Jeff Koons Is Your Life Coach

The artist muses about art, accessibility, and the nature of transcendence in his newest video with GARAGE. Supported by Louis Vuitton.

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Dec 29 2017, 6:18pm

The last time I had a feeling of transcendence was on the train from Manhattan to New Jersey as it cuts through a swath of wasted swampland in Secaucus. There are rusted signal booths layered in generations of graffiti, shipping containers coated in fine beige dust and pale green marsh grass sawing in the wind: it’s an ecosystem given over to industrial use, then given back. This time, I saw a heron, alone, standing in water the flat milky green of a jade stone, a bloated split tire bobbing nearby. I felt sad but oddly hopeful to see a rare bird thriving there.

So I clearly need some help finding transcendence in more normal places: meditation, art, natural landscapes that are pristine rather than decaying. Luckily, Jeff Koons offers some correctives in “Jeff Koons’ Guide to Transcendence,” his most recent video for GARAGE.

First lesson: you can find transcendence in banality. Although the ecstasy of art is associated with rare works of mastery—the rapture of viewing the Sistine Chapel or Cy Twombly’s Iliad at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—it’s okay to find an inflatable flower in a mirror box breathtaking. “You want to make something so that everybody in the community can benefit from it,” Koons says. “If that hierarchy is removed, it empowers the viewer.” (See also: Koons praises “Talladega Nights” as a great work of art.)

Second lesson: transcendence is a form of selflessness, allowing yourself to be undone and remade in an encounter with the unfamiliar. Koons installs deep blue reflective balls, drawn from the province of chintzy lawn ornaments, onto canonical artworks, allowing viewers to literally see themselves in art. “I’ve learned over the years that how you experience transcendence is really by giving it up to something outside the self, and finding something outside the self as greater,” Koons says.

Beauty in the mundane? Check. Feeling connected to something outside of myself? Check. By the Koons rubric, my transcendent New Jersey swamp moment wasn’t terrible. Excuse me, I’m off to make some very profound art about herons.