A strange progression is in progress, a dignified and surreal rescue operation, as penguins and a pig slowly approach a fishnet-top-wearing woman. In Fait d'hiver, executed in 1988 and forming part of Koons' scandalous and celebrated Banality series, the artist presents the viewer with a bizarre tableau in which characters from some childish and innocent Never Neverland are confronted with an intruder from the world not just of adults, but of adult magazines. Adding to the strangeness of the scene is the strange disembodiment of the woman, who is shown as though only partly coming into the 'frame'-- her hands are isolated from her bust. This is a surreal and witty disruption of the conventions of sculpture, using an almost photographic composition in order to emphasise the collage-like nature of the content while also bringing introducing a peculiar violence, a strike against convention that is played out on several dimensions in this work.
The woman in Fait d'hiver was in part based on a picture that had appeared in Stern magazine. It has been incorporated as a part of a collage, Koons showing his love of taking disparate elements from various sources and combining them in order to convey a new inclusivity, embracing all of contemporary culture, be it high or low. Here, that image from Stern has been transformed, rendered in three dimensions, and placed, arms apart, in some static expression of ecstasy. Indeed, the eyes are wide enough, the smile rigid enough, that this porcelain figure appears too static, as though she represents a mannequin, not a 'real' or living person-- perhaps she is some form of sex toy, placed incongruously in the world of living animal toys; certainly she is dressed as some form of sex object, animate or not. This makes the rescue operation all the more surreal. The pig, carrying a cask around its neck like the clichéed images of St. Bernard dogs, is clearly intended to look homely and helpful. But there is also a great deal of the inquisitive in his expression and in that of the larger penguin. This strange intruder into their innocent fairyland is being met with celebration in the form of the garland, but also with curiosity, perhaps even caution. This is a perfect embodiment of Freud's notion of the canny and the uncanny, the Heimlich and the Unheimlich meeting in some impossible parallel fairytale universe.
Much of Koons' work, and especially his Banality series, is intended to allow the viewer to strip away the conditioning of years of acquired taste. 'The artworld uses taste as a form of segregation,' Koons has complained. 'I was trying to make a body of work that anybody could enjoy' (Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 30). The works in the Banality series, which included oversized figurines of bears hugging British bobbies, women hugging the Pink Panther, angels pushing pigs, Saint John the Baptist holding a penguin and a piglet, a gilded Michael Jackson and various other similarly over-the-top and outrageous themes, all pushed back the frontiers of accepted notions of good taste, as well as pushing back the limitations of porcelain-making (Michael Jackson and Bubbles was rumoured at the time to be the largest porcelain work ever made). 'I've tried to make work that any viewer, no matter where they came from, would have to respond to, would have to say that on some level 'Yes, I like it,'' Koons has explained. 'If they couldn't do that, it would only be because they had been told they were not supposed to like it. Eventually they will be able to strip all that down and say 'You know, it's silly, but I like that piece. It's great' (Koons, quoted in The Jeff Koons Handbook, ed. S. Coles & R. Violette, London, 1992, p. 112).
This is clearly the case in Fait d'hiver, where Koons presents us with a vast porcelain sculpture in which the worlds of childhood and of kitsch ornamentation collide to dramatic and witty effect. This is a bizarre adult take on toys, a luxury, exquisitely-rendered, extreme version of the figurines that litter so many homes and that are sold in so many novelty and souvenir stores. Koons has appropriated this visual language for his own ends:
"I was telling the Bourgeois to embrace the things that it likes, the things it responds to. For example, when you were a young child and you went to your grandmother's place and she had this little knickknack, that's inside you, and that's part of you. Embrace that" (J. Koons, quoted in Jeff Koons, exh.cat., San Francisco, 1992, p. 89).
It is for this reason that Koons has amplified, both in terms of scale and of content, the language of the novelty. He has taken the democratic figurine of his- and, in theory, all of our-- memories of childhood and of grandparental homes and he has pushed it to a new extreme. To reinforce his assault on the hegemony of more standardised and commonly accepted notions of beauty, the works in the Banality series were all executed in materials associated with luxury and the Baroque. Some were in carved wood, while others, such as Fait d'hiver, were executed in porcelain. The choice of porcelain itself is crucial for its associations both with the wealth of the past and the tat of today:
"In the porcelain pieces I wanted to be able to show the sexuality of the material. Porcelain is a material which was created in the service of the monarch and made in the King's oven. Of course, over the centuries it has become totally democratized but still the material always wants to return to the service of the monarch. There is this uplifting quality about it, this feeling of one's social standing being increased just by being around the material" (J. Koons, quoted in Coles & Violette, Ibid., 1992, p. 100).
Through Banality, Koons hoped to bring about a transcendence, a transformation-- this truly is 'Banality as saviour,' as had been written on the blackboard in one of the advertisements that Koons made as accompaniments to the work. The above-mentioned increase in social standing reflects not material aspiration, but instead spiritual aspiration. Looking at Fait d'hiver, it is impossible not to smile. There is no irony in this work, which is a celebration of childhood and of adult taste, of sex and of innocence. 'The door to the eternal is open to everyone through generosity,' Koons has said, and Fait d'hiver is unabashedly generous. 'Generosity makes fear disappear, and when fear is gone, guilt and shame follow: one is liberated' (Koons, quoted in ibid., ed. S. Coles & R. Violette, London, 1992, p. 35). Crucially, the sexual aspects of this liberation, which prefigure the Made in Heaven series that would come next in Koons' oeuvre, are evident in the porcelain itself, in the appearance of the woman, in the rapture writ large on her face and in the unquestioning innocence of the world into which she has tumbled.