly as a token, these bags might prove themselves to be exactly that – the reflection of the state of society today, and a memorabilia tomorrow.