Tag Archives: Guggenheim Bilbao

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)

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It’s the hair on the chimp. It’s as tousled as that of a Greek god. It’s as gilded as that of a Catholic saint. But it renders Bubbles more human than even Michael himself could have hoped for.

Growing up in the 1980s, the name and existence of this pet monkey was household knowledge. It boosted the pop star’s brand, but he might not have wanted the relation reified quite like this.

If the ape looks wiser than his years, M.J. looks dumber and more vacant. This is based on a photo in which he actually holds the gaze of the camera. Here, he looks away and dreams.

With the benefit of hindsight, those were nightmares, and we should have seen the dangers coming. What kind of a grown man dresses up a chimpanzee as his boon companion?

Bubbles has been anthopomorphed twice, once by his tailor, then once again by this courtly portrait. That is doubly funny. And the financial value of the finished work is a triple punchline.

Koons often talks about the removal of judgement, the acceptance of self. He is either the world’s greatest cynic or the world’s richest naif. Perhaps he has been both, one after another.

At Monday’s press preview at the Guggeheim in Bilbao, he came across like a holy man, advising assembled hacks to journey within themselves and allow his work to affirm our presence.

Collectors love this schtick; official religions condemn them as camels faced with eyes of needles. And yet art allows even the most worldly among us to transcend our earthly realities.

It says something that even if you own a yacht and a blue chip art collection, you still want to rise above it all, to buy back your soul. Perhaps Michael Jackson and Bubbles should move us to pity.

But this is an artist with a midas touch, rendering a young performer who was once just as bankable. So in this case money is as frivolous as gold petals, happiness is as fragile as porcelain.

There are four editions of this work and by fortunate coincidence I saw two of them with a week or so. One is at Astrup Fearnley in Oslo and the other is on show at the Jeff Koons retrospective in Bilbao. That exhibition runs until 27 September 2015.

Eduardo Chillida, From Within (1953)

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It hangs like a chandelier designed to throw shade. You cannot walk beneath it without speculating on your own death. And it’s made of iron, technology of another age.

The view’s not so great from this angle, but the form echoes a swastika. And that would be a treacherous swastika with a half yard long stake attached. It threatens like the Sword of Damocles.

This too hung by a thread. In legend, it was a single hair from a horse’s tail. But Chillida has used a near invisible length of what looks like fishing line. It sure hooks you.

And since the Iron Cross was a teutonic symbol and a military decoration during the Third Reich, Chillida might be reflecting on the inherent danger of usurping power.

At the time of making the Basque sculptor was living in his native region and Spain was a dictatorship. There would have been many who would have liked to cut that slender wire.

Or course, this might as usual be reading too much into a formal exercise. From Within is a piece that can also be enjoyed as a spatial conundrum and a source of abstract tension.

But formalism is political too and the title of this piece makes me think of a German painter like Franz Marc, on show nearby. He too is said to have found inspriation ‘within’.

Marc wrote: “The great shapers do not search for their form in the fogs of the past. They plumb for the innermost true centre of gravity of their own times.”

And Chillida has surely created a complex form which not only defies gravity but, in its emptiness and angularity, draws the eye away from the earth. It does so even as we flinch from its latent threat.

From Within can be found in a gallery devoted to Chillida as part of the current show: The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Collection at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.

The third floor of the exhibition, featuring both Chillida and Marc, runs until 23 January 2015. The quote comes from one of the expressionist painter’s 1914-15 Aphorisms (#32).