Presumed artist and her fantastic creation. Text by me.

This kitsch is so good it hurts. It helps that most people assume the girl brandishing the masterpiece is also the genius behind it. We might like it less if the creator were a disheveled man in his forties who knew what he was doing, and pissed himself laughing while making it. So, let’s just assume she really made it, for now*.

In the real world, outside of the cloistered museum simulacrum, with its own language and culture virtually indecipherable to the uninitiated, and often indistinguishable from mindless gibberish, I dare say this girl’s balloon Jesus packs more of a wallop than Paul McCarthy’s 80 foot balloon dog, or Jeff Koons‘s  aluminum casts of balloon dogs.

Paul McCarthy’s 80 foot Balloon Dog, which is somehow a comment on Jeff Koons’s balloon dog.
Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog," chrome (2000)
Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog,” which is a comment on banality itself, and according to the artist, along with all his other work, has no hidden meanings.

The art of McCarthy or especially Koons is the highbrow conception of unbridled genius, while the presumed “craft” of the girl is painfully naive kitsch that does as much to undermine its subject as celebrate and dignify it.

And yet, in this contest between art-world-weary genius and unabashed naïveté, authenticity wins. After the Kool-Aid dissipates, and we start to question whether art history isn’t little more than an over-inflated, self-justifying fabrication upon reality, it’s just more interesting that some girl made an image of her savior out of balloons – crucified no less – than it is that corporate-minded contemporary artist Jeff Koons paid some people to fabricate balloon dogs in various colors out of chrome, and sold them for millions.

The art that is too lofty for the “common man” to fathom may turn out to be more superficial than the naive expression of his daughter, that isn’t even considered worthy of the name “art”.

Another way to put it is that unsophisticated innovations with balloon art outside of the art world are more captivating, radical and substantive (in terms of the relationship between the artist, balloon art and subject) than the cynical achievements of it’s own giants within the inner sanctum. A genuine, heartfelt balloon Jesus is just more intriguing than a mere balloon dog on a pedestal, with a spotlight on it, and a grandiose label. Also, it’s done rather well for what it is.

*I’ve done Google searches for who made the balloon Jesus in question, but turned up nothing. While I’d like to assume the girl made it herself, it’s easily possible that she merely had her picture taken with it and a balloon artist made it for her. Who knows what the story is behind it. If you fine out though, let me know.


Which isn’t to say I don’t do my own ironic works and laugh at them. But mine don’t sell at all.

Uh, here are a couple I’ve featured so far (click on them to link to the post in question):

Superman, by Eric Kuns
Sonic and Amy, by Eric Kuns

12 replies on “Real kitsch versus ironic kitsch

  1. Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog,” which is a comment on banality itself, and according to the artist, along with all his other work, has no hidden meanings.

    I’d have thought it went without saying that all of Koons’ stuff is a comment on banality itself, especially when someone forks over a million for it.

    Come to think of it, maybe Koons is really a performance artist and his true art consists of cashing the cheques.


    1. Which reminds me, why isn’t “performance art” really “theater”? This is kinda’ personal, because I used to be the assistant teacher for a “Performance Art” class, and by me, the students were doing staged acting pieces, which I thought belonged in theater.

      I’m a little cynical about contemporary art, because I think it’s got so full of hype that it’s fooling itself. And somehow “art” becomes the label for anything that doesn’t fit into any of the established categories such as music, theater, or even visual art. I haven’t figured out what to call some of this stuff, but it’s not really “art”, it’s something else, such as “physical commentary”. When art becomes more about the idea than the thing itself, then the idea must be that art, and the execution just the means of conveying it. If the idea is the art, then it is philosophy or sociology, and the art no different then a display in a history or science museum.


      1. Which reminds me, why isn’t “performance art” really “theater”?

        Because it’s also music, dance, cabaret, circus, burlesque …

        If the idea is the art, then it is philosophy or sociology, and the art no different then a display in a history or science museum.

        Art is a particular means of conveying ideas.
        Without an idea art is just craft (or plagiarism).
        I’d be more inclined to call a novel idea, poorly executed ‘art’ than I would a beautifully constructed piece that had nothing to say.


