Jeff Koons Does Not Want You to See This Film

As the Jeff Koons Whitney retrospective came to a close this past weekend (see “36 Straight Hours of Koons Will Mark Whitney Closing“), a film centered on another Koons retrospective (his first, in 1992, at SFMOMA) is just coming to light. And apparently, Koons doesn’t want you to see it.

According to the Art Newspaper, the 40-minute film, “Jeff, Embrace Your Past,” which was directed by Roger Teich, was shared with  Koons before the opening of the Whitney Museum retrospective (See “Jeff Koons as the Art World’s Great White Hope“), but it was decided that it would not be included in that show. In an email from an assistant to the exhibition’s curator Scott Rothkopf explaining to Teich why the film was not included in the retrospective, the assistant said the film was a “truly incredible resource, ” but added that “we imagine Jeff would not be enthusiastic about the film.” A later email read: “We have shared the film with Jeff, but unless we hear a positive response from him we are not planning on screening the film as part of the retrospective.”

The film features footage from that 1992 retrospective, which was at a turning point in the artist’s career. It came a year after the debut of his controversial “Made in Heaven” series—a group of paintings and sculptures presenting Koons and Staller, then a porn star, in various sex acts—and included some of those works. Koons was also just starting to earn enormous sums for his work. Now a Warhol-like master of his own image, Koons, then 37-years-old, appears in the film in rather informal, spontaneous scenes, such as setting up the show, getting a haircut, and walking hand-in-hand through the exhibition with his then wife Ilona Staller.

“I think he’s a fascinating guy — I won’t say I think he’s a con artist,” Teich said at a Q & A in conjunction with the world premiere of the film at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on September 18, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter. The filmmaker noted that he had not seen the recent retrospective and had “kind of moved on.” “My feelings are a little bruised because I want to be liked,” he continued, “and so I am disappointed that he doesn’t want to see the film.”

What will happen with the film? It doesn’t have commercial distribution, but the filmmaker and producer Henry S. Rosenthal who initially planned to edition it and make it available with “restricted contract to museums, institutions and collectors,” as per the Art Newspaper, said that was before he knew the art world was going to “close ranks around Koons and bow before his scary power.”

The film would hold interest for viewers, not only as a document of the artist, but also as an artifact of the art world and its market, as seen through the life and times of one of its most hallowed and successful players. “I don’t think you can talk about Jeff Koons without talking about money,” Rosenthal said during the Q & A. “Money is mentioned several times in the film, and if anything, it shows a 360-degree view on the cabal and how value is created in the art world.”


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