Jeff Koons, the contemporary artist, has always given me the creeps, and Balloon Dog (Orange) — which fetched the highest price for a work of art by a living artist in auction history — is to me one of his creepiest pieces. Here it is:
(Although the work was executed in 1994-2000, its color, orange, may be regarded as a peculiar harbinger, Koons then being one of Shelley’s “unacknowledged legislator of the world,” giving the ironic lie to Koons’ claim that “a viewer might at first see irony in my work, but I see none at all. Irony causes too much critical contemplation.”)
Balloon Dog (Orange) was a tremendous commercial, and therefore artistic, success, and vice versa. Said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, in the press release announcing the auction:
At a time when collectors are propelling rare master works to new price levels at auction, the sale of Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog will be a spectacular event for buyers around the world. This is a definitive icon of the 20th century. The Balloon Dog is the Holy Grail for collectors and foundations. In private hands, the work has always communicated the prominence and stature of its owner…. To own this work immediately positions the buyer alongside the very top collectors in the world and transforms a collection to an unparalleled level of [again?].
Koons remarks: “[T]he seriousness with which a work of art is taken is interrelated to the value it has. The market is the greatest critic.”
Balloon Dog — just look at it — is also all about surface (because what is a balloon, but surface?). The Times, reviewing the bright shiny object, comments:
But the ”Balloon Dog,” an elephantine stainless steel copy of a balloon twisted into the form of a big-earred creature, is unequivocally wonderful. With its bulbous volumes, like giant sausage links, coated in translucent, coppery orange lacquer, it has a breathtaking physical presence.
Balloon Dog (Orange)’s aesthetic is, therefore, Trumpian; it’s all about the surface; and — see Gorvy, supra — it’s all about the deal. Corey Robin comments on Trump’s judgment in matters of surface:
When it comes to saying something with buildings, Trump is less concerned with size and scale than with surfaces. This is a man incapable of reading a summary of a briefing paper. But show him a window treatment, mention a slab of stone or pane of burnished glass, and his attention is rapt. Suddenly he becomes the most observant diarist, recording detail after loving detail of the beauty he sees and its effects on him:
Der, Ivana, and I looked at hundreds of marble samples. Finally, we came upon something called Breccia Perniche, a rare marble in a color none of us had ever seen before — an exquisite blend of rose, peach, and pink that literally took our breath away. . . . It created a very luxurious and a very exciting feeling.
Amid a complex account of the financial challenges of retail, Trump can’t help noting that one of his atrium’s tenants sells leather pants that are “soft and buttery.”
Visitors to the Oval Office say Mr. Trump is obsessed with the décor. . . . He will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden drapes, which he told a recent visitor were once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt but in fact were patterned for Bill Clinton. For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.
And now let’s look at the Trump and health care deals. We’ve essentially had four versions of a
post-Apocalyptic wasteland neoliberal approach to health care (not counting what came before ObamaCare). (1): We had ObamaCare, originally a Republican plan, with its combination of Medicaid expansion and a highly regulated marketplace (covering, among other things, pre-existing conditions). Sold as providing universal care and “bending the cost curve,” ObamaCare did neither. While expanding Medicaid, a successful program, ObamaCare’s marketplace was absurdly complex, and while delivering undoubted benefits to some, its onerous eligibility process, narrow networks, and high co-pays and deductibles denied benefits to many others. It’s benefits were also random with respect to jurisdiction, income, age, and ability to manage the complexities. (2) We had several iterations from the Republican establishment, first from Paul Ryan, and then from Mitch McConnell. Absurdly, despite voting to repeal ObamaCare umpty-million times and working their base into a lather about it, the Republican establishment couldn’t deliver a bill, and what they proposed was in essence ObamaCare with less coverage. (As I said at the time: ObamaCare is the worst possible Republican plan. (Surely, if Trump had any illusions after election 2016 that the Republican Establishment is anything other than clueless, Ryan and McConnell together undeceived him.) (3) We had the comedic interlude of Graham-Cassidy, a “state’s rights” approach to health care policy that turned out to contain savage cuts to Medicaid. And finally (4) we have Trump proposing to do a number on ObamaCare all by himself, upending the ObamaCare marketplace by ending the CRS subsidies to the insurance companies, and inducing a death spiral in it by introducing Paul Ryan’s “association health plans,” which, though worse, would be cheaper, and so the healthy would buy them, turning the ObamaCare marketplace into a high-risk pool. Of course, all those things can’t be done with a stroke of the pen, since new rules and regulations must be written, and it’s all going to be challenged in court anyhow, by the insurance companies, the states, and who knows who else.
