Meet Up. Tweet Up. Koons Up. – Part 2

August 1, 2012

Germany

#meetup #tweetup #kultup #schirnup #koonsup – it seemed that last Thursday in Frankfurt, the only way was indeed up. I’ve already reported on the first part of the Bloggers Meetup I attended, where the focus was to come up with solutions for how cultural institutions and bloggers could better work together. The second part of the Meetup was visiting the double Jeff Koons exhibition, which is showing in parallel at the Schirn Kunsthalle (‘Jeff Koons. The Painter’) and the Liebighaus Skulpturensammlung (‘Jeff Koons.The Sculptor’). First we received a special tour of ‘The Painter’ from the exhibition’s curator, then Skoda shuttle cars chauffeured some of us to the Liebighaus for the Tweetup at ‘The Sculptor’, whilst others remained for the Tweetup at the Schirn – just like the exhibition, the Tweetup was taking place in parallel at the two different venues. We were also joined at both venues by other Tweeters who hadn’t been at the bloggers session. In Frankfurt, they call their Tweetups Kultups by the way, which are run independently by the lovely Ulrike Schmidt and Tanja Neumann, and even have their own website. Keeping up with all the ups so far?

Then, just in time, Twitter decided to have one of its most major crashes in recent times! Was this event destined to go down in history as the first Tweetup without Twitter? Well, we all wrote draft tweets and took loads of photographs, then sent them out in the last 15 minutes of the event when Twitter luckily came back online^^ Speaking of photographs, we all received special permission to take photographs in both exhibitions, which is usually absolutely verboten. Needless to say, everyone was very excited about this. At The Hive bloggers conference in May, someone said that what bloggers love more than money or recognition is receiving comments. I think being allowed to take your own photographs must be right up there with receiving comments, so this was possibly an even better “freebie” than the goodie bag we received at the bloggers session.

So to the exhibitions themselves. As the the titles imply, one exhibition shows Jeff Koons’ paintings, the other his sculptures, both with around 45 pieces each and from a selection of different series he was worked on. Personally, I think his work is an acquired taste. Both his paintings and his sculptures incorporate elements of popular culture, and he also seems to have a liking for scantily clad ladies. In his paintings, he takes these elements – cartoon characters and blow up beach toys, body parts and pin up girls, throws them together collage style, and adds some swirls and dots for good measure. Some paintings are fairly straight forward (e.g. “Bracelet” shows a bracelet), some seem straight forward enough despite being a bit bizarre (e.g. “Hair with cheese” shows blobs of cheese wearing wigs), whilst others just look like a sea of dots regardless of their titles. Then there are the ones which catch you by surprise, such as the beach toy puppy dog you’re thinking is quite cute, until you spot a nipple peaking subtly out behind it (and the not so subtle sexually explicit images, hidden behind a partition marked “not suitable for children and young people under 18”). Overall these weren’t really my cup of tea, but I did quite like his two series Popeye and Hulk Elvis. But with many of the paintings easily measuring 3 x 4 metres, I wouldn’t know where to hang them. Speaking of size, I never knew that Koons doesn’t actually paint the final paintings himself. He designs and sketches them out in advance, and meticulously plans their final composition. His designs are then printed out and transferred, i.e. painted, in sections on to the final canvas by his team of 50 to 100 people!

During the Kultup at the Liebighaus we were split in to two groups, and while the other group went round with the exhibition’s curator, we had the pleasure of museum guide Pascal Heß. And when I say pleasure, I mean pleasure. He radiated enthusiasm and really knew how to engage his audience. I think this in part contributed to me favouriting the sculptures over the paintings, but I also found them more interesting. While the paintings were exhibited in their own gallery and the focus was on Koons’ different styles and techniques, the sculptures were exhibited amongst the permanent exhibition of the Liebighaus – something Koons insisted on – with only one or two pieces in each room, not all of which are always immediately obvious, such as the Baroque style mirror.

Koons worked alongside the curator to place each piece and the careful selection shows, and our guide did a great job of deconstructing the individual sculptures in the juxtaposition to their surroundings. For example, a larger than life colourful and gleaming sculpture of Popeye stands against the backdrop of religious icons, also embellished with colours and gold paint, showing that colourful and shiny are not new concepts. Koons also plays with our cultural memory and what we know, or what we think we know! For example, everyone recognised Popeye at once, no explanation was necessary, and almost everyone responded to him favourably whilst being turned off by the Kitsch factor of a pig with a bow tie surrounded by three chubby angels. Cultural icons and kitsch, what we know.

But then there’s the two blow up beach toys hanging from the ceiling. Someone said they wanted to take them swimming. Then we find out they’re made of metal. What we think we know. And here you also begin to learn about Koons the perfectionist, whether it’s polishing every last crevice of the Popeye statue with cotton buds, or working the surface of a lobster sculpture to make it look deceptively like it really it really is a blown up beach toy.

I won’t go through every single sculpture that we saw, but each piece had a similarly fascinating story to tell. Koons is not just a perfectionist, but also considers himself to be conservative – hard to believe when you see some of his more garish pieces, like the girl in the bathtub, reduced to lips and nipples, but he relates this to his use of classic materials: wood, metal, porcelain. And he pushes these materials to the limit, e.g. a gigantic porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and his monkey Bubbles is the largest porcelain sculpture in the world made from a single piece. Or rather, one should say, he pushes his team to the limits, as just like the paintings Koons designs the pieces and his workers assemble them. By extension or Koons himself being a perfectionist, the sculptures are therefore in themselves examples of master craftsmanship.

Some say the Koons exhibition has been overhyped. I find it hard to judge that, but I would say that both exhibitions are impressive, whether it’s your cup of tea or not. But I would definitely recommend the sculpture exhibition for its uniqueness. So don’t wait to go and see Koons’ sculptures in another gallery against the backdrop of white walls, go and see them at the Liebighaus surrounded by religious icons, baroque statues and Egyptian coffins.

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Many thanks again to the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt for inviting me to this event and covering part of my train fare. Please note, however, that all views and opinions here are my own. 

 

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