When we look into the animal-shaped mirrors, we see ourselves and the rest of the world passing by their flat surfaces. The shapes are about the combination of the baroque and the modern. The outline of the animals are both symmetrical and asymmetrical. Different polarities are all coming into play.
-J. Koons, Taschen, 2009
Jeff Koons’s Monkey (Blue) depicts the familiar silhouette of a monkey reduced to its most essential form, so that the work appears almost abstract in its Minimalism.
In its bright and colorful mirrored surface, Monkey (Blue) shares the mirror polish and reflective surface of many of Koons’s sculptures. The artwork is in a complex dialogue with both sculpture and painting. As the piece hangs vertically on the wall, it is able to function simultaneously as both traditional painting and sculpture—a three dimensional artwork with a flat exterior that is constantly shifting as its surroundings change. The image reflected back to the viewer is colored by the ethereal, bright blue, mirrored coating of Monkey, revealing not the naturalistic world, but a glossy, perky, cheerful reality transformed by Koons’s charm. The archetypal, abstract, cut-out shape of Monkey does not recall any specific cartoon character, but rather the generalized form of cheerful childhood mascots drawn from cereal boxes or Saturday morning cartoons. Like the playful mirrors in a carnival fun-house, Monkey distorts the world, revealing perspectives outside of the humdrum, everyday experience.
Through this transmutation, Koons invites the observer literally inside of his oeuvre, allowing us to view our world through Koons-colored glasses. The inclusion of the viewer as part of the work avouches Koons’s belief that art happens inside the viewer upon seeing the artwork and has the power to affirm one’s existence and provide self-empowerment. Monkey encapsulates this moment that is universal to the human experience—of looking into the mirror and willing oneself to continue onward and persevere. In sentiment, Monkey continues themes of acceptance, empowerment and transformation that run throughout Koons’s mature work. Here we see a personal reflection of the artist’s psyche condensed into a magnetic and gleaming finish—a new Jeff Koons for the 21st century.
At the opening of his most recent exhibition in Bilbao, the artist himself detailed this theme of transformation: “You have to have self-acceptance, and you have to go through the dark side at the very beginning. The dark side is there—the dark side is what you need to overcome to be able to walk out of Plato’s cave. I think judgment is the dark side, you can remove judgment and anxiety by participating in acceptance, being open to everything—understanding that nothing is sacred, that everything is in play. There’s nothing that can’t be used and incorporated, there’s no disempowerment of the self. When you keep everything in play, automatically you connect to the universal.” (J. Koons in Bilbao, 2015)