Written and translated by – LEANDRO BONAN

We Italians love being contentious, we know that. Hence, when I read that a statue by Jeff Koons would have been displayed in the main square of Florence, just next to the David by Michelangelo, I wondered why nobody had complained yet. In fact, after just two days there were tons of critics, which were heavily complaining about the idea. Ugly, kitsch, insulting history: the poor couple composed by Pluto and Proserpina had to bear every kind of offense.

Quite frankly speaking, we cannot say it is sober. In case you do not have it in mind, I am talking about an almost 4-meter statue, in golden stainless steel, and adorned with small vases of white flowers. (Just so that we cannot say, the final touch is missing). Below you can see it in all its flashy exuberance.


However, can we really say that it is “a crumple thrown among the masterpieces of Piazza della Signoria,” as it was written?

As usual, contemporary art divides much more than the classics. No problem about that, also because classics themselves, when they were contemporary, divided. Let us think about Monet, now considered (not by mistake) as one of the most genial and talented painters ever. He is the one that everyone knows, as Mozart for classical music: you can be completely ignorant about it, but you will nonetheless say that you like him, because you know you cannot be wrong. Well, the day after the exhibition his friends and he organized in the atelier of the photographer Nadar, the art critic Louis Leroy claimed wallpaper was more valuable than the paintings on exhibit.

Let us therefore assume that contemporaries say dummy things, and that they write even dummier things, both when Monet was young and today. Let us ignore them all, both those who exalt Pluto and Proserpina, claiming that they will bring the city at the glory of the Medici family (believe me, they did write that) and those who even created web pages to “Save Florence” from the monster.

What is behind the statue? What is its meaning?

The statue reproduces at huge scale a small porcelain artifact of the eighteenth century, modelled on a masterpiece by Bernini. An artifact similar to those that you can see in the museum and in front of which you never stop, because there are other thirty similar artifacts in the same display case. Koons took it, made a 3D scan of it, he enlarged it from the original 20cm to 3.75m, and he realized it in golden stainless steel. Thank to technology (and to over 100 specialized workers who work in his atelier) he transformed an insignificant object, both artistically and dimensionally, in a glorious and flashy giant, impossible to ignore. Be aware!, the statue yells to us, because we do are dwarfs of giants’ shoulders, as Bernard of Chartres wrote, but we need to pay attention not to transform dwarfs in giants just because they belong to the past. The idol of Koons warns us from the acritical nostalgia of the days passed by, from considering history as life master, without the least reflection.

Even the position, next to the David (which is itself a copy, do not forget it: the original version is at the Galleria dell’Accademia), is not – I hope – random. A replica from the inestimable value is paired with another one that pretends to be precious in a very pompous and showy way, denouncing the limits of the contemporary society, and thus assuming an artistic dignity, which is independent from and enormously greater than the original.


The role of art is after all one of the fundamental themes of Koons’s work, who speculates on potentialities and limits of the artistic creation. Coherently with the lesson of Duchamp, his inspiration, he thinks that Art means transforming what is not artistic, mainly by selective alterations. By doing so, he however manages reinventing reality: objects, deprived of their context or the function they are usually associated with, assume a brand new identity. Art becomes hence a game and it has the purpose of bringing us again to consider that amazement for our everyday normality that we thought to have lost, but that in reality is just hidden behind age and lack of stimulus. To revitalize the feeling of surprise, Koons often uses the kitsch as tool, precisely because it cannot leave people indifferent and it forces the spectator to face with his loud and rackety side.

An excellence example of that is the Celebration cycle, of which the most famous work is the reproduction of a balloon dog. Do you have in mind those that clowns realize at children’ birthday party? Koons wanted to overdo and he made a stature or over 3 m using his beloved stainless steel. The procedure reminds of the one used for Pluto and Proserpina, but the aim is radically different. In this case, Koons wants to have fun, leaving aside his provocative attitude that normally identifies his works. Once again, he does not create in a literal sense, because we have all seen hundreds of balloon dogs in our life, and some of us are even able to make them. What he creates, however, is a new identity for our childhood memory. From something fragile, ephemeral, and temporary, the dog undergoes a transformation and it becomes indestructible and weighting tons. Koons puts us in front of our childish and playful side, which is so big that cannot be ignored anymore, and it advices us to pay attention to it. In a very profane version of “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,” Koons tells us to have fun, because celebrations, joys, are ephemeral as a dog balloon.

(photo credits: www.jeffkoons.com)

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