Daily Archives: November 11, 2020

Timeout for Art: Kitsch

plastic solar flamingo, with frog, on my kitchen window sill

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms by Michael Clarke, kitsch “is associated with vulgarity and a lack of taste such as are to be found in many tourist souvenirs and in works of art which exhibit similar qualities.”

We’ve all seen them: little sculptures made of acorns, pinecones or sea shells, mounted on slices of wood and stamped with a location; small, mass-produced painted porcelain figurines; knickknacks and tchotchkes that find their way onto shelves and side tables. Unless you’re much better at editing what comes into your home than I am, you probably own a few. Just a glance around my living space revealed a dozen shameful examples.

Jeff Koons is a modern artist that has taken the idea of “kitsch” and turned it on its head. He chooses his subjects from the tackiest examples of mass produced gewgaws, renders them often in materials usually reserved for the finest modern sculptures…then sometimes mass produces them. His work challenges all old ideas of fine art versus low art.

“Popeye” Granite sculpture by Jeff Koons
“Bob Hope” stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons
“Split Rocker” 37′ multi-media sculpture by Jeff Koons that is planted yearly with thousands of flowering annuals
“Michael Jackson and Bubbles” gilded porcelain sculpture by Jeff Koons

“Rabbit” mirror-polished and painted stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons with his “Balloon Dog” sculpture of mirror-polished and painted stainless steel

According to one Washington Post article,

Jeff Koons [is] perhaps America’s most famous contemporary artist and one of its most polarizing. To some, he is a genius who elevates the banal into work powerful enough to alter our imagination and to rekindle childhood wonderment. Others see him as an artist who skillfully caters to an art market where the hyper-rich go to have fun while investing their money.

Whichever category Jeff Koons falls into, whether you appreciate his message or not, he has definitely made his mark. The sale of one of his “Balloon Dog” sculptures, for over 53 million dollars, set a record for the most money paid for a work by any living artist.