Jeff Koons is the most expensive living artist. One of his metallic-lacquered Balloon Dog sculptures sold at auction for $58 million in November—a figure that, to many, was not a testament to the importance of Koons's work, but to the extent that rich people like shiny objects. But while Koons does deal predominantly in glossy kitsch—think puppies, Pink Panthers and Popeyes—his more than three-decade career is being given serious treatment at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s new show, "Jeff Koons: A Retrospective," running today through October 19. Love him or hate him, Koons is going to be more visible than ever this summer, so here’s a guide to understanding a few of his most important pieces.
1. Michael Jackson and Bubbles:
Koons’s earnest admiration for American bad taste reached eerie heights in the artist’s “Banality” series of the 1980s. Koons has often described finding spiritual meaning in everyday activities like having sex, looking at cute animals or listening to pop music. So for this porcelain sculpture, Koons rendered Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee in the style of Michelangelo’s famous Pietà, elevating them from pop icons to religious icons.