In his 2003 painting Beach House, Jeff Koons plunges us into an explosion of imagery that pulses with eroticism. This vast canvas presents the viewer with an amped-up, hyperactive 21st Century reincarnation of the collage, filled with a frenetic pace and disjointed visuals that appear perfectly suited to the world post-MTV. The foreground is largely dominated by photorealist fragments of women presented in various items of swimwear and lingerie. In some, the focus is clearly on the tanned, pert flesh, while another image of an invisible woman, perceived only through her silhouette and green knit swimsuit, has been repeated on the left- and right-hand sides of the canvas, acting as supporters for the central mass of toned men's magazine carnality.
Beach House forms a part of Koons' Popeye series. This is a bipartite series, consisting of meticulously-crafted metal sculptures which perfectly mimic swimming-pool inflatables, often merged with chairs, ladders, fences and other appropriated elements from the outside world. These inflatables continue the motif of containment, of balance and of air, the stuff of life that has recurred throughout Koons' work, beginning with his 1970s inflatables. The other part of the Popeye series is represented by paintings such as Beach House which are densely packed with a range of collaged images. Koons has arranged the composition by scanning a number of source materials and then breaking the various elements into pieces before reassembling and reconfiguring them in a dense and complex tapestry. Removing flesh here, adding paint splatter there, Koons creates a complex palimpsest that infects the viewer with a heady sensuality.
In all of the Popeye paintings, Koons incorporates aspects of the the inflatables; in Beach House, this is evident in the rubber ring, decorated with cartoon-like animals, which features in his sculpture Dipstick. In these paintings, Koons oversees the collision of the sensual world of glamour magazines and that of childhood, creating a strange tension as he juxtaposes very different senses of play. Linking the worlds of childhood, sex and art are the strange yellow squiggles that stretch across the surface: this echoes childish scribbles present in so many coloring books while also referencing the ejaculatory paint-flinging of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock.
In many of the works in the Popeye series, both sculpture and painting, Koons has included walls, fences and other barriers. In the background of Beach House, two walls are visible: one is an interior of a room with a couple of simple chairs (which themselves echo those found in the sculptures Monkeys (Chair) and Acrobat), while the other is a brick exterior. Are these images of the titular beach house? Certainly, superimposed over the brick one can make out the almost abstract near-geometrical lines that are in fact the rigging of a boat, extending the motif of leisure-by-the-sea that is introduced by the inflatable and the women in swimsuits alike. Koons is showing us a variety of different ways of enjoying the seaside. Beach House contains fun for adults and children alike. The visual assonance between the inflated rubber ring and the toned and tanned bodies of the central women are no coincidence.
Koons' battle to salvage sex and its representation in art has taken varying forms throughout his career, from vast sculptures of inflatable flowers to photographs of him in flagrante. This quest to release the viewer from the constraints imposed so often by education likewise finds a parallel in his belief that too many people are instilled with a false notion of "taste" that results in viewers suppressing their own love of some objects, impeding their enjoyment of the world, and introducing a degree of snobbery and even shame. "The artworld uses taste as a form of segregation," Koons has said. "I was trying to make a body of work that anybody could enjoy" (J. Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 30).