Tucked off The Strip at the elbow of the Plaza Shops, next to the Rimowa, Celine, Off-White, and soon-to-be-Hermes boutiques selling Old World status symbols to fuerdai,i rests “Tulips” by American artist Jeff Koons.ii
Constructed between 1995-2004, the oversized balloon-style high chromium stainless steel flowers with transparent colour coatings reflect their viewers, as the artist intended, but only to a degree ; they moreso reflect their hodge-podgy surroundings. A round mirrored base supports the horizontally laid flowers, ringed by a red Asian-styled carpet sprouting a glass and chrome guardrail. Four storeys overhead, a mall-style skylight filters in the naked desert sun, complemented by dozens of harsh halogen and LED spotlights that bathe the coloured chrome in an unapologetic mish-mash of electromagnetic frequencies, none of which conspire to inspire anything more than initial ambivalence in the viewer, which is a shame.
Far from a stark white gallery environmentiii or a Renaissance park,iv the half-dozen tulips blend in as incongruously as everything else in Las Vegas. “Spanish Steps,” Daniel Libeskind-designed shopping malls, 60-storey buildings that look so close you can touch them even when you’re two miles away, and musical fountains with enough power to launch a SpaceX programme all spray GLITZ to compete for your consciousness. Your attention is a scarce resource, even moreso than your dollars. But your attention is exactly what “Tulips” fails to grab even though its neighbouring boutiques sponge up excess attention, and capital, from visitors hailing from the four corners of the globe. Even on the second, third, and fourth viewings, “Tulips” struggles to compete. And then…
And then my hand stretches forth to grab the tulip stems from the second story balcony above, in front of the barbarically named “Urth Caffe,” and only then the piece slowly congeals into coherence. Only when the untouchable is trompe l’oeil’d into contact is it engaging and engaged.v This logical extension – the act of grasping seen in “Tulips” successor “Bouquet of Tulips” – suddenly makes all the sense in the world. Only when a giant hand of mythic proportions brings the larger-than-life metal balloons into their just proportion with biology is their comical context manifest. Only then do they reveal the full breadth of their irreverence, breaking through the House of Mirrors caging their potential. It’s another reminder that context matters.
Sometimes it just takes the olive-toned skin of an outstretched hand to unshackle our chrome hearts.
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- Contrary to popular belief, not all fuerdai were born and raised in coronavirus-land, some hail from the Great White North!
Put that in your racist pipe and smoke it. ↩
- For reference, “Tulips” was purchased at auction by Steve Wynn in 2012 for $33.7 mn, which just goes to Banksy’s point about capitalism:
From “Banksy: Genius or Vandal?” exhibit just across the street from the Wynn Las Vegas at Fashion Show Mall. We spoke briefly about Banksy on these pages in September 2018 when visiting Toronto.
For other recent articles on Koons from these pages, see What is creativity? and Koonsian self-acceptance. As you can see, I’m in a bit of a Koons phase at the moment, which was in fact the tipping point in our reservation at Wynn Las Vegas for our “parents-only” getaway last weekend. The hotel definitely fit the bill for our modest needs, with service and food quality befitting its 5-star standing, but I’ve never felt like such a bah-bah-
black-mediterranean-sheep at a 5-star hotel before. With 4,750 rooms between the Wynn and its siamese sister, Encore, the combined complex is the 7th largest hotel in the world. The prices for food, drinks, and accommodation were certainly reflected in the 5-star rating, but the overall experience was closer to that of a cruise ship than the Fairmont PacRim. It was conflicting, confusing, and it made me feel a bit poor, or at least that I wasn’t getting great value for money. I’m not sure I’d stay there again, but nor am I in a hurry to go back to Vegas again in the near future so maybe it’s a bit of a moot point. ↩
- Like the intimate space the Japanese artist Tadaaki Kuwayama (b. Nagoya, 1932) selected for his aluminum and bakelite piece “Untitled,” 1995-1996 at the Bellagio Fine Arts Gallery.
On the other side of the wall from the stunning and poignant “Stone and Light”, 1971-1989 by Tatsuo Kawaguchi (b. Kobe, 1940).
- Like the new 41-foot-tall, 67-ton “Bouquet of Tulips” artwork that Koons gifted to the City of Paris. ↩
- The lack of physical interaction with Koons’ works is a strong vote in favour of Richard Serra! The difference between the two artists can also be cleaved along the fault line between “Wabi” and “Sabi,” to continue with Japanese notions explored at the Bellagio exhibit. Wabi (in Japanese art) “is a quality of austere and serene beauty expressing a mood of spiritual solitude recognized in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Sabi refers to “things whose beauty stems from age. It refers to the patina of age, and the concept that changes due to use may make an object more beautiful and valuable.” Between the two, I strongly lean towards the latter. Part of it is the contrariness of preferring well-loved and well-used objects (and people) in a world that priviledges untouched time capsules from The Great Again and where condition makes a 10x difference at “auction.” Part of it is also that I’m not a really meticulous and detail-oriented guy, so I don’t have patience for treating my possessions (nor people) with white gloves and diapers. Dings, scrapes, and scars are signs of a life well-lived, a life of risk and enjoyment, rather than a life of seclusion and denial. Eternal youth only exists in fiction. Nostalgia is fear – fear of death – and fear is the mind killer. ↩