Friday 31 October 2014

The death of Jeff Koons

Here's a link to the New York Review of Books piece by Jed Perl, who saw the the current Jeff Koons retrospective at Whitney Museum of American Art and hated it. It's a brilliant and (one hopes in vain) career-ending blow to the garish Koons and all he stands for. Do read it. 

In a similar vein Will Self's recent New Statesman piece offered us the rueful reflections of a man no longer young who looks around him and sees only smoking ruins, a realisation that all the pitiful balls in circulation under the heading 'cultural studies' has led us to a crass, hyper-commodified and valueless society, one in which Koons and his like can thrive and prosper.

Something's going on. Things are changing.

A generation born in the 1980s and 90s are seemingly united in their loathing of the vulgar and the populist. They hate the way art has become an alternative economy for the super-rich, the ugly oligarchy who like to think they hold sway in contemporary culture, and the airhead practitioners who service their needs.

There's also a welcome reaction against the glib ironies of post-modernism, the self-conscious playfulness that plagued (and defined) the 1980s and a wish to recover what's been lost - commitment, political engagement and a high-minded sense of the non-material.

There's also a high-stakes seriousness to be observed in the conflict between the values of Western Liberal Democracy and emerging militant theocracies, both overseas and at home. Theocracies tend not to have much time for conceptual art, for playful interventions. Serious artists are asking: what do we stand for? What have we got? When the best lack all conviction and the worst of full of passionate intensity, how can the best re-appropriate the intensity? What comes after Koons?

What, in any case, are the values of Western Liberal Democracy? Are they even, were they ever, a standard against which other values can be judged? If the 19th century was dominated by the British Empire and the Twentieth by the United States (and, to an extent, the USSR), the 21st century will belong to the Asian economic superpowers. So we're seeing a crack in the artistic hegemony of the West, and particularly of the US as represented by Koons and his equivalents.

I believe that there's a new seriousness in circulation in the arts, a commitment to craft, to tradition and to highbrow cultural values. I see it everywhere I look - in the work of poets and writers and artists still in their thirties who are at home with new media and technologies and exploiting them the hilt, but not in thrall to them, who have a profound understanding of the modernist tradition and a sceptical relationship to the 'irony' of post modernism. If there's a future, this is the future.

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