      2. We need to make a distinction between the use of word “art” to mean “visual art” and to mean all of the “arts” put together, including music, film, dance, architecture…

        What interests me is that stuff that doesn’t belong to any of the traditional arts automatically gets lumped in with visual art, so that you have films shown in an art gallery rather than a theater (and they may even need to build a mini-theater within the gallery to show the videos or films, while NOT classifying them as film). And yet they have far more in common with traditional films than painting.

        If I wanted to modify tea kettles to produce different sounds, and then set them all to go off together, that would be called “art” and be shown in a gallery. But it’s really music.

        When Chris Burden had himself shot in the arm that was called “art”. But why not call it theater? Why can’t we just have “conceptual theater” or “conceptual music”? Why do creative acts which resemble film, music, or theater get lumped in with visual art instead?

        Part of the answer is they aren’t considered good enough to qualify as film or music… Somehow those “arts”, along with architecture, demand a certain amount of recognizable ability. Art that isn’t technically proficient enough to make it into those other categories can still be tossed in with “art”. I can imagine the tea kettle thing in the street, and people saying, “that’s not ‘music’, that’s ‘art'”. However, once something is “art” it can be elevated to “high art” status, and thus a short video that’s too amateurish to qualify as “film” can transcend film and become ground-breaking “fine art”.

        I always like to go back to music, because this kind of thinking just doesn’t cut it in music. Conceptual music blows and nobody listens to it. Part of the reason is because it takes place in time, and people would have to waste time enduring it, whereas with visual art, it can be appraised in an instant, and one can think about the idea. In other words, one doesn’t have to “enjoy” the art. This is also whey we don’t have conceptual cuisine, such as “hot dog and mustard ice-cream” to challenge our ideas of Americana. Nobody wants to eat that shit. So there’s simply no conceptual cuisine, because it’s understood that cooking will actually need to be taken in.

        I too would prefer a novel idea (assuming it really was one) to a well-executed cliché. I’d also prefer a good sandwich, but I wouldn’t call that “art”, though rhetorically speaking a sandwich could easily be a work of art by contemporary standards. So, we aren’t talking about quality, but category. Why not call a novel idea “philosophy”? If it’s a truly novel idea, philosophers would certainly be interested in it.

        I think most the ideas in “conceptual art” aren’t very novel or interesting, but are derivative and hackneyed versions of century-old, and antiquated, avant-garde ideas. for example, Jeff Koon exhibiting appropriated kitsch and putting it in a gallery setting is not very far from Marcel Duchamp exhibiting a urinal. Duchamp exhibited an actual banal utilitarian object, and Koons showed an aggrandized replica of banal kitsch. One could get the idea in a split second, and one doesn’t need to see different examples in different colors, each selling for millions. The idea is actually kind of superficial. What makes the art at all impressive is the scale and materials, but after one has seen enough larger-than-life versions of everyday objects made out of something else, there’s no novelty at all, just as there would be no novelty in someone else exhibiting a urinal again today.

        So I say, a lot of this stuff isn’t really art, or at least not visual art any more than it is literature, film, or dance. It might need and deserve it’s own category. I like the designations “performance” and “installation” without even adding “art” after them. We don’t say something is “music art”, so why do we need to say something is “installation art”?

        Sometimes the English doesn’t work. If you make installations, do you call yourself an “installer”? We have to throw the word “artist” in there. Some installation is just conceptual interior decorating, but that’s another story.

        “Art” has come to include anything that doesn’t fit into any of the traditional categories, so now an “art” course could be voluminous, and art training could mean learning a huge range of disciplines and sub-disciplines, meanwhile music, literature, and architecture still mean about what they did over a century ago. Maybe, just maybe, all this stuff that doesn’t belong in music, literature, dance, and architecture, doesn’t belong in art either. It’s something else.


      3. Why not call a novel idea “philosophy”?

        Because it’s not the idea but how it’s expressed.

        If I had a novel idea about American celebrity culture and expressed it in an essay or lecture it might be called ‘sociology’ or ‘philosophy’.
        But if I expressed it with a series of screen prints of Marilyn Monroe’s face or a mime routine it would be ‘art’.

        So I say, a lot of this stuff isn’t really art, or at least not visual art any more than it is literature, film, or dance. It might need and deserve it’s own category. I like the designations “performance” and “installation” without even adding “art” after them.

        Your designations would fail to distinguish between the displays in a gallery and the light set up illuminating them or between a talking head reading the news and a poet reading her work.