So two points: Trump supported #2, #3, and #4. A President who cared about consistency on policy or principle couldn’t possibly do that; it would be like me supporting Medicare for All today, and then supporting a combination of subsidized catastropic insurance plans and health savings accounts tomorrow. Na ga happen, but for Trump, no problemo. Why? Because for Trump, it’s the fact of a deal that matters, not the deal itself. He says so himself. Of his own approach, #4:
Q What do you say to critics who say that you ending the CSRs, the subsidies under Obamacare, will throw the markets into chaos?
THE PRESIDENT: What it’s going to do is that’s going to be good for everybody. That money is a subsidy for insurance companies. Take a look at their stocks. Look where they are. They’re going through the roof, from past — I don’t know about today. But the insurance companies that made a fortune, that money was a subsidy and almost, you could say, a payoff for insurance companies.
And what we have to do is come up with great healthcare. Now, that’s what I did partially yesterday; that’s going to cover a big segment. But now, for the rest, we have to come up with great — whether it’s going to be block grants [Graham-Cassidy] or something else [who knows?]. And we just about have the votes.
where people could really get the kind of healthcare that they deserve, being citizens of our great country.
Yet what’s most remarkable about Trump’s political vision is how economistic it can be, especially at moments when he hews most closely to a hard image of the state. Where antimarket conservatives flew into the arms of the state (in both senses) as an end run around the market, Trump often sees the state as consisting of nothing but market transactions, or “deals.” Money is the instrument of state power. Money is the end of state power. Anyone aspiring to wield state power should be an adept of money. Success or failure in the business world is the best test of one’s political mettle.
As Jeff Koons says: “The market is the greatest critic.” Back to Corey Robin:
Even when Trump tries to talk the language of hard power — violence, coercion — he cannot avoid sliding back into the anemic idioms of the market he knows so well.
“Negotiate something.” Anything! And why? Because Trump is sending Democrats the message that he has leverage over them and their program. Which is in fact true.
Now, I don’t want to pretend I can forecast how such a negotiation would go, or whether there’s an overlapping solution space between enough factions of both parties to matter. Clearly, Trump has set no preconditions on policy detail, because he doesn’t care about policy. (If he did, he’d be consistent). He has, however, set the precondition that the Democrats must come to him (“come and negotiate something”). Even that may be too much for Democrats; Schumer has said that Trump should come to them, and work on whatever weak tea bipartisan scheme. Of course, at the highest level, both party establishments want to head off Medicare for All, so there may be some overlap there. Nevertheless, the Democrats might conclude that fighting Trump’s unilateral rulemaking in court, and the delays in rulemaking itself, will be enough to carry them through to 2018, and so they won’t deal. If they do, for Trump, as we have seen, what matters is that there be a deal, and that the deal possess, oh, a “soft and buttery” surface. Or a shiny one. Or whatever, the surface has to be “great,” and sellable as great. What a “great” surface would look like — except Medicare for All — I don’t know. It seems unlikely that either party has what it takes to devise — again, except Medicare for All — a surface that induces a “very luxurious and a very exciting feeling.”
Summing up: I don’t think we’ve ever had a President who was purely transactional, but perhaps, as with Jeff Koons, perhaps that’s the best way to start thinking about Trump.
 I’m going to leave “bulbous volume” alone. Make up your own jokes!
 “It’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself.”
 The Democrats seem not to have understood that what is done by rule can be undone by rule, and seem not have given consideration to the idea that they might lose control of the executive branch. This is quite remarkable, since they’ve lost control of everything else.
I read an article awhile back with the headline stating Koons was the Kayne West of the art industry. I found it to be an insult to Mr. West.
The reign of error is about the facade, and the emperor’s new close friends.
Lambert. Huge thanks for that wonderful NE clip.
