Arts

Pop Art in London – Jeff Koons at Newport Street Gallery

Jeff Koons Newport gallery London

Jeff Koons @ Newport Gallery London

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 Newport Gallery London

Inflatable lobster – Jeff Koons

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.

‘Now’ spans 35 years of his career, featuring over 30 paintings, sculptures and drawings drawn from Hirst’s own collection. Several works have never been shown in the UK before.

The exhibition also features little-seen early works including Koons’s ‘Inflatable Flowers” from 1979, blow-up vinyl blooms bought at discount stories, displayed on mirrored floor tiles.

Koons floor tile

Early Koons’ floor tile

Koons’ inflatables are everywhere in this show and make a big impact. They’ve become one of his most famous themes, a symbol of life and death. and the transitory moment.

They’re presented alongside a number of Koon’s iconic ‘Hoover’ sculptures from the early 1980s.  These wall-mounted vacuum cleaners and floor polishers  are unused household appliances which have been displayed in fluorescent-lit, acrylic boxes.

It seems ironic that these household objects were taken straight out of their boxes and displayed in an art show, without ever being used to clean a floor.

These ‘ready-mades’ have much in common with the groundbreaking works of Surrealist Marcel Duchamp, who was famous for displaying a urinal in an art gallery in the early 19th Century.

Koons' Vacuum cleaners

Vacuum art – Jeff Koons

Billboards and advertising are another of Koons’ obsessions, so it’s no surprise that they also feature prominently in the ‘Now’ show.

The ‘New Roomy Toyota Family Car’ poster is one of my favourites in the exhibition with its glossy imagery and promise of a better lifestyle. It looks almost like the real thing.

Koons has re-created the advertisements so faithfully that it’s almost impossible to detect the dividing line between artifice and reality.

Advertising imagery is everywhere in this exhibition from easily identified visuals from Nike posters to meticulously re-created liqueur advertisements.

Newport Street Gallery London

Advertising and consumerism – big themes

Reflections on life

Moving through the exhibition, Koons’ art becomes increasingly ambitious and dexterous, seducing us with its gleaming, shiny surfaces.

A highlight is the ‘ ‘Luxury and Degradation’ display (great name, by the way) in which Koons examines how alcohol is marketed to the public.

A collectible decanter train filled with bourbon is one of the stranger objects in the show. Apparently, the train cars contain 75cl of whiskey, and are cast in stainless steel because it is the only metal that would preserve the spirit indefinitely.  Koons also used steel because he liked the fake luxury and seductiveness of its surfaces.

Steam train by Jeff Koons

Jim Beam – J.B. Turner train by Jeff Koons

Koons loves the fake luxury of gleaming stainless steel and nowhere is that better displayed than his bust of an Italian woman from his ‘Statuary’ series.

Next to this oddity is a larger than life statue of a pedlar called Kiepenkerl.

At first glance they doesn’t look like Koons’ work at all, but delve deeper and you’ll get the joke. They marked a turning-point in Koons’ art during the mid 1980s when he felt freer to work with objects that didn’t already exist.  Koons realised that he could create his own models, not just use ready-made objects.

Koons statue

The art of statuary

Playful pop images

Koons’ ability to delight, fascinate and provoke is everywhere in this show.  ‘Three Ball 50/50 Tank’ surprises us with three baseball balls hanging in suspension in a ‘fish tank’ made of glass and filled with distilled water.

This precarious balance can be upset by the outside world, whether it’s vibrations or fluctuations in light or temperature. Or some idiot leaning on it accidentally and causing it to become unbalanced.

I guess it conveys the fragility of life and the universe… and the fine balance between stability and instability.

Newport Street gallery Koons

The universe in balance – Koons’ floating balls

These surreal pieces rub shoulders with oddities such as bizarre children’s toys and inflatables which looked like they’ve been taken from swimming pools. Everything is larger than life,

‘Acrobat’ is a clever, playful piece, a dazzling red lobster which balances precariously on a chair and overturned waste paper bin.

‘Seal Walrus’ and ‘Sling Hook’  are near neighbours and look like a vinyl inflatables, but in reality they are cast from aluminium and painted to look like they are soft surfaces. Both are designed to fool the eye and play havoc with our perceptions.

Inflatable art

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Giant inflatable – Balloon Monkey by Jeff Koons

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.

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Elephant by Jeff Koons – reflective fun

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.

Erotic art

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.

Koons art

Erotic undertones

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?

Play time

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Play-doh by Jeff Koons

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.

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Boy and Pony by Jeff Koons

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!

Koons

Playful art – Koons’ floating basketballs

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.

Stylish Gallery

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

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.

Newport Street Gallery London

Classy and contemporary – Newport Street Gallery

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 

 

Newport Street Gallery London

Newport Street Gallery – stylish and contemporary

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!

Jeff Koons Newport Gallery London

Newport Street Gallery

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