The remarkable pulling power of Jeff Koons' plonker

Everyone, it seems, wants their own glimpse of Koonsian heaven

Jeff Koons and Cicciolina: made in Heaven 'advertising' billboard

October, 2009

Last week, an unusual thing began happening here at modernedition: our traffic suddenly started to soar.

We've always enjoyed healthy numbers of visitors, but this was something else. A noticeable trickle that rapidly became a deluge, a tidal wave of trampling, gnashing users hell-bent, according to our statistics, on accessing one thing alone: images of Jeff Koons' infamous 1990 Made in Heaven series.

If you're one of the (apparently very few) unfamiliar with this work, it can only be described as Koons' excursion into the world of glamour-porn; images of himself and ex-wife, Cicciolina, enjoying themselves explicitly in a variety of kitsch settings. Keep reading, however, because the single image we feature depicts the couple so completely locked in conjugal bliss that anything naughty is very well hidden.

So why the sudden onslaught of pic-hunters?

Given that our site appears on the first page of Google's 'Made in Heaven' image search, it's a fairly obvious target for those on the prowl, but that alone can hardly account for the gargantuan surge in interest.

Our guess is that the enormous publicity surrounding the Tate Modern's newly opened 'Pop Life' show - and particularly, the much-broadcasted fact that it features Koons with his kit off - is behind all the frenzy.

Pop Life styles itself, broadly speaking, as an investigation of the ways in which artists post-Warhol have actively pursued their own celebrity status.

As cynics are no doubt aware, the sensationally shocking Made in Heaven series appeared at a time when Koons' early success was on the rocks, and his finances in ruin.

Now showing for the first time in many years, the series is magnificently hung (no pun intended) in its own, adults-only viewing room at the Tate.

Judging by our own experience, Pop Life will turn out to be a ball-busting blockbuster of a show, although let's hope that the 18+ viewing rooms are large enough to admits thousands at a time.

Levity aside, however, the hugely popular appeal of a chance to peruse Jeff Koons' penis raises some interesting issues.

The image on our site, for example, is part of a long feature on contemporary art and sexuality, a carefully considered article which we hoped would shed serious light on differing approaches to this age-old theme.

Do any of our visitors (who, by the way, are popping up from all parts of the globe) actually read this article - or even any part of the page they end up on?

You guessed it: hardly ever. According to our stats, barely one in a hundred pause in their quest for hard-core Heaven, hurrying back instead to resume their Google search. Which is a rather sobering statistic, when you think about it.

Because when all's said and done, the fripperies of context, analysis, or any relevant information regarding the series are simply not what our guests are looking for - as search terms such as 'Jeff Koons nude', 'Jeff Kones (sic) porn', 'sex cicciolina koons' make perfectly clear.

More sobering still is the fact that our own experience reflects, inevitably, on perceptions of 'Pop Life' itself.

It's certainly a show that's courting a fair share of controversy. Shortly before opening, it was announced that the planned inclusion of Richard Prince's appropriated image of a ten-year-old, nude Brooke Shields was to be shelved after 'discussions' with police.

To us, it has always seemed that the frenzy surrounding images of naked children is not only blown far beyond reasonable proportion, but also constitutes the thin edge of an art historical wedge.

After all, ban Brooke in her bathtub and the only logical progression is to censor the legions of pre-pubescent putti that populate every other classical painting. Where - and how - do we draw the line?

Nevertheless, by casting anologies between our own visitors' interests and what will occur at the Tate, there's good reason to believe that for many, the context of the art will scarcely seem relevant.

A good thing, perhaps, if it attracts those who have never been enticed to a gallery before, but if - as seems at least partly likely - the exhibition is regarded as little more than a peepshow, the issue of Prince's photograph does, indeed, take on murkier, more complex dimensions.

Yet ultimately, our own Koons / Cicciolina experience confirms a phenomenon that's hardly obscure, but which, although (unavoidably) exploited by the Tate, is unlikely to be explored in any real depth in the context of this show.

And that is the extraordinary appeal exerted by the combination of fame and sex.

The celebrity nude (or, better still, the very rude nude) unites the oldest obsession in the world with one of the newest, and its allure is apparently boundless.

The impulse to gaze upon the famous very much in-the-flesh is the ultimate in voyeurism, as well as the least logical, if aesthetic grounds are taken into consideration.

After all, whereas Cicciolina is certainly a beauty, Koons, bless him, is hardly a GQ hunk.

However, as our statistics make clear, the desire to peek at his knob (and what he does with it) seems limitless.

The message for all big-time art stars hit by recession should be obvious: there's no better way to revive drooping careers than give the world what it really wants and show exactly what you're made of. Damien Hirst et cetera, take note.

Mike Brennan

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