As I increasingly feel like I’ve spent too much time in the art world, I’m discovering that my favorite art is con art. Why do I mention this? Well, today, Jeff Koons and Louis Vuitton rolled out one of the biggest and most hilarious scams I’ve seen in awhile–their new collaborative handbag collection Masters. Making upwards of $4000 bags out of tacky reproductions of famous art historical paintings is a grand gesture of artistic nihilism–and maybe, the best moment of Koons’s career. I’m wiping away tears as I’m furiously typing this.
Now, I should say, despite the ringing endorsement of our preeminent filth elder John Waters, I’ve never been on the Koons train. Why? 1. Those exhausted balloon dogs, 2. His deeply creepy Made In Heaven sex series with his now ex-wife, and 3. (though related) He looks too much like Howdy Doody for comfort. I won’t say I’ve never enjoyed any of his work. His pool toy sculptures have a certain infectious dopey and defeated quality that I enjoy, but mainly, his work seems to just be a testament to the Great White Male Artist syndrome in which bigger is, in fact, better.
Despite my skepticism, I have always had the feeling that Koons, on some level, was just fucking with the arts community. And well, now I have my confirmation. Count me in as a fan, Jeff. You got me.
Drawing on his recent series in which he plopped a gazing ball onto Old Master paintings, transforming these idealized male painters into kitsch worthy of a junk-filled Midwestern front yard, his collaboration with Louis Vuitton goes one step further. It makes both art and luxury goods look downright tasteless.
Of course, Koons isn’t the first artist to collaborate with Louis Vuitton, who tapped artists like Stephen Sprouse, Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami to design apparel lines. But, rather than just culling from his own archive of styles and symbols like the former artists, Koons decided to drag other (dead) artists down with him. Hey, they can’t complain.
The Masters collection features reproductions of the Mona Lisa, Titian’s Mars, Venus and Cupid, Rubens’ The Tiger Hunt, Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield With Cypresses and Fragonard’s Girl With A Dog. Yes, he even did Fragonard. Aside: Is there anything tackier than a Fragonard? I can’t think of it. Fragonard is all empty decadence–frolicking and swinging to nowhere. Well this Fragonard features a girl tussling pantsless with her white pup. As you do.
While it would almost be in enough bad taste to just reproduce these paintings on bags, Jeff goes all in, emblazoning the artists’ names in gold like a name on a chalice. I’ve never thought of Rubens or Titian in big gold pimp letters before. Koons and Louis Vuitton also place Vuitton-centric hardware all over the bags, covering the paintings’ recognizable scenes with gaudy symbols, as well as Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons’ own initials. A balloon bunny keychain hangs off the bags, just in case you didn’t know where this egregious level of bad decision-making came from.
But, why do I like them (and why do they belong here on Filthy Dreams)? Well, these bags are T-R-A-S-H-Y. They are a collection of cultural detritus filtered through museum gift shops, mall art stores and kiosks selling posters of Van Gogh and Da Vinci. Koons chose some of the most stereotypical paintings that have been reproduced over and over for years till near meaninglessness. Just try to stand in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and not filter it through the flurry of cultural references. Now, I won’t be able to avoid thinking about Mona winking in the video trailer for Koons’ Vuitton collection. Yikes! Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile is one thing, but her come-hither wink is just disorienting.
Koons, with this collection, achieves something of a genius institutional critique. And well, I don’t think he meant to but a broken clock is right twice a day, right Filthy Dreams readers?
In an interview with the Financial Times, Koons explains that he sees the bags as examples of “humanism.” He opines, “I see them as part of the world and I cannot wait to see them coming down the street or see them in the restaurant, because I think they are moments of humanism… And, really, how wonderful is it to find things outside the self that you can find greater interest in?…And I hope the bags are a symbol of humanism, and about the joy of society and communal life, and about participating in that community” Uh huh…
Similarly, his gallerist Larry Gagosian expressed a similar sentiment in the New York Times: “The more people who look at great art, the better for our culture.” Looking at a bag emblazoned with the artist’s name in giant garish gold? I’m not sure about that, Larry. It’s about as meaningful as the Home Shopping Network.
Contrary to what Gagosian or Koons believe, the bags seem to be the form of art display that we deserve in the Trump era. As Trump keeps trying in budget after budget proposal to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, art will be even more beholden to market forces–a market that wants eyesore bags like these. I can just imagine Ivanka carrying one of these purses.
Art, as replicated by Koons’s collection, becomes distilled into its essential essence. No, not some sort of sublime, but as garish consumer products. Stripping away the almost religious reverence given to, particularly, these art historical masters, Koons destroys the canon’s imaginary by returning it to what it has always been: luxury goods. As people in art, we like to think of art as transcendent and untouchable on some level, but it takes a certain level of willed blindness to convince yourself of that. Here, art, like fashion, runs on cash.
And particularly egregious amounts of it, even the bunny keychain is over $500. But now, I desperately want a backpack so I can look like an art world sellout, buying overpriced bags that essentially destroy the idealized vision of the art object. I want fellow art lovers to clutch their pearls at its consumerist garishness. Should I start a Kickstarter? Or should I just wait until the knockoffs hit Chinatown? I think I’ll choose the Fragonard…