DVD & Blu-ray, TV

TV on DVD: Jeff Koons / David Hockney

The Jeff Koons Show is an hour-long career survey of one of the late 20th century’s more controversial American artists—not so much because of the content of his work, but because of the pomposity of the man behind it. Koons really does see himself as a latter-day Michelangelo, a worthy successor to Warhol and his ilk. He’s not quite as much of an insufferable ass as Matthew Barney, but he’s close. Koons’ early work showed a marked obsession with pop art and popular culture: his “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” is a life-size gold-leaf-plated statue of the late King of Pop sitting with his pet monkey in his lap. The majority of Koons’ recent work over the last two decades however, as presented in this slender 2004 film, is composed mostly of animal and floral imagery: he buys inflatable toys—monkeys, seahorses, tulips, that sort of thing—and casts them in lightweight stainless steel, thereby presenting extant, everyday objects in a new light.

The project examined most closely in the film is “Puppy,” a large-scale 12-metre tall wireframe in the shape of a terrier decorated with a variety of flowers. First installed in Germany after its commission in 1992, the sculpture has since been erected outside the Opera House in Sydney Harbour; outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain; and, most recently, outside Rockefeller Center in NYC. The film is too short to be probing or usefully informative: for example, Koons’ ill-fated and short-lived 1987 marriage to a Hungarian-born Italian porn star named Cicciolina—and the expectedly controversial exhibition of paintings and sculpture, “Made in Heaven,” which showed the couple engaging in a variety of explicit sex acts—are only glossed over. However there are a couple of interesting comments from Chuck Close and Julian Schnabel, both of whom are among the wide range of interviewees who appear throughout the film.

A Bigger Picture follows the British artist David Hockney as, at age 70, he heads back to his native Yorkshire to paint landscapes after a quarter-century of living in L.A.—and a six-year hiatus from painting altogether. Some of the landscapes he paints are relatively small, rough and ready, done quickly in an hour or so. Others are gargantuan, and span multiple canvasses. The titular painting, installed at the Tate Modern, is massive: it measures four by eight canvasses. These large projects require him to return to picaresque scenic views several days in a row, and work under myriad conditions and changeable weather. While it never pretends to be an in-depth study of Hockney’s life, and only briefly features interview segments with anyone other than the artist, the film, made three years ago for the BBC’s acclaimed arts series, “Imagine,” packs into its 60 minutes a surprising amount of insight into what makes Hockney tick—both as an artist and as a human being.

Both films are now available on DVD from Madman. These reviews are cross-posted at The Corner.

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