Submitted Review

NGV Triennial: Jeff Koons’ Venus

  • National Gallery of Victoria • Melbourne

  • 18 December 2020—17 April 2021

  • Marielle Soni • Published 08 February 2021

If I like a Jeff Koons work does that make me a narcissist? Or am I just attracted to them?

To review Venus (2016-2020) is to review the politics behind the acquisition, and to that I can’t truly be privy. Major international acquisitions by Australian institutions undoubtedly become discussions of commerce, diplomacy, politics and marketing, which are really Koons’ raw materials anyway.

‘Her nudity is made all the more alluring because of the floral drapery brushing her mons pubis as it is just about to fall to the ground.’

A little kick of the foot, erect splayed toes, a self-conscious play of the hand. Venus bears a flirtatious rococo palette of soft pastels.  Creating the composition in three dimensions are Venus’ exaggerated contrapposto and accompanying attributes including wreath, conch, quills, wheel and doves. Her nudity is made all the more alluring because of the floral drapery brushing her mons pubis as it is just about to fall to the ground. Sensuous blushing of skin appears on her knees, elbows, toes, cheeks, fingers, areolae and the soft swells on her back, buttocks and shoulders. She is a monument to beauty, and she is the work of Wilhelm Christian Meyer (1726-86) designed in the 18thC and made in porcelain.

An exhibition room of one work – Venus is elevated to deity. No more an intimate porcelain for a cabinet, she is SUPERSIZED. Her 2.5m naked body is made of mirror-polished stainless steel, glistening and slippery she is centred within a pure white temple/gallery. A circular altar/plinth raises her above the earthly ground. We look up at her in awe. Scale, surface and display differentiates her from her predecessor. If she personifies anything, it is perhaps Koons’ libido, his ambition, and the all-American dream. That is not to dismiss it. For these reasons it is culturally significant, it is of its time and place. Venus super-sized represents sincerity without depth of emotion, self-belief without self-reflection.

Such monumental (monumentally expensive?) acquisitions create tension and often important heated discussions (within the art world at any rate) becoming a multi-million-dollar international purchase versus supporting Australian art debate. The NGV is committed to big art; any institution reflects its leadership, curatorial and  political influences, and philanthropic realities. Local art insiders often dismay at this, causing me to ponder, why? We’re the land of big – big banana, big cow, the house of bottle’s big ginger beer (may she rest in peace), hell, the big pineapple was my second home at Christmas holiday time. The Triennial is an art fun park that works. Fantasising about where it all ends up can possibly be answered by the recent NGV Contemporary announcement – a future fantasy is becoming reality.

According to Gagosian Gallery, Koons’ Venus is the first creation from his “porcelain” series to be exhibited globally, and it is a coup for Australia that it is on our shores. Perhaps more than we can comprehend at this point in time when international travel habits might be forever changed.

So, instead of arguing between international or local surely we can learn from that cute Old El Paso kid who says so wisely – “Por qué no los dos”?