Lobster presents its viewer with a dual experience: we are consumed by familiarity and nostalgia, summoning childhood memories of summers spent by the pool; at the same time, we sense the tension between the work’s physical appearance and what we know to be true about its material composition. Koons performs a metamorphosis on the present work, expertly and meticulously manipulating aluminum and polychrome to exactly resemble the texture and quality of plastic. From the pneumatic appearance of Lobster to the way its surface ripples and stretches at various points, all of the visual cues we receive communicate a message of air-filled lightness and soft plastic. Like so many of Koons’ most significant works, the present work is both playful and perplexing.
The process by which Lobster was created typifies the collaborative nature of Koons’ studio. Production begins with Koons seeking out a genuine plastic pool toy. A mold is formed around the inflated toy and further covered in a coating to protect the integrity and natural plasticity of the object. The precise contours carefully recorded, the work is finally cast in aluminum, whereby it returns to Koons’ studio to be painted in vibrant red, yellow, white and black. Our eyes are attracted to the bright hues and our fingers long to touch what we are sure is supple plastic – we are entirely attracted to this surprising and visually stunning object. For Koons, “The finished work…always emanates a sensuous appeal, triggering desires deeply familiar to consumerist behavior. With Koons we are dealing with seduction.” (Exh. Cat., New York, C&M Arts, Jeff Koons: Highlights of 25 Years, 2004, p. 9)
Lobster certainly seduces. Besides the inherent and complex tactility provided by its contradictory surface, the present work, according to Koons himself, exudes both male and female sexuality. The body of the lobster with its long mid-section and projecting claws is implicitly phallic. The tail of the sculpture, conversely, is feminine in its smooth undulations. These sexual connotations combine in a powerful way when considering the most fascinating formal feature of the work: the conflation of hard and soft. The mystique of plastic-like aluminum is thus redoubled by the distinctly female connotations of softness giving way to the reality of masculine rigidity. By incorporating themes of humor and sexuality into the present work Koons effectively perpetuates his own art historical past. Lobster, however, is an equally meaningful and deliberate homage to his Surrealist and Dada predecessors: Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp and Dalí, despite their stylistic and conceptual differences, both used their art to render the ordinary extraordinary. So too does Koons – Lobster enters the formidable lineage of works such as Aqualung from 1985 and Balloon Dog from 1994-2000 – but in a way that takes the legacies of Dalí and Duchamp to new heights.
Koons’ choice of a lobster as his pool toy model is an evident reference to Dalí. In his seminal work Lobster Telephone from 1936, Dalí fastened a rubber lobster onto the back of a rotary telephone receiver. The resulting work embodies a central tenet of Surrealism: the juxtaposition of two seemingly disparate entities to create an entirely novel object, verging on the absurd. Dalí enacts a fascinating transformation on his quotidian telephone when he affixes a lobster to it, at once ridding it of its function and revitalizing it as an entirely new thing. Koons has similarly elevated his plastic pool toy by approaching it with his signature mastery of technique and concept. Lobster likewise tackles the legacy of Duchamp. In its mode of display the present work echoes one of Duchamp’s most formidable readymades, In Advance of a Broken Arm, which is comprised of a shovel hanging from the ceiling. Duchamp’s major artistic breakthrough came from declaring bought and found objects as art, thereby de-prioritizing the skill of the artist. Speaking while in the midst of his Popeye series Koons stated: “I’ve returned to the ready-made. I’ve returned to really enjoying thinking about Duchamp. The whole world seems to have opened itself up again to me, the dialogue of art” (Exh. Cat., Versailles, Jeff Koons Versailles, October 2008-April 2009, p.25). Koons fully acknowledges and embraces his work’s dialogue with the past and allows this art historical relationship to continue to inspire his output.
Aside from its suspended installation, we see Duchamp’s profound influence in the readymade chain that serves to display and entrap Lobster. Wrought out of steel and painted in the same brilliant red as the body of the lobster, the chain is in fact the only true readymade in Lobster. The sculpture itself, though it taunts us with the possibility that it is store bought, is fundamentally different from Duchamp’s works. With Lobster, “[Koons] proves himself at once the most slavish adherent to Duchamp’s legacy and also its strongest and canniest misinterpreter. For if the Frenchman proposed that any object could be art by virtue of the artist’s declaration alone, then Koons makes it so not just by naming it as such but by investing its double with the most hard-won and exacting mimetic methodologies.” (Exh. Cat., London, Gagosian Gallery, Jeff Koons: Hulk Elvis, 2009, p. 40) The present work expertly fuses the innovations of Dalí and Duchamp while honoring the immense skill and collaboration of Koons and his studio.
Lobster is the epitome of Koons' astounding ability to synthesize art historical influences with the themes that pervade his own artistic trajectory. Paying tribute to Surrealism and Dada, but never surrendering his characteristic humor or extreme focus on technical precision, Lobster creates a singular impact: we are visually attracted, sensually seduced, and conceptually challenged and surprised all at once.
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