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New York makes a (shaky) bid for L.A.'s pop culture crown

December 15, 2009 |  3:04 pm

For decades, the stereotype has been that Los Angeles is the center of the pop culture universe. Now, New York appears to be making a claim on the title.

Not New York, the city; New York, the magazine.

Here’s esteemed art critic Jerry Saltz in the current issue, which surveys the cultural zeitgeist from 2000-2009, writing about Jeff Koons and his monumental, 40-foot floral sculpture of a West Highland white terrier, clad in 50,000 petunias, begonias, marigolds and chrysanthemums:

After his 1991 "Made in Heaven" exhibition, in which we saw graphic depictions of Koons and his ex-wife, the porn star La Cicciolina, having sex, Koons was shunned within the art world. He wasn’t invited to biennials; he had only one more New York solo gallery show in the nineties. To get a sense of how that felt to Koons, consider that he once mused about being "burned at the stake."

So he spent most of the nineties working to return to New York with something utterly perfect, powerful, and beyond criticism. "Puppy" accomplished that. Not only was it an instant icon; it is the first piece of art exhibited in the 21st century that was clearly jockeying for pop-culture supremacy.

“Puppy” was “the first piece of art exhibited in the 21st century that was clearly jockeying for pop-culture supremacy”? Was it preparing for that in 1992 when it was first shown in Bad Arolsen, Germany, a stone’s Jeff Koons Puppy throw from Kassel and the mega-show Documenta IX, whose art-world thunder the wonderful doggie stole?

Or in 1995, when it went up Down Under, just across the inlet from the iconic Opera House in Sydney, Australia (pictured)?

Or in 1997, when it became a photogenic add-on to Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, arguably the most photographed building of the last 50 years?

Apparently the assault on Manhattan was planned with extraordinary, slow-motion cunning.

Saltz mentions that “Puppy” was fabricated in Germany eight years before it got to Rockefeller Center, but he doesn’t mention that millions of people all over the world saw it exhibited in the 1990s -- which is pretty much the definition of popular culture these days. Provincial Manhattan might have “shunned” Koons, but the art world elsewhere was happy to bring the amazing masterpiece to town.

And speaking of pop culture supremacy, need I mention the obvious ancestry of Koons’ colossal work of art, with its thousands of flowers fed by an elaborate internal watering system? I will concede that New York has its quaint hot-air balloons floating down Fifth Avenue on Thanksgiving Day. But for colossal pop culture strangeness, give me the mega-floral New Year's extravaganzas in Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade any time.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Jeff Koons, "Puppy" (1992), being constructed in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, in 1995. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

How much is that doggie? It has a waggily tale.

A giant chia pet it is, so pop culture, yes. Kinda cool, but in the tradition of giant baseball bats and clothes pins. Amusing, which unfortunately is all the so called fine art world has become, amusing absurdities. Which is why Koons giant baloon animals and this are nice, as public art, though cant leave a shiny puppy outisde, would get covered with bird splat. It was perfect in Versailles though, decadent opulence meets absurdist shiny toy.

but if we are the kings of pop culture, why do we get stuck with a just plain stupid expensive toy locomotive and they get the chia pet? They got the good end of the stick, we are just getting shafted if stupid enough to pay $25 mil for a choochoo. We must be trying too hard. Lets make a giant squirrel from cacti and show them whose boss. None of the above.

art collegia delenda est
Lets use the money to save the true art piece, the Watts/Simon Rodia Towers

If ever there was a need for a sad trombone ... http://bit.ly/BLYW

To my mind, the interesting question here is what caused the Koons "upswing", not an omitted exhibition history. For Saltz, it was Rockefeller. Your point that Puppy was received well throughout the 90's are strong, but it doesn't answer the underlying question. What caused the Koons upswing?

jerry saltz
does not know what experience is; he only knows what he knows or what the consensus is.

His writing proves two facts-
1. We need more people writing about art.
2.He only wants to put himself in the picture.

Funny, and apropos as always.

Interesting too to note that Koons' "Puppy" is about the only sculpture he's made that isn't shiny, cold and born from a fabrication machine. . . .

Good to see you Paddy, taking an excursion from AFC. Why? Because after the fall of communism, capitalists got big heads, and then with first Clintons easing of trade regulations, then Ws obliterating taxes on the rich, and lack of enforcemnt of banks and wall street, we got funny money, with China owning us. Yet we went on our Peter Pan and Wendy way. Buying every toy in sight.

Time to grow up now Paddy, er Wendy, er, Ms Johnson.
Tmes, they are a changin, time to put aside childish things.

art collegia delenda est
Save the Rodia/Watts Towers, and tear down the Ivory.

wait, the puppy is "utterly perfect, powerful, and beyond criticism"? at least most blockbuster art is like, interesting to look at for more than 5 seconds (that bean in chicago, for instance), but a puppy made of flowers? i'd rather cruise over to the mall and check out the giant christmas tree made of poinsettias. and how is barely formed blob of flowers any more powerful than a heartwarming christmas display? i think i'm gonna toss one if i hear about this hack ever again.


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