It all started with Jeff Koons
Warning: This post includes an obnoxious number of #artselfies.
I began self-identifying as a “museum person” sometime during college. I had assumed everyone liked museums.
Having now gone to my fair share of “What am I doing here” museum visits, I understand why some people have sworn off art.
But I’ve always enjoyed the meditative quiet of the museum, the sense of exploration and discovery when you visited somewhere new, the way the artwork made you think about yourself, and the feeling of being part of something bigger, a little person in the human adventure. And I realize I’m a little unusual.
I remember being interested in art for as long as I can remember. I remember a visit to see Duane Hansen’s lifelike sculptures at home in Boca Raton, the fabric faux-Calder mobile that hangs in our living room, hours of strolling through the Whitney Museum during a trip in middle school listening to all of the stops on the audio-guide until my parents told me it was time to go.
My start as a real snob was at the Whitney too. During the summer of 2014, I found myself reading article after article about Jeff Koons’ upcoming retrospective at the Whitney. I didn’t know why, but it took hold of my imagination.
I had plans nearby on the day the exhibit opened, so I decided to kind of swing by beforehand since admission was free just to take a quick look. I waited on a short line of overeager people like myself, and despite how much I had read in advance, still found myself totally amazed by the show.
It felt familiar yet magical, and I left feeling like I was a little different. I vowed to return, and went to see that show three times that summer (a number I bragged about to anyone who would listen), although the line grew quite a bit since that first visit. For the first time at a museum, I like I really understood.
I appreciated the themes of fame and image after my extensive studies of Kanye and the Kardashians, and just liked the feeling of celebration, as the exhibit was aptly named. I saw that Koons was visiting the museum for a lecture, and jumped on the opportunity to see him speak about the exhibit for a mere $8 (which I told a Tinder date about, to which he asked why I wouldn’t spend that money on beers instead).
As Koons spoke, I realized that I indeed had understood. He said many things I had thought about (and many things I certainly had not — like that a giant plastic cat represented Jesus on the cross). After this exhibit, I decided that I was a museum person.
Since then, some other artists have joined my club. I find myself watching movies, reading articles about them, or attending their lectures (for those rare few who are still alive) and still usually can’t place why I feel so interested. I plan trips around where their art is being shown, and I feel the same sense of joy and accomplishment upon finally seeing their work in person that I felt upon seeing Koons’.
I still go to see Koons’ work every chance I can. When I worked near an IBM Watson office with one of the balloon animals in the lobby, I always made an effort to pass by, and take a moment to feel the amazement and appreciation.
His work doesn’t quite spark the same feeling of excitement when I go to see it now, and I don’t leave feeling like someone new, but it feels like a visit to an old friend, to say thanks for what they’ve done.