"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

24 July, 2008

ArtLondon #4: Puppies win Prizes? Jeff Koons & the RA's Wollaston Prize

Jeff Koons 'Puppy' outside Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain
Art prizes seem designed to create controversy. What would the Turner be without the annual kerfuffle about the calibre of the nominees and the eccentricity of the eventual selection? Martin Creed, one of my own heroes & Turner winner in 2001, springs immediately to mind. This year the Royal Academy’s prestigious £25,000 Charles Wollaston award went to American artist Jeff Koons (b.1955). In the Spectator magazine, critic Andrew Lambirth has registered his own protest – suggesting that Koons’ piece, the high chromium stainless steel ‘Cracked Egg (Blue) 1994-2006’ was far from being the most distinguished work in the Summer Exhibition. I find myself increasingly irritated with the flashier, "life-style" Spectator, but the lucid writing of contributors such as Lambirth keeps me from cancelling my subscription. (My other Spectator must-reads include: Simon Hoggart, Charles Moore, James Delingpole, Marcus Berkmann, Charles Spencer, Matthew Parris and Robin Oakley).

On the RA award, I fully agree with Andrew Lambirth that Koons’ cheeky sculpture - brashly displayed in the middle of the magnificent octagonal central hall - cannot by any criterion be called the most distinguished piece in the exhibition – & I do wonder what Lambirth’s own choice would be? However, I can’t help but cherish a quiet personal fondness for Koons’ triumphantly kitsch celebration of the banal – a skewed but utterly hilarious, tongue in cheek aesthetic, exemplified by pieces such as 1988’s ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

I don’t seem to be the only one reluctantly seduced by Koons’ humour and vision. His sculpture Hanging Heart (also 1994-2006) set a new record for a living artist at auction when it reached $23.6 million at Sotheby’s in New York in November 2007. His 12m high topiary terrier ‘Puppy’ has become very much a city symbol in Bilbao, as loved and as lauded as Frank Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim Museum outside which the giant floral West Highland Terrier sits obediently to attention.

Back to the Summer Exhibition, I was relieved and heartened to see that the work of a handful of much younger photographers and painters whom I’ve had the luck to spot already had made it through the tortuous submission and selection process. They include Ed Kevill-Davies and Eleanor Lindsay-Fynn and I will be writing about them in their own post soon.