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Jeff Koons invests MuCEM in Marseille

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Jeff Koons, the most popular contemporary artist but also the most divisive, invests the MUCEM Marseille to create a dialogue between his emblematic works and the popular art collections kept in the fiber-reinforced concrete mesh walls designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti. A carte blanche to the plastic surgeon that looks a bit like the marriage of the dog and the lobster. What a conversation to imagine between twenty works that have marked the flamboyant career of the artist, including 19 from the Pinault collection and loaned for the occasion, and everyday objects, witnesses of the history of popular lifestyles , belonging to the ethnographic heritage of MUCEM inherited from the former Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions in Paris? 

Undoubtedly, we can read in this liberated comparison the dazzling reign of the object, a staggering trajectory that goes from its strictly functional utility to its pushed commodification to speculation disarmed of the real, against a background of aestheticization of the gadget and emptiness. For Jeff Joons, “Everything can be transformed into art” and if his creations are qualified as “kitsch”, the artist replies that “The term“ kitsch ”is a process of intention. Its pejorative connotations are used by those who use art as a form of segregation. I don't believe in kitsch because I don't believe in exclusion. The vocation of art is to encourage universal, transcendent acceptance, starting with the acceptance of oneself ”. The artist, son of an interior decorator and furniture maker, trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, before being a bank clerk at MoMA NYC then salesman of investment funds. Since his beginnings in the art world, he has been creative about "Anti-criticism and anti-judgment".

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Nearly 300 pieces have been selected to highlight the symbolic resonances between the kitsch neo-pop creations of the man nicknamed Mickey The Angel and the showcases of authentic popular objects, many of which relate to the world of the circus. very present in the MUCEM collections. Balloon Dog, Lobster, Hanging Heart, as well as more recent paintings were installed according to a scenography imagined by the architect Pascal Robriguez and carefully supervised by an artist of obsessive precision. A staging that creates different atmospheres in each of the exhibition rooms, with play of light and mirrors. The free associations arranged by the neo-pop artist are delivered to the viewer without any particular reading keys to leave everyone free space for their own narration. The Travel Bar, molded by Jeff Koons (1986), is surrounded by Sarreguemines pitchers and traditionally crafted glasses. This Travel Bar is part of the Luxury and Degradation series of works. The Travel Bar, a luxury gadget, was modeled on the one owned by his parents, a symbol of social advancement and success.

For this exhibition, the work was staged in one of the rooms of the MUCEM, in the foreground of the depth of field of a sea view sublimated by the lines of Rudy Ricciotti, who designed the MUCEM not in a fashion imperialist but on that of the crack, the fault, these cracks which let light filter, a building "Water, stone and wind" which by the grace of its chiseled concrete lace offers a mosaic panorama on the shades of blue of the Mediterranean. What would Rudy Ricciotti think at the sight of Jeff Koons' installations between these walls shaped like a Provencal madrigal, an ode to beauty? An architect with a earthy verb, Rudy Ricciotti never fails to castigate the impoverishment of aesthetics and the infantilization of cultural life.

“The architect has the responsibility to produce lasting beauty and dignity. Choosing beauty today is a commitment, a resistance. I am fighting against the bankruptcy of aesthetics. If I don't have a definition of beauty, I know what ugliness is ”. The architect claims a point of view on aesthetics in so far as it says something about our relationship to the world and engages the narrative of our time; it is resolutely part of a persevering and rebellious quest for beauty that emancipates. "It seems that we are far too open to the field of generic mediocrity: we welcome it blindly", hammers Rudy Ricciotti with reinforcement of projections on the post-modern mystification.

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© Lois Elzière

Jeff Koons would he be part, in his eyes, of those artists imposing their infantile whims in place of the effort and the talent to deliver a work which, although without address, by the promise of an avant-gardism which flatters a certain narcissism in the viewer, splits the world between the daring and the hermetic?

Jeff Koons claims art accessible to all, as a return to innocent and playful joys: “The art world uses taste as a form of segregation. I try to do a job that everyone can love, that the simplest people cannot imagine that they cannot understand ”. In the line of a malicious and provocative Warhol who attacked "I started with commercial art, I want to end with an art business (…), being good at business is the most fascinating art form", Jeff Koons handles all the ambiguity of financial art, considering art as "A privileged vector of merchandising".

Flagship artist of the Pinault collection, whose acquisitions have marked a career that will make him the most popular living plastic artist with a record of $ 91,1 million set in June 2019 during a sale at Christie's for a 1986 Rabbit , Jeff Koons is undoubtedly also the most controversial as his installations in places steeped in history have aroused indignant reactions. The controversy aroused by the Tulips offered to the city of Paris and presented on the Champs-Élysées in tribute to the victims of the November 2015 attacks had been lively. The philosopher Yves Michaud had published a pamphlet following the affair, entitled This is not a Tulip. Cynicism or benevolence? The artist displays a disarming kindness in all circumstances. Jeff Koons focuses on the paroxysms of our contemporaneity and his work, exhibited at MUCEM, gives us some masterful reflections on the anthropological mutations that crisscross and transform our civilization. 

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Lobster - © Lois Elzière

Jeff Koons MUCEM, works from the Pinault Collection, from May 19 to October 18, 2021.

The MUCEM was inaugurated on June 7, 2013. The new building, named mole J4, designed by Rudy Ricciotti in association with Roland Carta is linked by a footbridge to Fort St-Jean which overlooks the old port of Marseille.

We will also be able to see works by Jeff Koons this summer 2021 in Rennes, on the occasion of the exhibition of a hundred pieces from the Pinault collection selected by curator Jean-Jacques Aillagon. The exhibition, which offers a unique route among the creations of 57 artists, will be held at the Couvent des Jacobins from Saturday June 12 to Sunday August 29. Entitled Beyond color, the exhibition will focus on black and white.

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