Jeff Koons is a collector of old masters, and thus I went to visit Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with four Saints) in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, to see how the artist had approached the altarpiece painted by Pietro Vannucci, named Perugino, around 1500/03, as commissioned by the Scarani family for their chapel in the church of San Giovanni in Monte. The piece, now located in the Pinacoteca Nationale di Bolognate, is widely praised for its dolzezza dei colori unita.
I was not immediately impressed, not even after listening to the 11-minute artist’s commentary via audiophone, and Koons’ favourite song “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. To me it was all too vague; too slick and not quite as transcendent as the soft-spoken artist would have us believe, nor was it really aimed at the viewer and his relationship with the canvas.
Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball, side view
The idea behind the perfect blue reflecting glass sphere mounted on a small shelf in front of the canvas only became clear to me when I observed the work sideways. Through its position, the sphere appears to act as the eye of the painting itself, thus enabling the canvas to interact with its surrounding space. Naturally, the canvas itself does this anyway, but this effect is enhanced by the sphere. It reminded me of the print of Maurits Cornelis Escher where the artist has drawn his own reflection in the eye’s pupil.
In contrast to Escher, Koons’ gazing ball does not mirror the artist’s eye, but, instead, shows a reflection of ourselves, enabling us to become one with his work and its surroundings. Or, at least, that is the idea. Of course this is fun, if not a little banal, which is exactly what Koons intended. He has done so previously with his series of blue balls balanced on copies of classical sculptures, as well as with his first series of pigs, and of course with “Made in Heaven.”
With these, Koons’ work has gradually evolved into seemingly embracing the traditions of the old masters. This appears to reflect a trend, as fashion labels and design increasingly make use of famous art works in their campaigns. For example, take a look at fashion house Gucci, which refers to Hieronymus Bosch for its latest advertising campaign. Old masters have turned into superstars.
Unfortunately, the Gazing Ball was destroyed on the last day of the exhibition.