“If Jeff Koons didn’t exist we would have to invent him,” Adam D. Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum, said Tuesday night at the SVA Theater. A few hundred people had gathered there to watch a conversation between Weinberg and Koons, whose retrospective is closing out the Whitney’s Madison Avenue location before the institution moves downtown.
Beginning the talk with a childhood photo, Koons told Weinberg that by age 4 he had “already felt like an artist.” He said it wasn’t until he went away to art school that he understood how art could connect him to other disciplines—philosophy, physics—although he admitted that he had already “got a taste of it from Led Zeppelin” in high school. “I like the feelings. I mean, I really like the feelings,” said Koons. Sometimes those feelings can be a little overwhelming: he described how he “had to go to a bar” and get drunk after making Inflatable bunny and flower. The experience was just that heavy.
Weinberg flashed slides of museum-goers taking “art selfies” with Koons’s sculptures and posed the question of the general public’s often shallow interaction with contemporary art. Koons remained, well, very Koonsian in his response, calmly repeating one of his trademark brand slogans regarding art: “It happens inside you, it is about your potential.” He is nothing if not consistent.
During the short Q&A following the conversation, Koons fielded the generic questions so well that one audience member wondered aloud if the artist had planted the askers in the audience himself. When asked by a young women about the autograph printed on the floating basketball in One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, Koons stated that the signature on the ball was Julius Erving’s (known famously as “Dr. J”) and—in true readymade fashion—had been pre-stamped on by Spalding, the maker of the ball. When it went out of production, Koons revealed that he teamed up with Spalding to replicate the signature, but with a twist—instead of “Dr. J,” it now said “Dr. J K,” a nod to the artists initials. “I’ve always wanted to participate,” Koons said during the talk, earnestly.