Something else that got done in London the other weekend: we popped along to the Serpentine Gallery, to see the Jeff Koons show that’s on there at the moment. His first major show in Britain, apparently; his first major show in a 20-odd year career.
The Serpentine can seem quite a small gallery, at time, and we both soon realised that it wasn’t going to take us very long to get around the Koons exhibition. Before long, it felt like we’d seen all he had to say; before long, we were back at the front door, and we went on to spend rather longer in the gallery bookshop than we had looking round the show.
The sculptures in the exhibition consisted of pristine replicas of inflatable toys, balanced precariously, or suspended from chains. According to the captions, all were made from cast aluminium, carefully finished to look exactly like the real thing. We had a hard time, in many cases, believing that they weren’t the real thing. Some were strangely interlaced with garden chairs or decorative ironwork; in those cases it was obvious it would be very hard to get real inflatables to behave like that. It was hard to think, though, that the other, uncorrupted inflatables shouldn’t be gently swaying in the breeze. We wanted to do some forbidden poking and prodding, to see if the sculptures genuinely were made of heavy aluminium.
I thought little again about it until the other day, when, in a quiet moment, I read Waldemar Januszczak‘s Sunday Times review of the show. In which he said:
Poking one of the show’s inflatable lobsters with my finger — which you, of course, are not
allowed to do, and I was not supposed to, either — I found it solid, weighty and metallic, its
convincing sense of weightlessness achieved with obsessive trompe l’oeil paintwork.
Hurrah! It wasn’t just us who wanted to prod the things: a respectable art critic wanted to do the same! Moreover, being a famous and well-respected art critic, he managed to do it without being chucked out. I suspect that we wouldn’t quite have got away with it quite so easily.
Januszczak, incidentally, found that the show put dark S&M thoughts in his head. It wasn’t something that immediately came to mind when we were there; but, the more I look back, the creepier the show felt. The juxtaposition of plastic, heavy chains, images of cartoons and trains spliced behind and in front of chopped-up pictures of bare skin, all has a disturbing weight behind it. The Koons show we saw was superficial on the surface, but there is always a risk of it coming back to haunt.