Why Jeff Koons’s Blue ‘Gazing Balls’ Give Mona Lisa Something New to Smirk About

The acclaimed comedian Jena Friedman visited the artist's show in Beverly Hills and had an epiphany.

Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (da Vinci Mona Lisa), 2016. Courtesy of Jeff Koons.
Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (da Vinci Mona Lisa), 2016 (rendering). Courtesy of Jeff Koons.

We asked the comedian Jena Friedman to review an art show. This is what she gave us.

Otherwise known as epididymal hypertension, “blue balls” refer to the testicular pain that occurs after prolonged sexual stimulation without ejaculation. It’s also a great way to describe Jeff Koons’s current show at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.

I should preface this by saying that I’m a fan of Jeff Koons. I have long admired his work from the ’80s, and even to this day I appreciate the disdain he evokes in MFA grad students and other people I might walk away from at parties. In addition, I find his origin story immensely inspiring—rising from humble beginnings as a commodities broker at Smith Barney to becoming THE highest-paid visual artist of our time AND doing it in an industry historically known to be nearly impossible for young, affluent, straight white men to break into. I mean, HOW does he not have a biopic already?!

Jeff Koons taught me that art could be anything—even someone else’s art, a tax haven for the wealthy, or a tourist magnet to boost museum revenues. So it is with great sadness that I find myself writing anything even remotely negative about this purveyor of the shiny and provocative.

But after spending what felt like many hours (45 minutes) gazing into Koons’s blue balls, which he had dangled over various reproductions of classical masterpieces, the only interpretation I could muster is that this whole series felt stale, lazy, and a bit inaccessible (but only because I couldn’t find parking).

Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass) (2014–15). Photo courtesy Gagosian gallery and © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass) (2014–15). Photo courtesy Gagosian gallery and © Jeff Koons.

Take Koons’s Gazing Ball (Manet Luncheon on the Grass), for instance. The materials include paint, a shit ton of assistants, and a metallic blue ball, and it just made me want to see Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, only not obstructed by a metallic blue ball.

Or Koons’s reproduction of the Barberini Faun, called Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun). It would have been so much cooler if it were the actual Barberini Faun or any statue, for that matter, without a metallic blue ball on it.

There were a few other pieces that I’d probably neglect to mention if I weren’t being paid by the word, like a shiny metallic balloon animal or a shiny metallic ballerina, which you could also happen upon in the lobby of your run-of-the-mill $100-million-apartment Manhattan high-rise or on a handbag at H&M. But, it’s the blue balls that really rob the show.

Hercules and his ball. Photo by Jena Friedman.

Hercules and his ball. Photo by Jena Friedman.

Koons first exposed his balls in New York in 2013 and then again in 2015, on a knockoff of the Mona Lisa, probably because he knew she wouldn’t tell. As I wandered around this current show, I kept wondering, why balls? Why violate other artists’ work with balls when you could just do it with a dick? Or would that be too on the nose? I’m not a visual artist, but if I were Koons (apologies in advance), I’d purchase actual classical masterpieces (he can afford it), jerk off all over them (Pollock-style), and then sell those reproductions (pun intended) to idiots for millions. That’s what I’d call balls!

Sorry, I got carried away. I don’t want to shit on Jeff Koons (unless he pays me) but am I missing something? Am I not deep enough to appreciate what he’s going for? I gazed into the orb for answers, but found none. Then I gazed at the gallery’s press release, which read: “each gazing ball reactivates and intensifies familiar scenes, whether from legend or the everyday.” Cool, that explains everything!

A detail of Jeff Koons's Gazing Ball (David Intervention of the Sabine Women). Photo by Jena Friedman.

A detail of Jeff Koons’s Gazing Ball (David Intervention of the Sabine Women). Photo by Jena Friedman.

At one moment, as I stared at Gazing Ball (David Intervention of the Sabine Women), I noticed a woman in the ball staring back at me. She was cute but judgmental, mid-30s but definitely not yet past her prime. At first glance I thought she was a Sabine from the painting but then after a longer gaze, I realized it was actually my own reflection, telling me it was time to leave.

I listened to the painting and fled at once.

It was only a few minutes later, when I looked at Twitter (follow me at @jenafriedman!), that I realized something beautiful and profound about Jeff Koons’s “Gazing Ball” series—it had taken my mind off of Trump! If for only a brief moment, I was consumed by the exorbitant mediocrity of Koons’s overpriced art/merch rather than the downfall of American democracy (apparently, my brain can only process one ostentatious relic of the eighties at a time). In any event, it was a welcomed and much-needed respite. So, on that note, cheers to you, Mr. Koons! And to anyone who wants to be angry about something other than our government: go see his show!

Jena Friedman at the Koons show. Photo courtesy of Jena Friedman.

Jena Friedman at the Koons show. Photo courtesy of Jena Friedman.

“Jeff Koons” is on view at Gagosian Gallery, 456 North Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, April 27–August 18, 2017.

Jena Friedman is a comedian and filmmaker based in New York. She has worked at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and written for Late Show with David Letterman and the New Yorker. Her critically acclaimed stand-up special, “American Cunt,” is now available on iTunes.


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