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, an excerpt from Peter Schjeldahl's feature article on Documenta 9, from our September 1992 issue.
A specter haunted Belgian impresario Jan Hoet's Documenta 9. It was a perky Scottie dog surfaced with growing flowers and nearly 40 feet high, a sculpture by Jeff Koons. The fragrant pooch, sitting with tongue out, greeted the world from the open courtyard of an 18th-century palace in the town of Arolsen, about 20 miles from Kassel, as part of a show organized by Veit Loers in his time off from serving as director of Kassel's Fridericianum Museum (the main building for Documenta).
Koons imbued Puppy, as it was forthrightly titled, with sculptural finesse far beyond the gimcrackery of the Rose-Bowl-parade floats it might recall. It was extremely grand. Deployed on a subtly off-kilter axis with the palace, the blooming animal tantalized and eluded the grasp of comprehension from any distance or angle. To dislike it, in its presence, was not possible.
While I stood beside it taking botanical notes (in case you care, the variegated flowers, rooted in sacks of potting soil and used like paints to limn the dog's coat, included impatiens, marigolds, begonias and daisies), a group of severely disabled children in wheelchairs arrived, wide-eyed with delight. It struck me as a weirdly but thoroughly successful piece of political art. This being Koons, the politics in question are neo- or faux-royalist.
Materialized noblesse oblige, Puppy radiated the benevolence of privilege, condescending-in the word's old, positive sense-to folks of all conceivable tastes and classes, in one seamless package providing esthetic sophistication for sophisticates, innocent joy for the naive and vulgar jollies for the vulgar. It should have been in Documenta fronting the Fridericianum, where it would have both called the bluff and upped the ante of a more evasively condescending game played by Hoet. (It would have replaced as Documenta's sculptural logo a huge Jonathan Borofsky of a man striding skyward on a metal tube, a work advertising transcendences that the exhibition was helpless to deliver.) As it was, for those who visited Koons's beast bountiful, Hoet's show is apt to go down in memory as the Documenta of the Dog.