Jeff Koons and Virgil Abloh Discuss "Talledega Nights" and IKEA at GARAGE's First “Art Talks”

In challenging the border between mass culture and art, Jeff Koons and Virgil Abloh have more in common than you think. Presented by Louis Vuitton.

by Erin Schwartz
Dec 1 2017, 9:07pm

About twenty minutes into Art Talks, a conversation between Off-White designer Virgil Abloh and artist Jeff Koons moderated by curator Piper Marshall, Abloh picked up a half-full glass of water, intending to turn it over.

“I’m not going to do it here, because the space is so nice,” he joked. (The talk was held at APPARATUS Studio, which this reporter can confirm is really nice.) But flipping over the glass could serve a metaphor for his practice, characterized by turning a familiar symbol on its head.

This act of detournement has become Abloh’s signature at Off-White, a label credited with making streetwear high fashion with its conceptually tight designs. And decades before, Koons presented his first readymades fashioned from commercial objects, transforming the relationship between fine art and mass culture. Despite their different fields and generations, Koons and Abloh share common ground: they’re sharp observers of the mood and materiality of the contemporary world, and as a result, they look to the everyday for inspiration rather than the arcane.

This produces an eclectic list of references; Koons waxed poetic about both Titian and Talladega Nights. “What’s that comedy movie, with the race cars…?” he asked—the audience shouted out the answer—and went on to praise the film’s Wonder Bread-emblazoned race cars as a perfect marriage of product placement and content.

Abloh recalled his own brand crossovers: “I asked my lawyer, ‘How do I do a collaboration with IKEA?’” After months of waiting, he got an email from the furniture retailer, and the collaboration is now in the works. One piece in the collection, a red rug labeled “BLUE” in bold sans serif text, references Jasper Johns’ 1962 painting “False Start.”

With inventive collages of art history and contemporary culture, it’s impossible to guess what’s coming next. “The only thing left to design are words,” Abloh mused. My fingers are crossed for an Off-White book of concrete poetry.

Jeff Koons discussed his recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Photograph by Charlie Rubin.
Danny Baez and Camilla Venturini at APPARATUS Studio. Photograph by Charlie Rubin.
Gabriella Karefa Johnson, Dasha Zhukova, Mark Guiducci, and Stella Greenspan. Photograph by Charlie Rubin.
Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh
Jeff Koons