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DESTE 2022 Vol II: Jeff Koons’ Apollo in Hydra

Words by Andrea Goffo

Apollo Windspinner, 2020-2022.
© Jeff Koons.

What intimate and secret bonds can develop between an artist and a patron-collector? Two disparate projects presented in Greece this summer by the DESTE Foundation touch upon this complex question from alternate angles. Jeff Koons’ iconographic intervention Apollo at the Project Space Slaughterhouse in Hydra until October 31st, and Kaari Upson’s posthumous retrospective Never Enough in Nea Ionia, Athens, until October 27th, allow DESTE’s founder and legendary collector Dakis Joannou the space to explore this phenomenon first-hand: the former in a radical carte-blanche, and the latter in respectful homage.

Click here to read DESTE 2022 Vol I: A posthumous tribute to Kaari Upson in Athens

Installation view of the exhibition Jeff Koons: Apollo, DESTE Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse, Hydra. © Jeff Koons.

The aforementioned bond between an artist and a collector seldom turns into such deep-seated trust that the artist is granted absolute creative freedom on a project commissioned by the patron. However, when the latter loves surprises and “that magic moment of experiencing something for the first time”, even this uncommon event can occur. This was the indeed the rare case with Jeff Koons: Apollo, a site-specific installation conceived for the Hydra Slaughterhouse, a tiny and modest building overlooking the Aegean Sea. Well-informed insiders reported that Koons concealed the project from Joannou until the very end, and that the collector, on the back of their friendship dating back to 1985, willingly accepted the artist’s decision.

In a postmodern-meets-pagan operation that reads both historically accurate and unapologetically blatant, Koons paid homage to the Greek god of music, medicine, divination, law, philosophy and religious wisdom, transforming the slaughterhouse into a sumptuous temple topped on the outside by an enormous rotating, golden sculpture, Apollo Wind Spinner (2020-2022), that personifies the sun. Dazzled by this deliberately kitsch symbol, the spectator arrives at the building’s threshold, welcomed by a young girl or a boy dressed in a traditional Greek toga chiton. Various objects, including a tray with fresh bread, wristwatches, and a ceramic urinal and wheel – in reference to Fountain (1917), Marcel Duchamp’s famous ready-made – are placed on a modest wood table. Above the entrance door the famous aphorism “know thyself” is inscribed, according to tradition, in homage to the facade of the Apollo temple in Delphi. The interior is dominated by Apollo Kithara (2019-2022), a 2.3-metre polychromed animatronic sculpture depicting a feminine version of the Greek god who plays a stringed instrument under which a serpent sinuously moves.

The walls of Koons’ intervention in the converted abattoir perfectly reproduce frescoes from 40-30 BC found at the Roman Villa Boscoreale, near Pompeii, creating improbably layers of kitsch rarely seen on the island. Ambient traditional music played with the kithara, and the soft light of candles placed around the walls both contribute to a mystical audiovisual atmosphere. Interrupting the apparent sincerity of symbols and meanings in Koons mise-en-scène, the traditional soundtrack is ironically spiced with songs by Lady Gaga and other pop artists mingling with the ancient melodies. A further anachronism? The hanging sculpture Nike Sneakers (2020-2022), which faithfully reproduces a popular pair of shoes in polychromed bronze.

Apollo Kithara, 2019-2022.
© Jeff Koons.

This is not the first time Jeff Koons engages in a direct dialogue with classicism. In the paintings of the series Antiquity he began in 2009, the artist incorporated motifs from classical statuary in his complex canvases, and since 2015 the Gazing Ball works have fused reproductions of mythological paintings or Roman statues such as the emblematic Farnese Hercules with mirrored blue glass garden ornaments, or ‘gazing balls’. Through these works, he created sensory short-circuits between art history and our hedonistic present. As the artist pointed out, the aspect that most fascinates him in this confrontation between today and the past is the continuity between different historical ages, “the connections and the resurrection of shared meaning”, or in other words, “the acceptance of how we exist, how nature procreates, and how we are able to sustain life.” Apollo establishes a further stage in this metaphysical play with time. It is the latest ambitious and playful embodiment of Koons’ syncretic vision in which the notions of past, present and future completely collapse to embrace a sublime and universal beauty.

www.deste.gr

Nike Sneakers, 2020-2022.
© Jeff Koons.

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