Was huge fan of that series back in 90s while in the U.K. Caused some raised eyebrows amongst friends & family and some concern for my sanity.
This is probably the only place where I can get healthcare policy (and character!) analysis and Northern Exposure clips in one post.
I still think Trump is in a bind. Given the right constellation of forces, I think Trump could be sold on Medicare for All, but there is no way to get it through congress. Every other policy simply provides less and more expensive care, whereas Trump has promised better and cheaper care.
The bind is that a large part of the Trump base, esp small business owners, really do blame Ocare for the excessive cost of health care, and they want Trump and the Rs to fix it like they said they were going to. Again, I think this constituency would be thrilled with MfA, getting them out of the health care business entirely, but I don’t see the votes. I used to think they would just pass some BS, probably along the lines of Graham Cassidy, and try to sell it as better and cheaper. They still might. But it will not be an easy sell.
BTW, hate the dog.
Me too. Why do so many bad or trivial artists get so much attention? Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, inter alia. Look at this article about two pieces of kindergarten finger painting sold for half a billion dollars:
It also helps to have patrons in high (and secret) places:
Oh, and Koons is an excellent – meaning truly awful – tinker/carnival barker for the marathon status competition in the Overlcass Olympics.
Nothing beats Louis Nye playing a “Moderne” artist in the 1963 version of “The Wheeler Dealers.”
It’s saying something when “Camp” art is taken seriously. At least Dadaist artists displayed a sense of irony.
Why the need to present one’s (eminently disputable) personal “art rankings” as universal (or necessary) truths? On what authority is such a claim made? How is it claimed? What or who is the supposed attentive audience? And what of those who might disagree – as I do on Pollock, Mondrian and Rothko – Ignorant? Stupid? Perverse? And if so, then presumably you are not talking to them. So you must be talking to those who agree with you. In that case what have you told them they didn’t already “know”?
Please educate us. Direct us to some good works of art by Pollock, Mondrian, and Rothko. Maybe we just haven’t seen the good stuff. Provide some links with images. Thanks.
You must educate yourself. One way to do that is to take the opposite point of view and tell us why that art is good art, tell us how it evokes that response and what it can say to you or someone else. Therein lies your education. You could start with the orange dog and here’s my take:
Wow, a brilliant colors by numb assessment of these tawdry times, most excellent.
Yes, that could be another assessment.
The internet is full of free (or inexpensive) cartoons and Alec Baldwin. The orange balloon dog is an overpriced scam. The people who paid for it are gullible suckers. That’s my take on that. YMMV.
I still want to see some references to good stuff by Pollock, Mondrian, and Rothko. I’ve seen plenty of bad stuff. I need someone who’s knowledgeable to direct me to some of the good stuff (which might not exist).
Art is the cultural R&D department of the future, where as with tech there are any number of interesting failed futures. And some of those failures can become successes in a future they never anticipated.
There are innumerable art worlds that speak to evolving and differing cultural concerns. If Der Still (Mondrian) or Abstract Expressionism (Pollack & Rothko) don’t tell you anything interesting, fine: Matisse and Rousseau leave me cold while I’m a fan of Toulouse Latrec, Pollack and Francis Beacon.
If you don’t like any of them, so what, you have your own interests. That doesn’t make me stupid or my taste bad or alter all the things we likely agree on, but in attacking a surface effect, taste in art, other connections and sympathies are likely to be obscured.
I would never presume to judge someone on their taste in art without first understanding them as a person with a past, experiences and interests that inform to what they give attention. This makes me slow to judge art, needing to contextualize it before I can judge, and often learning surpring things in the process.
Koons, who I’ve followed since the mid 80s is in my opinion, like Warhol, interested in providing a cultural patina for a robust love of money: Trumpian art par excellence. Even despite that, they both have a couple (or 1) good works.
De Stijl, senior moment
Rothko is one of my all-time favorites…distilling emotions down to basic color fields.
Must be seen in person. Most of his canvas’ are huge..
Some of the canvases by Albert Bierstadt, Fredric Edwin Church, Caspar David Friedrich, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, and Diego Velazquez are huge, too. Quite dramatic, too. Those are some (not all) of my favorites.
