An impossibly wealthy friend of mine who collects contemporary art has a piece in her beach house by the notorious American artist Jeff Koons. The work — which my friend waited years on a wait list to acquire and then paid more for than the average price of a detached home in downtown Toronto — is a hanging sculpture of a goofy red lobster wearing a turquoise blow-up swim ring.
The entire arrangement, which is garishly hued and appears to be something cheap and inflatable, is quite miraculously made of steel. Clever, yes — and meticulously crafted, as my artist friends, who are in awe of Koons’ mastery, insist — but even if I could afford it (or, for that matter, a fabulous beach house), I’m not positive I would really want Lobby McLobster hanging there in the window.
But would I want a Jeff Koons handbag? The folks at replica Louis Vuitton handbags are betting on it with a new, 51-piece line of replica handbags, scarves and small leather goods designed by the artist that ranges in price from $595 for a Koons for LV keychain to $4,000 for a duffel. Then again, is it really a Koons?
Art critic Jerry Saltz calls Koons “the most reviled artist alive” for his slick, soulless representations of metallicized sculptures of balloon dogs and a white-faced Michael Jackson posing with his chimpanzee. Super-strange “monstrosities brought to beautiful Frankenstein life,” in Saltz’s words — which, like the taxidermy vitrines and diamond-encrusted skulls of fellow art provocateur Damien Hirst, have become status objects to fashion-conscious museums and collectors, their sky-high price tags driving the hyper-inflated art market.
All of which makes cheap Louis Vuitton choice of Koons so very interesting. On the heels of collaborations with Takashi Murakami and Stephen Sprouse (who jazzed up the LV monogram on the house’s signature replica bags, respectively, with Japanese anime and graffiti), Vuitton has engaged Koons for its latest art world intervention — as if the fashion house itself were a sort of museum, and its designers were curators.
Clearly Koons gets how very “meta” this exercise is, as the artist has taken his own brilliant rip-offs of art’s greatest hits from his Gazing Ball series (think hand-painted replicas of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses) and plastered them across the replica handbags, each with the original great master’s name over it in bold letters as if they were pop icons or rock stars, and Vuitton bags were concert merch.
Which is perhaps the ultimate statement in carrying a bag with a luscious, semi-nude woman cavorting on the bedsheets with the name FRAGONARD printed across it as if it were a billboard — not for replica Louis Vuitton, this time, or even Jeff Koons — but for the visual bang of fine art itself.
As for me, I would have a hard time choosing between advertising the delicious Fragonard, Titian or Rubens. Although the enduring gaze of Mona Lisa, already a sort of brand or icon, is arguably the most on point.