In the run-up to Jeff Koons's first New York museum solo, opening this month at the Whitney Museum of American Art (June 27-Oct. 19), A.i.A. offers some of our writers' observations on the artist from the archives. Here, a review by writer, filmmaker and artist Gary Indiana of Koon's first gallery show, at New York's International With Monument, from our November 1985 issue.
This unusually poetic show of framed sportswear ads, bronze casts of sports and flotation equipment, and basketballs in water tanks possessed an internal coherence surprising for the diversity of the pieces, and carried a feeling of somber reverie quite at odds with the whimsical materials it used. As an ensemble, Koons's show was unified by a preoccupation with physical gravity and metaphoric entropy.
There were the ads, first of all, ranged along the gallery walls, each proposing some ideal states of being: blacks in tennis sneakers costumed as knights, as Moses, as Chairmen of the Board, balancing basketballs in their large hands or otherwise participating simultaneously in "the world of sports" and the real world of power relations, physical mastery and socioeconomic advantage paired in media fantasies. These pictures were extracted from a real series of Nike ads, beautifully contrived examples of mercantile allegory.
Lifesaving and rescue were more specifically indexed by the bronze diving equipment and a small lifeboat, complete with useless bronze oars. The means of survival in the medium of water are rendered in these pieces as weighted, encumbering death traps, polished in places to shine and attract, but mainly crumpled looking, as if they'd been retrieved from the site of some disaster at sea, or hauled up from newly charted depths. Along with a bronze soccer ball and a bronze basketball, these works hint at perils hidden in our fondest assumptions—physical, social, whatever.
Finally, the aquarium tanks situated throughout the gallery contained balls suspended illogically at fixed depths, neither floating nor sinking. These, conceivably, symbolize an unvarying actual state of things existing beneath the hyperactive surface of life—not death, exactly, which causes matter to continue doing things, nor what one would care to call life, but a state like narcolepsy, in which just enough energy accumulates and gets expended to maintain immobility. This (I think) is Koons's metaphor for current conditions in the biosphere—in art, culture and the social world. Koons puts this all across with such finesse and amiability that I could be completely mistaken about it, but the show did invite interpretation.