JEFF KOONS AT THE NEWPORT STREET GALLERY
WORDS BY SHU SHOME AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE
Damien Hirst’s private art collection is on display at the Newport Street Gallery and can’t be missed.
On a leisurely outing to the Newport Street gallery, a pint on the cheerful yellow floating pub, the Tamesis Dock, is not entirely out of order. It’s a shade over 10 minutes to walk from Vauxhall station to Newport Street. You surface from the underground to a huge roundabout that whizzes with anonymous desolation. Fortunately, the hulking concrete and merging eddies of screaming traffic soon give over to a quieter path beside the Thames. Not too far in the distance on the opposite bank, like a small pine forest of beige stone, rise the towers of Westminster Palace. On the near shore, the London Eye winks in profile. In the foreground is the aforementioned Tamesis Dock. A pint, a right, a left and we are at our destination in the London borough of Lambeth.
The first room of the Jeff Koons exhibition (titled Now) currently open at the Newport Street Gallery is mainly vacuum cleaners. Koons, one of the world’s most successful artists, was once a salesman of mechanical dust suckers. He’s held other jobs (including in commodities trading; the technical research into foundry processes that have resulted in the ultra-reflective surfaces of his signature sculptures was not cheap; the sculptures appear to be inflatable toys but are actually solid cast metal). The accusation goes that Jeff Koons is still nothing more than a peddler of gimmicks and gadgets, a home shopping network executive in the sheepskin of a poet. The articulation of this passive-aggressive emotion takes the shorthand: “How is this Art?”
Authority neuters, attempting to draw neat boundaries between art and science, science and fun, fun and art, and it’s not Art unless it makes you yawn.
Artists, you see, are supposed to be crazy. They’re supposed to be starving, driven to suicide and madness by their devotion to craft like Vincent van Gogh or Heinrich von Kleist or, at the very least, walk around bare-footed like M.F. Hussain. They’re not supposed to appear in public as neat, buttoned-down professionals. Mostly, they’re not supposed to be celebrated, while still alive, in a wonderful gallery that boasts its own restaurant.
This restaurant is called Pharmacy 2, and it looks like a pharmacy. The walls are papered with photos of pills, inhalers, and the logos of drug retail chains. The coffee is great, as is the Willies Peruvian Gold chocolate mousse that comes dusted with crisped honeycomb. The red-blue schematics of the restaurant, run by Mark Hix in collaboration with Damien Hirst (of the million dollar shark-in-a-tank-fame), transports one to an American political convention. Lambeth, we must remind ourselves, was second only to the Gibraltar islands in its support for the European Union in the recently concluded referendum. The cosmopolitanism of this borough – enhanced by the gallery’s spirit of non-militaristic British-American collaboration – is the strongest antidote to the growing despondency over the seemingly unquestioned rise of fascism around the world. It inspires hope, and hope, we know from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, can defeat the massed hordes of Hell and possesses medicinal properties.
The most subversive room in the exhibition is Gallery 3, the egg room. Koons stars in blow-up stills of his own porno. You have been adequately warned to leave the kids at home. That’s a pity because they would have enjoyed the final two pieces of the exhibition: a Ganesh ji type cast of an inflatable elephant toy and another that looks like Tweety bird.
Authority neuters, attempting to draw neat boundaries between art and science, science and fun, fun and art, and it’s not Art unless it makes you yawn. The exhibits, on the contrary, use hard science, and the artist has consulted a personality no less than Richard Feynman to inspire wonder. Jeff Koons is a clown that makes balloon animals of cast metal and lays eggs for our amusement. Now is one of the rare exhibitions where people actually walk around with big smiles on their faces. For the momentary solace of a grin, God bless: America, the Newport Street Gallery, Jeff Koons and Willies Peruvian Gold chocolate mousse.
Newport Street Gallery is owned by artist and art collector Damien Hirst, and exhibits his private art collection. The gallery launched in October 2015 with inaugural exhibition Power Stations featuring the paintings of John Hoyland.
Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, London SE11 6AJ.