The gazing ball represents the vastness of the universe and at the same time the intimacy of right here, right now.
Employing a quotation of what is believed to be the last work by Vincent van Gogh, Gazing Ball (van Gogh Wheatfield with Crows) from 2015 powerfully embodies the beauty and complexity of Jeff Koons’s Gazing Ball series. Positioned at the centre of the vast expanse of the canvas, the hand-blown blue glass ball enacts an irreverent intervention on the Dutch post-Impressionist master’s historical landscape whilst relaying a distorted reflection of its environment. Radiating an alluring elegance, the globe’s mercurial hues manifest a prism that liquifies all imagery captured within, offering a visual experience of constant flux. As a successor of sorts to Constantin Brancusi’s innovative employment of the highly polished surface, Koons’s Gazing Ball series aligns with the artist’s own iconic aesthetic of the shiny and the flawlessly reflective. Primed for a journey down the winding path through van Gogh’s historical wheatfield, Koons’s brilliant cobalt sphere absorbs past, future, and the instantaneous present, embodying an otherworldly space or a porthole towards an alternate universe. A phenomenon of visual-somatic experience that creates a metaphysical dialogue with art history, the present work is at once familiar and fantastical, exemplifying the masterful conflation of seeming opposites which defines Koons’s inimitable oeuvre.
With Gazing Ball (van Gogh Wheatfield with Crows), Koons offers an abstract vision of time in which history exists in a continuum; as Francesco Bonami describes, “He looks at History and Art History as were they private lawns where his gaze can wander randomly and freely… Time in Koons’ work is eventually irrelevant” (Francesco Bonami, “A Kind of Blue”, in Exh. Cat., New York, David Zwirner Gallery, Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball, 2013, n. p.). Koons creates a tension between the reproduction of van Gogh’s esteemed masterpiece in the collection of van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam with the ephemeral ever-changing image reflected in the immaculate gazing ball. Essential to Koons’s practice is a consideration of the viewer’s gaze and the presence of his reflection in the work which he first explored in his 1986 stainless steel sculpture Rabbit. Koons engages with the philosophy of embrace, establishing symbiotic relationships between viewers, the object, and the spaces that they share. For Koons, the environment around the artwork is as important to the conceptual foundation of the piece as the artwork itself. He is interested in the generosity offered by a work of art through its encounter with the viewer, an exchange that he both reveals and heightens in his illuminating façades. The artist has said: “It constantly reminds viewers of their existence, of your existence, it’s all about you. When you leave the room, it’s gone. When you move, the abstraction takes place; nothing happens without you, it needs you. It’s visually so abstract that it always made me think of generosity” (Jeff Koons, “Dialogues on Self-Acceptance”, in Exh. Cat., Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, 2012, pp. 35-36).
In the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s appropriation of everyday objects as ‘readymades’ and his reinterpretation of historical masterpieces in works such as L.H.O.O.Q., Koons’s Gazing Ball series is part of a lineage of radical art - yet also firmly rooted in a specific time and place. Koons presents the talisman of the gazing ball from his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, where glass globes often ornament suburban lawns or gardens, mounted on pillars and reflecting their rural surroundings. This tradition inspired Koons for the way in which this decorative orb creates a shared experience between neighbors, reflecting his own attraction to the power of art to offer wonderment and generosity. Pairing the gazing ball with an antiquity whose very nature proffers the vaulted pantheon of art history, the spectacular finish and precision of the ball’s ideal beauty juxtaposed with its popular use value as lawn decoration conflates the highly ordinary with the surreal, fueling a debate about taste that is paradigmatic of Koons’s conceptual project. Here the artist proposes an equilibrium between suburbia and fantasy, and between contemporary mass culture and the venerable annals of history. Arguing for the appreciation of mass-appeal imagery, Koons traffics in the arbitrary distinctions between high and low art, positioning his output in the uncharted territory between the predetermined polar categories.
Growing up in York, Koons’s father ran Henry J. Koons Decorators, through which Koons came to understand how the middle-class endow material goods and décor with their deepest aspirations. His father’s elaborate furniture displays and window tableaux showcased precise arrangements of decorative goods that promised social mobility to the residents of the community, and installed mirrors around every corner to make shoppers aware of their presence – a strategy Koons continues to employ in his sculpture, as evidenced by the present work. Enveloped in the sociology of aesthetics, Koons invokes a challenging poetics of class, revealing the emotional investments crystallised in objects and presenting a stimulating commentary on the nature of objecthood and material culture in America. Conflating high art and the decorative, the handcrafted and the engineered, and the original and the appropriated, Gazing Ball (van Gogh Wheatfield with Crows) speaks to the very heart of Koons’s artistic praxis, manifesting as a prime example of the artist’s widely celebrated oeuvre.