Jeff and Me
by Cameron Platter
"So Jeff, were you drinking a lot when you made your liquor ad paintings?"
"No, they were more to do with..."
Me. Jeff Koons. A couple of other people. Relaxing over a drink at Jo'burg Bar. Chewing the fat. Surreal. How did it happen? Me, currently a dishwasher, schmoozing and sidling up to one of the biggest art-world icons ever, the man who personified, and almost single-handedly invented the term art superstar? It's not a long story.
On Thursday the March 7, Michaelis hosted the most important event since its beginnings (a long time ago) when Jeff Koons agreed to present his work as part of the Lunch Time Lecture series.
The Little Theatre was packed as packed can be packed. (Sardines?) Seats were a hot commodity. The atmosphere was like that of a boxing match, except there weren't any fighters. (The only punch-ups were to get a seat.) I briefly considered scalping my reserved ringside seat, but facing the masses outside...
Jeff Koons, trademark easing/unnerving smile operating, took the stage. The audience silent. Dressed in stockbroker-after-work chic, and with a slight
stoop, he spoke. What happened over the next hour and a bit 'touched' me, a suitably 'kitsch' word when discussing his oeuvre.
It wasn't the fact that he talked effortlessly smoothly, not missing a beat. This is a man who had done this hundreds of times, at the highest levels. Nor was it that his lecture encompassed his entire career, from age four to forty eight, from his earliest Rabbit and Flower work, to his latest EasyFun painting series.
It wasn't his superbly stirred-in anecdotes: hitchhiking to New York, "not liking to look" at the Made in Heaven series himself, comparing the art-world to a lovely green pasture where everyone loves and cares about each other. It wasn't even his voice (hearing it was the original reason of me attending), hypnotic. Not even him having the complete audience eating out of his art.
It was his sincerity, genuineness, passion and commitment that hooked me. I had always thought from seeing his work, that Koons would be an ultra-ultra hard-edged ironist, cynical and jaded, a mean conniving hustler, cruelly mocking in his take on everything.
Not a chance.
What he communicated was his complete LOVE - straight up - of art. He seemed to have the enthusiasm of a fresh-faced undergraduate. His works changed in front of me from badass kitsch to simple masterpieces: conceived with straightforward, almost universal intentions, and executed with the perfection of a maestro. The name 'Leonardo' came to mind. Koons speaking of one of his EasyFun paintings: "This one's kinda like the Mona Lisa." It made perfect sense. The term "metaphysical" came up, a word I previously only associated with old school old timers. Koons: "If you've got to make it
(a work) you've got to make it." A friend remarked afterwards, "He just needs a beard and he'll have the El Greco thing going."
Some people, the people who always have to find something wrong, thought it was a hard sell. No. Koons cut into his holiday cocktail hour to give this talk (something no sane person would do) to an audience that wouldn't be shelling out a couple of million US to buy one of his pieces. Generous in the extreme.
Seeing him afterwards at Jo'burg (late because he was helping someone who had locked their keys in their car) fooling around with his son, sipping a
Windhoek, and talking to everyone in bar, topics ranging from his ex-wife (La Cicciolina) to possible collaborations, I got another perspective of the man. Human, just another guy having a good time.
When explaining to my workmates the next day, who know nada about art, about what I'd done the previous evening, I drew an analogy: "It was like having a beer with Michael Jackson." Although the comparison isn't fair to Jeff
Koons, he's in another league, it got the point across.
Thanks Jeff. Come back anytime.
Cameron Platter wishes to thank Sue Williamson for brokering the appearance, and Andrew Lamprecht and Jane Alexander for getting the event together.