Exhibition view of Jeff Koons Gazing Ball

Jeff Koons Exhibition: Gazing Ball

[From The Gallery Insider Series]

This is an installation view "Gazing Ball," an exhibition of sculptures by Jeff Koons, which took place at David Zwirner Gallery in New York City from May 8 - June 29, 2013.

The exhibition was noted by the gallery as being a "world debut of a new series by the artist," and was Koons' first solo gallery exhibition in New York City in a decade. This last fact somewhat surprised me, but a glance at his past exhibitions shows he had been primarily exhibiting in Beverly Hills (at Gagosian Gallery) and in multiple galleries throughout Europe, including Galerie de Noirmont in Paris, Serpentine Gallery in London, Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin, and Gagosian Gallery in London, among many others.

"Gazing Ball" takes its name from the mirrored spherical ornaments frequently found on lawns, gardens, and patios around Koons' childhood home in Pennsylvania. Scroll down to read more...

Topic for discussion, #1: What do you think is the meaning behind - or the significance of - attaching garden or patio spheres to copies of classical sculpture? Scroll down to see our responses and/or replies to these topic questions.

One might look at the classical-based sculptures and think that Jeff Koons has added the kitsch element of a gazing ball to a classical sculpture to make a commentary on high art vs. low art. However, in addition to the classical sculptures, he also has some kitschy or common item sculptures with gazing balls as well, as you can see below with the mailbox piece and the inflatable snowman sculpture.

Topics for Discussion, #2: What is kitsch? How would you define "high art" and "low art?"

3 examples of Jeff Koons sculptures from the Gazing Ball exhibition

Here's one more interesting concept to think about in regards to Jeff Koons and this exhibition: his work reportedly sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars, and it was reported that several pieces in this show sold for more than $1 million each. In the pictures we've collected below, you can see a gazing ball and bird bath that one could buy at a garden store for $500, next to a Jeff Koons sculpture, followed by an angel and gazing ball seen in a neighbor's front yard that could be purchased for $50, alongside another Jeff Koons sculpture.

Topic for discussion, #3: How does one explain the vast differences in value between these related objects? (Scroll down for our explanations and answers to these Essential Questions, including further discussion points one can use in the classroom)

Jeff Koons sculptures compared to ordinary garden store objects

Explanations and Answers to the various Discussion Topics:

#1: What do you think is the meaning behind - or the significance of - attaching garden or patio spheres to copies of classical sculpture?

Jeff Koons explains: "I've thought about the gazing ball for decades. I've wanted to show the affirmation, generosity, sense of place, and joy of the senses that the gazing ball symbolizes. The Gazing Ball series is based in transcendence. The realization of one's mortality is abstract thought and from there, one is able to have a concept of the external world, one's family, community, and a vaster dialogue with humankind beyond the present. The Gazing Ball series is based on the philosopher's gaze, starting with transcendence through the senses, but directing one's vision (the philosopher's gaze) towards the eternal through pure form and ideas."

Follow up question: Can you follow his thinking here, or does it sound like convoluted "art speak?" There's no doubt that the sculptures have a strong and bold visual impact, and the large scale provides an impressive presence. But do they evoke a specific meaning, and if so, does it relate to what Koons explains?

#2: What is kitsch? How would you define "high art" and "low art?"

Kitsch can be defined as a style of art that appeals to popular or undiscriminating, or unsophisticated taste. It could be applied to art that is melodramatic, overdone, gaudy and tacky or sentimental and folksy. Some good examples of kitsch art can be seen below: Elvis on black velvet painting; the famous Dogs Playing Poker image, the cutesy image of a cat entangled in yarn, or the big-eyed romantic couple on the far right.

Elvis on black velvet, dogs playing poker, and other examples of kitsch art

"High Art" vs. "Low Art" can be described in a couple ways: one might be that fine art made "for art's sake" is "high art" and art that is made as a craft is "low art." In relation to Koons' Gazing Balls, one could certainly say that a gazing ball that one might buy at a garden store is considered a somewhat common item meant to beautify a garden, but not something that one would expect to find in an art gallery or art museum. So, in some ways, one could argue that Koons is attempting to elevate "low art" into "high art" by this Gazing Ball series. The term "high art" could also be seen as elitist in that it is something considered to have a greater value and requires greater sophistication in order to appreciate it, unlike something that is "low art" that might appeal to the masses. But this explanation can overturned with a number of examples, when one considers how many people are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa or Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.

#3: How does one explain the vast differences in value between these related objects?

This is a somewhat loaded question, as it can spark a lot of conversation. Is Koons elevating the value of a common object by re-creating it in his own style and putting his name behind it? Is it Koons' own joke on the elitist aspect of the art-collecting population that he can take a $50 object and sell it to a wealthy person for $1 million dollars? In fact, Koons did something similar early in his career: in a 1985 exhibition titled "Equilibrium" at the International With Monument in the East Village, he took common Nike posters of NBA stars, framed them, and sold them as his own work!

Here's another thing to consider: if you like this series of sculptures, and knew that you wanted one but couldn't afford a real Jeff Koons sculpture, what's to stop you from buying a small boy with a gazing ball from your local gardening center and putting it on a white pedestal inside your home? Would this then be a full circle, so to speak, of the artist creating a sculpture to mimic a common item, and then you would be buying a common item to mimic his sculpture?

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