“Radical” refers to a style of art, like “punk” labels a kind of rock – it does not mean that something is really new, innovative, or unprecedented. Radical is often a kind of clean, conceptual look signalling the expansive complexity of the extraordinarily simple; the implicit volumes spoken in the one-liner.
Yesterday I wrote an article about Koons’ new show, in which he put his trademark blue “gazing balls” on little shelves in front of painted copies of famous paintings. It was obviously the next step, perhaps the unavoidable consequence, of his preceding sculptures. In the comments section, a fellow blogger mentioned a probable indebtedness to Yves Klein. I thought, “Yeah, Klein made everything a deep blue”, but I didn’t know or remember his blue sculptures, which wouldn’t have much impressed me if I had seen them. But what did impress me when I looked them up about an hour ago was that they are conceptually very similar to Koons’ sculptures. We have sculptures cloned from antiquity, and then altered by a signature device or tag of a celebrity artist. Klein painted them his own shade of blue, International Klein Blue, and Koons adorned each of his with his signature blue Christmas tree ornament, bauble, or “gazing ball”.
The works are not identical. Klein used plaster casts, and Koons, with a much higher budget and accustomed to making tens of millions off of his work, hired living sculptors to make replicas of classical pieces. Koons also has some transparent rhetoric about his work containing everything within it, because, well, the balls reflect everything around them, but it’s hardly persuasive. If I decided to cover similar sculptures with chewing gum (perhaps scraped off the NY City sidewalk), or have them made out of blown glass and fill them with Nyquil or Windex, if any of those were part of my self-branding, it would be the same thing.
The least we can ask of sterile new work in a white-walled gallery, calling itself “radical”, is that it not have already been done more than a half century ago. So the problem here is that the Klein sculptures are from 1962, and the Koons’ versions from 2013, thus a 51 year difference. That is just over the line of too old a thing to copy and still call it shockingly new.
If we are already post postmodern, maybe it’s time to be post radical, before the shockingly mundane ceases to keep our eyes open for longer than a few seconds. Otherwise we might end up with this.
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