There’s no way to get it through the present Congress. But having that kind of proposal publicly rejected might have significant implications for 2018. And it’s not clear to me that Trump wants the current Republican Congress re-elected; he seems to be quite upset with them much of the time.
I wonder whether Sanders has a back channel to Trump.
All it would take is some brave small business types to holler “MedicareForAll” and for their man Donald to plug into their call and Donald could be on his way for another term in 2020. The R’s in the House would wilt away, so would most the Senate R’s.
Of course Democrats COULD do the same, but the Russians have landed. Sanders should have a back channel to the Orange Dog in the White House
Modern art (read: post ww2) gives me the willies, but the Unabankers adore it so and the more expensive it is, the more they crave it as talismans of being able to pay so much for a lack of talent.
For a mere $9,000 you can acquire a limited edition Jeff Koons mini-balloon dog. Seriously:
And for those unable to afford the real thing, polished resin knockoffs are available on Etsy for as little as 15 dollahs.
With a bit of ingenuity it could be made into a stealth sex toy. :-()
Why couldn’t you just make your own. If you can find a bag of balloons with enough orange balloons you might be able to complete your balloon dog for a couple of dollars.
Then coated it with the residue of melted pennies.
The art world consists almost entirely of high-functioning imbeciles, with a few con, um, artists swimming amongst them unseen.
Seriously, when I watch Antiques Roadshow and see something from the Revolutionary War, touched by a Founding Father or at least somebody well known, and then they follow it with some unrecognizable smear of gorp on a canvas by some opium addict which is assessed at 10x the piece of real history, I just…ugh.
Well I used to tell myself that the zillionaires needed something to put on their walls, but wt(family blog) do you do with this stupid thing?
Sigh. I did read the rest of the posting, very interesting. But had to get the art-world hate off my chest.
There was a Canadian artist in the 70’s, called himself Evergon (still does, apparently), did a piece called pisschrist, a crucifix in a bottle of his own urine, IIRC (all searches just bring up some punk song by Fear Factor, sorry, so can’t confirm). A respected Cdn art critic was ooh-aahing on a CBC radio programme at the rebellion, the statement, the originality, the daring when his co-panelist, another art critic, cut him off — , “The art party is the easiest party in the world to crash.”
Immersion by Andres Serrano 1987.
Art can be a very subjective thing, but yeah modern art feels like a near century long con.
It’s not that I don’t like much of it, but unlike with say modern music, hip hop, ska, or latest fusion punk/rock/jazz/whatever, even if it makes my ears bleed, my eyes pop out of my skull, run screaming from the room while hating it with every auditory nerve I have left, I can still feel the soul, the it, whatever you want to call it. The passion, the expression, the exploration. It’s there. I might want to kill the band, but is real.
Modern visual arts are often, WTF am I looking at and why should I care? It’s worth how much? It’s insured? Good. Is there a garbage can somewhere?
There is no message, no passion, no nothing. Just a sense of being conned.
PissChrist was done by someone else in the 80’s. maybe you just got mixed up…. or he got copied,
When I saw that work of art, I was amazed at how beautiful the colour of urine is and the way it magically transformed the crucifix.
Symbiosis. Koons is a self-effacing birthday clown entertaining an exclusive party to which we are not invited, as he clearly references such themes. For the giant steel balloon animal is as unsound as the world into which it was created, where Griffin and Geffen individually command such resources in the first place.
If one, as an artist, were to step into such an arena, one best take no intellectual prisoners, perhaps by a figurative dousing of the party in kerosene, barricading the fire exits, and striking the match as you shuffle out. Every artistic generation tries to ensure her legend’s endurance by leaving the art world a scorched radioactive pile of rubble, so as the subsequent generation can’t put the pieces back together and compete. Natch, economists do the very same–rearrange the world into such a shocking complete image, may the economy never be imagined in any other way.
I wonder how beautiful that orange dog would be after being touched by a set of sticky fingered two year olds….
If the artist was half-way smart, the orange doggie would come with a very expensive maintenance contract.
I am wondering if the artist of that piece may be having a dig at modern people and art. You give balloon dogs to kids at parties to entertain them and make them wonder at how a simple balloon can become something extraordinary. You see the same effect with people having their heads buried in a mobile or tablet. Maybe, just maybe, the artist is saying that modern art has become like a massive balloon party dog and is all delight whereas art in an earlier era wanted to draw you in and to make you think. The temptation to think so is there.
