Jeff Koons: Popeye Series

Serpentine Gallery, London
2 July-13 September 2009

It was clearly time to have a Jeff Koons show. This major US artist has never had a solo museum show in the UK, and the Serpentine has stepped in with an exhibition dedicated to the artist’s “Popeye Series”, begun in 2002. The gallery has built up a relationship with Koons since 1991—he has twice shown in group shows there, as well as coming to speak with architect Rem Koolhaas as part of the 2006 “Marathon” event in the Serpentine pavilion.

Julia Peyton-Jones, director of the Serpentine, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, her co-director, were keen to highlight the timeliness of Popeye as a motif. Ms Peyton-Jones told The Art Newspaper: “He was created as a cartoon in 1929 and born out of the Great Depression. The current climate has been described as aligned to that period, and it seems there is a synergy that made this body of work particularly opportune in terms of what we might show of Koons’s work now…Popeye is the little man who against all the odds not only manages to survive but also to prosper. There is a sense of Popeye being everyman, the little man in all of us.” Mr Obrist also pointed out that 2009 marks the character’s 80th birthday.

“Jeff, through Popeye, has a dialogue with art history, and with pop art,” he added. The show includes paintings that layer imagery from popular culture and sculptures that combine aluminium casts of inflatable toys with everyday objects such as ladders and chairs. “There are lots of unexpected encounters in this series,” said Mr Obrist. “It particularly suits the space here…The very first time Jeff came to London he was fascinated by the park. You can see these pieces in relation to the park, how it almost rolls into the show and the show rolls into the park.”

This article was published in The Art Newspaper July/August 2009, p56. To view it in context, click on the PDF link below

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