        But as I don’t consider myself an artist nor an art critic I don’t have any stake in the word ‘art’ so I’m not precious about it. It’s just another word that is useful inasmuch as it is generally understood, not a sacred designation or piece of technical jargon than must be nailed down and defended.


      4. You got it backwards.

        I’m not saying “art” is precious, on the contrary, when we start reifying ideas as art and selling them for tens of millions of dollars, we are making them extraordinarily precious cultural artifacts, are we not? Do you not find that the most precious and sought after art is also that which requires the most sophisticated and obtuse explanations and qualifications as art at all? When we invest grandiose historical significance in someone drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa, is that not giving it preciousness?

        I’m not asking for a subtle definition of art that requires loads of jargon to nail down and defend. I’m doing the opposite. It’s much more difficult and precious to say why a urinal IS art, than why it is not, for example. I look at it and say, “that’s not art, it’s a statement about art.” That’s rather frank and to the point. I’m dashing away the fluff, not embellishing it.

        Ironically, you make a distinction between poetry and an anchorman reading the news. If a urinal can be sculpture, reading the news can be poetry. Your distinction, by your own standards, is a “precious” one, which perhaps reflects your own poetry writing.

        If you look at your own stance on poetry, via the way art is defined, you are definitely the precious one trying to protect poetry from being melded with other forms of oral outpouring. Actually, you agree with me, but insist on misreading what I wrote. I would also argue that reading the news isn’t poetry. Get it?! It isn’t art. And it isn’t precious to say it isn’t poetry, it’s precious to say that it is. Settled?

        Think it through.


      5. I’d concede that someone reading the news not for the sake of reading it (or just to do their job) but in order to make a comment about, say, journalism would be ‘art’.

        So Pamela Stephenson taking the piss out of BBC pronunciation on ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ is doing art, but the newscasters she sends up are not.

        As I said, it’s gotta have the ‘idea’ as well as the execution.


      6. My response to you is then “poetry” because it contains the idea that it is poetry. But here we will have to make a distinction between the poetry and the idea of this reply being poetry, because it is the idea that is important and not the cadences or rhymes. If you reply to this you cannot call it poetry because you’d be stealing my idea. I’d say it’s just an idea, but you can call it poetry, and I’d call that being ultra precious.


  2. One wonders where it will all end. The speculative bubble in art has to burst someday. Although the entrance of so many newly minted Chinese multi-millionaires will prop it up for a while. What is your opinion overall of “found art objects”. I mean where the artist actually interacts with the objects and transforms them in some way. Not just sticking a urinal on a pedestal and calling it art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bob:

      When it comes to the financial aspects, well, I’m limited to regurgitating what other people have to say on the topic, sort of like me talking about a scientific matter. I don’t have my own thoughts on it because it’s an area of specialized expertise, and not mine. Your guess is as good as mine, or better, as regards the marketplace.

      “Found art objects”? Usually I associate that with “readymades”, when artists really do just “recontextualize” something as art by putting art quotes around it. But, other artists do incorporate found objects into sculptures, assemblages, and even paintings. Picasso started that, I think, by putting snippets of advertisements and wall paper in a painting. Robert Rauschenberg created paintings with things like bedspreads in them, and has a painted sculpture with a goat with a tire around its mid-section. I rather like those.

      There’s a guy who gets Thrift Store paintings and adds things to them, like Spock or some contemporary pop culture icon. Those are clever and amusing. So, I think there’s all sorts of things people could do that incorporate found objects that I’d probably like. On some level I will do a bit of that when I do collages, or use a backdrop from a movie in a digital painting (ex., the selfie as Howard Beal from Network, with the clocks and wall from the movie behind me).

      I think you probably could anticipate my answer, in that the more the artist contributes of his or her unique vision, or aesthetic sensibility, the more I can find something to engage with. If it’s just re-contextualizing an inert object as fine art, well, the first sin is it’s deadly boring, and I have a low boredom threshold. Duchamp even said that he was impressed that people started going to galleries and museums in order to be bored. This, for him, was a good thing. I’m too much a product of my American, working class upbringing to not appreciate that I’d rather watch an episode of Fargo, or Black Mirror, then go to a boring-ass art exhibit to look at a crumpled ball on a pedestal any day. If art’s going to hold my interest, it can’t start out by trying to be boring. I have a hard enough time staying awake as it is.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s