Photography in the middle of the 19th century killed the need to make art that was realistic, and we’ve gone off the deep end with this modern garbage, none of which a camera could ever compete with.
If you ever get a chance, borrow the book “The Painted Word” by Tom Wolfe of “The Right Stuff” fame. Even though it was written in 1975, he does a real demolition job on modern art that is worth reading.
Thanks for the reminder. I was aware of the book, but I never got around to reading it. Now it’s definitely on my to-read list.
I’m still hoping someone will recommend specific works of art by abstract expressionists. I strongly suspect that there aren’t any good works in this genre, but I’ve been wrong many times in the past. Interestingly, the acclaimed wildlife painter Robert Bateman went through a phase as an abstract expressionist, and then he switched to realistic nature art. I’m very grateful that he did so.
Banana Republican: Old ‘Yeller
Koon’s soothing, bland (likely false) statements just add to the overall effect of creepiness – (Is a dark joke being played? Feels like it) Seems the more benign the subject the sculpture his sculpture is modeled after – the creepier. Little balloon dog – here is transformed into a faceless orange giant that bounces back one’s glance – impenetrable. What’s going on – this ambiguity makes his work powerful – even though I do no love this work. Maybe the price is right? I have not a clue.
Trump’s creepy patter, his net of lies, evasions… just ignorance, and malevolence? Is he stupid? He IS the president! – that took cunning. He made it to the top. Made the big sale. Impressive. Even though he is awful. (like his whole party) But He did show ’em – and give a beating to the mainstream Democratic Party – no one will soon forget.
Healthcare! Oh Lord -What a mess.
it’s just art, maybe it was never meant to be taken so seriously as everyone here seems to, but just if you enjoy looking at it do, and maybe if you even take something from it so be it, and if not not. I mean visual representations artists make can’t always be reduced to any kind of linear logical meaning, many are enigmas indeed, at what they are even trying to say, but they just as well may be meant to be experienced as pure visual.
People paying vasts sums of money for it, well that is their problem, fools and their money, since rich people’s money would be up to no good anyway (unless taxed away, some charities do good but have strong elements of control of the one-down recipients by the one-up donors), it is just as well.
Humordor has no problem with the 2 Columbian Cartels that run the place, it’s just the rest of the country that is nonplussed in regards to them.
Is there anyway to avoid a late term apportion debate about healthcare?
More interesting than the dog, its color, or what stupid people with far more money than brains might pay for it…
How do we get trump the deal he lusts for that happens to be Mfa?
First, would trump actually go for it? All plans to date slash med spending to pay for tax cuts for the rich, another thing he lusts for. To avoid a huge boost in gov spending companies and their workers would see their current payments to ins corps replaced by payments to gov, also called a tax, anathema to most reps, to say nothing about the campaign contributions from grateful ins corps to happy pols. But he really wants a deal, imo he’d do it if he could.
117 dem co sponsors in the house… need another 100. Could trump bring 100 reps?
18 in the senate… can trump bring 32 reps?
He doesn’t think so, explaining why he’s not for it… as lambert says, any deal will do, but it has to get the votes.
Would dems that support continue supporting if trump gets the credit? Not all…
Should they? If passing Mfa for all makes trump and reps popular, might more dems lose their seats?
Could Bernie beat trump in 2020 if trump passes Mfa? Bernie might go for this deal, dunno about dems. And I support Bernie and Mfa, but 8 years of trump?
Trump would do this deal, imo not many others.
I’m with you–his ego wants legacy. The Mt Rushmore type. He’ll partner with anything that gets him there and MfA would put him in line–along with the disruption he is causing the powers in place(both R&D’s).
Sanders should have back channels with that Devil cause he has the deal to make.
I think often about –“Draining the swamp”–and while still confounded at the task and method, I am really sure I won’t get the job I want done by ‘by runnin tha fu—ng bulldozer full bore up into it’. Think on it a minute.
As for Koons–the worst thing an Art MFA in the 80s wanted to hear in Critique was that they were making Art Dogs.
