Art is often at its best when it’s fun, playful and entertaining. Ticking all those boxes is Jeff Koons’ ‘Now’ show at London’s Newport Street Gallery with its giant inflatables, pop creations and familiar household objects.
This is Pop Art at its giddy best. From giant lobsters to oversized elephants and inflatable monkeys, this is one exhibition designed to put a smile on your face whilst providing a critique of modern consumer society.
It’s the perfect choice for Damien Hirst’s newly opened Newport Street Gallery which draws on the ‘Brit Pack’ artist’s own collection.
Pop into art
Jeff Koons is one of the world’s most famous American artists. Looking at this show it’s hard to take in the sheer volume and breadth of his work over three decades.
Koons has never been far from controversy throughout his career, with works that explore consumerism, mass culture, beauty, and eroticism.
Inflatables are perhaps the most popular pieces in Jeff Koons’ Pop Art kingdom, not least because of their vast size and eye-catching materials.
From a distance, they look like giant balloons, but once again Koons is tricking us by encouraging the viewer to be taken in by the shiny surface of his pieces.
In reality, he has used cutting-edge technology to create these seemingly fragile, air-filled vinyl blow-ups and balloon animals.
You will be surprised to discover that they are reproduced in stainless steel, often rendered on a monumental scale, as is the case with Balloon Monkey (Blue) which dominates one large, double-height gallery.
Colourful and playful, Balloon Monkey is highly reflective, mirrored surface which begs you to touch it. A large gallery sign forbids any such interaction with the piece and we’re left guessing whether it is solid or full of hot air.
There are echoes of Dali and pop culture in these inflatables, but nothing is every quite what it seems.
His inflatable elephant is poppy and cartoonish, but it also has a serious message about consumerism with its seductive, reflective surface and cute features. We’re seduced by its gleaming surfaces and glossy appeal.
Eroticism is never far away in Koons’ art which sometimes treads an uncomfortable line between sexuality and pornography.
Before entering the one galley, you’re warned by a warden about the ‘naughty room’ which contains Koons’ controversial photographs of the artist and his former wife, the Italian porn star La Cicciolina.
The giant-sized images are certainly in your face and you may decide to race though this gallery if you find the blown-up photographs too explicit. Koons says that he wanted to remove all shame and guilt from the sexual act but these works veer dangerously close to being exploitative.
There are erotic undertones in much of Koons’ art including milder works such as his painting of a scantily clad woman riding a dolphin against a backdrop of cartoon imagery with the Incredible Hulk in the background.
It is puzzling and poppy, provocative and puerile, but the banality of the images also suggests that there’s a deeper meaning attached to his Pop Art paintings.
Fans argue that it’s all a “manifestation of a joyful acceptance of American culture” but perhaps it also presents a critique of the shallowness of aspects of that culture too?
Koons is a clever artist who knows exactly how to play with us and manipulate our reactions to his Pop Art.
A giant mound of Play-doh, the gunky toy which kids can manipulate, plays with our perception of surfaces, objects and size.
Modelled into a ten-foot high mound, it looks more like a rubbish mountain than the popular kids’ toy. It is made from polychromed aluminium which comes as a big surprise because real play-doh is squishy and made up of oil, water and boric acid.
Childhood is a theme in many of Koons’ most recent playful works, perhaps reflecting his role as a father and his new-found family life.
A personal favourite is his huge painting called Boy and Pony which dominates one wall of the Newport Street Gallery. It is part of Koons’ Celebration series from the mid-1990s and was inspired by an invitation to design a calendar celebrating holidays and other joyful events.
It’s brash and silly, but has the power to provoke powerful memories of childhood and nostalgia. Who doesn’t have a favourite toy from their early years which this reminds them of?
The round egg-shaped boy reminded me of Weebles, a roly-poly toy from the 1970s that wobbles but doesn’t fall over. Here it is static and fixed in time, which is very unnerving!
This is a great show if you love Pop Art at its playful and experimental best.
Jeff Koons’ fans will love the exhibition, and those who aren’t sure about his work may be won over by the great breadth of works which explore both the banality of modern life and the profundity of our existence.
Hats off to Damien Hirst for presenting a great opening season in his fantastic new gallery. He has definitely put the playfulness and beating heart back into Pop Art.
Koons’s work fills six, expansive galleries of the stylish Newport Street complex, but the show isn’t over once you’ve left the gallery spaces.
The Pharmacy 2 restaurant is an art work in its own right with tables and chairs set amongst Damien Hirst’s own creations. The restaurant features site-specific pieces from the artist’s own collection, including the famous Medicine Cabinets and butterfly Kaleidoscope paintings.
Designed by Hirst, Pharmacy 2 also has etched glass windows depicting DNA strands, marble inlaid flooring and a bar that incorporates a stainless steel and glass vitrine. What a fabulous place to grab a drink or bite to eat.
Housed in a renovated Victorian scenery-painting studio, the Newport Street Gallery is a classy and fun addition to London’s gallery scene.
It’s also ridiculously cool… and full of hipsters.
Don’t miss a trip to one of London’s most trendy and intriguing new art galleries.
Tammy’s Travel Guide – London’s Newport Street Gallery
The Jeff Koons ‘Now‘ exhibition is on till 16 October 2016 at the Newport Street Gallery in London. Look out for future shows and a changing events programme.
There is free entry for all exhibitions. The gallery is open Tuesday–Friday and Sunday between 10am–6pm with late openings on Saturdays till 10pm in summer. Be aware that it is closed on Mondays.
The gallery is about 12 minutes walk from Lambeth North and Vauxhall Tubes. Buses also stop a little closer on Lambeth High Street from where you can cut down a maze of back lanes.
Look out for the Banksy graffiti underneath the nearby railway bridge not far from the gallery. It’s easy to miss it!