Koons and Kitsch

There’s a lot of hate for the giant balloon dog.

Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons.

Many people dislike Jeff Koons’ style of modern art. Many people dislike modern art in general. These opinions are totally valid. But, sometimes this dislike comes out of lack of understanding the pieces.

Arguably, Koons’ most famous exhibition was Celebration done in 2008. It included the iconic balloon dog, but also oversized valentine’s day hearts, Easter bunny toys and kid’s party favors. In effect, Koons took banal, everyday items from American life and held them up for us to re-examine. Not in their typical place of grocery stores or junk bins, but in high brow museums across the world.

Valentine’s Heart by Jeff Koons.

The point of Celebration, and much of Koons other work, is to play with American culture. While some museums display ancient artifacts like Greek kraters or Mesopotamian water jugs, Jeff Koons displays artifacts of early 1990s America. This interest in pop-culture isn’t new. Andy Warhol’s ingenious pictures of Campbell soup cans, Marilyn Monroe and Chanel perfume bottles share a similar fascination. But, Koons doesn’t just capture movie stars or designer goods. Theses are items chosen because they are sorta lame.

The better word is kitsch. Basically,these are objects that are somehow ugly or tacky in an ironic or thought provoking sense. The giant balloon dog, the Easter egg and the V-Day heart, are all kitsch items. They are in the backdrop of life for most Americans. By putting them in a museum, he’s showing off everyday life and in a way democratizing the art museum.

Another big point is that the surfaces are reflective, as is true of the balloon dog. As visitors look at the giant pup, they look at themselves. The balloon dog is an artifact of culture, but we are the culture ourselves. Even in the classical statue below, Koons adds a reflective blue ball to put viewers into the art itself.


So, if Jeff Koons still makes you scratch your head or fires up a burning disgust for the state of art in this day and age, that’s totally fair. But, I would urge you to redirect some of your dissatisfaction to society at large. We’re all the real subject here, after all.


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