Transforming his typical comedic solipsism into a self-reflexive school of criticism, Colbert began, “I tell you what I like about your work. A lot of ‘em are shiny. You know? So when I look at them, I can see me. And then I’m really interested in it.”
Koons had no argument with this. Alluding to a Duchampian view in which the viewer completes the artwork combined with his own signature feel-good mantras, Koons asserted, “The art happens inside you, the viewer. The art is your sense of your own potential as a person. That’s where the art is.”
Koons was there to promote Studio in a School, a nonprofit that brings professional artists into New York City schools. Showing a figurative drawing by a student, Colbert pursued a formalist, technique-based critique: “Can you draw like that?” Koons maintained that he could.
Following an economic-history approach in which Colbert focused on the market appeal of Koons’s work, the talk-show host also pursued a psychoanalytic tack: “Why so many balloon dogs? Did a clown take it away from you as a child or something, and you’re trying to get it back so it’s permanent now?”
“We’re balloons,” Koons replied, espousing a symbolic interpretation, and suggesting that inhaling stands for optimism and exhaling evokes death.
“Thanks for cheering us up, Jeff,” Colbert concluded.