Jeff Koons is a serious artist who produces the totemic art of our age: gaudy, vacuous crap, totally without artistic merit. He shows us what the Market values, and what the values of the Market are. Balloon Dog cannot be separated from its price tag. Thus one must question what “value” itself even means. $55 million dollars. It is not about the object. It is about the unreality of modern life, how much of it functions in pure concepts, ephemeral dreams upon which we build our society. It has the quality of a zen koan about it; smashing through illusion to see what is really there: the void.
I just figure $55 million for the rich is like a middle class person going to the goodwill and buying tchotchkies which if they aren’t mass produced are artists unknown (someone who took a painting or pottery class once has signed their name), because they are really rather pretty. Maybe the same thing but on a rich person’s scale.
Wow! Such anger!
Balloon dog pretty harmless, and yea I kind of like it.
The REAL harm of people paying a bunch of money for stuff that probably isn’t worth it, come from things like the housing market. Put a nice new paint job on any crap shack and sell it for 1-2 million. Because the pretty paint, new doors and nice landscaping, is all that matters see, not the structure. Meanwhile the rest of us must make our way though this crazy world trying to seek out shelter however we can, when that all style and no substance underlies the price of such a basic necessity. How is that for truly bad art?
Trump is real harm too of course, but of an entirely different sort. And yea I can see debating the merits of balloon dog over talking about getting a MFA bill though a Republican congress and the Trump white house, because honestly the dog isn’t quite that absurd.
Surfaces and reflections.
I like abstract and modern art — and tend to prefer it to other art. But I don’t especially regard the “art” of the orange dog. It presents a giant flashy triviality. I do like the shiny smooth surface of the dog and think it could make a fun toy for a kids playground — add a few ladders and put foam around it. The craftsmanship of the dog is remarkable — but hardly something the artist can claim. [By-the-Way — I am very fond of Calder’s art. Not sure what category it fits. I like DeKooning and some Mondrian and I like Paul Klee’s art very much. I should also admit admiring some children’s art.]
I believe art ran into a little problem around the time the camera was invented. Before the camera large efforts went into capturing images from the outside world or creating imaginary images which appear as though from the the outside world. Why wrestle with paints and canvas if carefully pointing a box can capture more than all the details of reality an artist might take months of effort painting? If capturing and representing the real world is not the purpose of art — then what is? I think Art is still working on the answer to that. And I think the answer must utltimately come from and may convey a richer understanding of our natures. [Actually it may be a deeper nature than purely human. A couple of decades ago I rememeber reading in the Smithsonian Magazine about an elephant at the Philadelphia zoo that painted abstracts. Unlike the other elephants this elephant had a very definite notion how things must be represented — even to the point of taking the brush away from a younger elephant and “correcting” the younger elephant’s work.]
I like to make glass art [– at least it is art to me and I make the art for me. Some interior compulsion drives me to make it.] In glass art and other arts which grow from older crafts and manufactures there is heated debate about what is art and what is craft and skill in execution and what are their relationships. In some ways the debate is not unlike the debate about the importance of skill as a draftsman [skill at representational drawing] to making paintings and fine drawings.
But this discussion about art — What is art? What is good art? Misses focus on the much more disturbing aspect of the Orange Dog. What is the place of money in art? How much should money and power drive the direction of art? I believe Art is something to be shared — a special Gift to All. In some cases I believe it is an expression of the friction between an individual and Society. Art as a commodity or driven by a state or corporate aesthetic is a pollution of artistic impulse and of Art. And no! I do not believe in the “starving artist” theory popularized around figures like Van Gogh. How should I value a Society and Culture that values artists so little that it would let them starve?
I don’t believe this is about art or the art scene.
I think the point here is that the dog is like Trump. All surface, carnival mirror reflections, and a blown up cartoon of our “postmodern” world.
Trump can only see himself via the reflections of his actions on others since he seems to be existentially empty. That this piece was purchased for $53M and Trump was elected seems to be part of the same syndrome,
Our culture & media also appear to be fascinated by surface and reflections, chasing twitter posts & celebrity, disputing knowledge, basking in the trivial while the profound (like social justice, climate change, etc.) remains occluded.
I think its a wonderful metaphor – Trump is balloon dog,
and one of the best posts ever.