Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, a 41 x 19 x 12 in. stainless steel sculpture from 1986, fetched a fetching $91M at Christie’s “Port-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale” earlier this week. This figure represents the highest price paid for a work by a living artist.
What’s Up Doc?
The reaction has been mixed, as you’d expect since $$$$ has a tendency to bring out the worse in people. Just read the comments on audio sites that dare mention expensive gear and you’ll get the usual litany of outrage as if making something that costs more than some people think reasonable is an affront against humanity. As with Koons’ Rabbit, you not only don’t have to but it, you don’t even have to take its existence personally.
For me, Jeff Koons made a sculpture and there it is. Like it or not. If we want to go beyond that, I say we need to place Rabbit in context in order to say anything of value. Part of that context today is the growing disparity between the super-rich—the 0.01% for whom a $91M Jeff Koons Rabbit may function as a trophy—and the rest of us, and seeing as Rabbit is a work of art, it necessarily speaks with a voice rooted in art history.
On that note, I think Roberta Smith, art critic at the NY Times, does exactly this and she does it really well in “Stop Hating Jeff Koons“:
He [Koons] changed sculpture, bringing together Pop, Minimalism and Duchamp in a new way, partly by opening the medium to its own history and reviving it with different materials and artisanal techniques, both traditional and new. His sculptures, which are either found-object ready-mades (like his works using Hoover vacuum cleaners) or remade ready-mades (like the Balloon Dogs), can conflate Brancusi with inflatable toys and camp up Bernini, as he did with the shiny chartreuse “Pluto and Proserpina,” which also functions as a planter.
…the strongest works imprint themselves on our visual memories with a striking if uneasy singleness. The various curved forms of the “Rabbit” — head, torso and legs — function as a cascade of concave mirrors. Often compared to an astronaut, the creature is at once alien and cute, weirdly sinister and innocent, weightless and yet armored.
Like it or not, Jeff Koons’ Rabbit does a fine job of staring back into us. If you don’t like what you see, don’t blame the Rabbit.