London has not been short of Jeff Koons this year, what with the impressive survey of his work at Newport Street Gallery earlier this year. But whilst that show had a tendency to rub me up the wrong way in places, this small display of his Gazing Ball works at Almine Rech Gallery in Mayfair is playful and fun.
The two big sculptural works dominate the two rooms in the gallery – pretty ballerinas in the most mirror-polished of steel. Much as Koons’ balloon animals are a favourite, these are in a similar vein. Yes, they provoke childhood memories, yet like the balloon animals, there’s a good reason why it’s easy to see your reflection in them.
Duchamp once said that viewers are an essential component of a work of art. Here, Koons is going one step further and actually making the viewer part of the artwork by embedding them directly. When you see these ballerinas, you are also seeing yourself.
And this theme is carried on with the blue gazing ball, polished to within an inch of its life, which is embedded (quite literally) into each of the paintings on the wall that surround these works, and also perched on stools dotted around.
The blue ball, again, has that childhood touch to it, and the stand-alone pieces in particular are reminiscent of abandoned balls in gardens and schoolyards. Yet it’s their inclusion in the replica renaissance paintings that catches the eye.
Aside from the balls thrust into them, these versions of Titian’s Pastoral Concert and Tintoretto’s The Origin of the Milky Way are impressive in their execution. For these are not prints but paintings executed by hand by Koons and his assistants (much like how Renaissance artists, I suppose, had their schools and studios). And yet there they are again – beautiful bold shiny blue gazing balls shoved into these canvases, drawing the visitor in, embedding the viewer, and, yes, putting a smile on the face too.
This is only a small show but it makes for a welcome respite from the hordes of Christmas shoppers outside and puts a bounce back in your step when, frankly, there isn’t much else around to do that, right now.
Almine Rech Gallery, London to January 21, 2017
All installation images by me.