There is an old slaughterhouse on one of the chicest Greek islands. On this small landmass with no cars, where donkeys still carry the heaviest loads, the American painter Brice Marden regularly stays here, as does one of the most famous collectors in Greece, Dakis Joannou. He moors his yacht here, the exterior of which has been decorated by Jeff Koons and shares its name with a Sarah Morris artwork, Guilty.
Until 30 October 2022 we also find here, the same as every summer, a work commissioned by Dakis Joannou, located on the outskirts of the village, by the sea, in a sober stone building which is the old slaughterhouse. Every year the exhibition opening takes place in June, the week following the fair in Basel, attracting the international contemporary art crowd who queue up here to receive their little aperitif.
Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton
The Greek summer show started in 2009 with Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton. In 2020 it was Jeff Koons who was due to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the show, but then Covid struck. Dakis Joannou has been one of the historic collectors of Jeff Koons since he bought his first artwork from him in 1986.
In 2022 Jeff Koons disembarked at Hydra with his extraordinary ambition to install here what is truly a little masterpiece and which bears the name of Apollo (See here and here the last interviews of Jeff Koons).
Dakis explains that the project always keeps to the same principle: a very limited budget with which the artists have to create. Clearly Koons has acted in a different fashion. Dakis reveals he hadn’t seen the artwork until just two hours before its inauguration.
On social media the image that has been most widely circulated of this installation is a giant sun in golden metal presiding over the roof of the stone house. It is a windmill standing 9.1 metres tall. But the most remarkable part is to be found inside.
Conceptual art table
To greet the visitor there is a rustic wooden table which has been placed opposite the door. Here we find firstly an upturned urinal and a bicycle wheel, evidently a nod to Marcel Duchamp. But the neighbouring wooden chair is, according to what Koons himself has said, an homage to Joseph Kosuth. See “One and Three Chairs” from 1965 composed of a real chair, a photo of a chair and a text giving the definition of a chair.
Life is temptation
The American artist has also placed watches here which resemble Rolexes, but which aren’t. According to the artist: “It’s absolutely fine if a watch went missing. We need morality in society. All life is a temptation. I wanted to activate all the senses,” adds Jeff while also mentioning the bread rolls offered to visitors, like a host having guests round to his house.
Like in a movie
A handsome young man wearing a toga awaits you at the entrance. He is the guardian of the site. The power of the installation comes from the fact that this is a total artwork. Like in a film – I’m thinking here of the reunion scene in “Un homme et une femme” by Claude Lelouch you experience the imagery through the background music played throughout the site. At the time I was filming it was playing recordings of the kithara by Michael Levy. “I looked for purity in the music I chose,” says Koons.
From the Met
He’s created a sort of altered readymade that plays with time. We could also describe it as a multi-layered readymade. He has had copies made of the sumptuous frescos at Boscoreale in Pompeii, presented at the Met in New York.
From the British museum
In the middle of all this he has installed a cast sculpture which he has completed and painted in polychrome of a Greek statue from the British Museum, depicting Apollo with a kithara. And since Koons is mischievous, the snake that accompanies the god of the arts is animated electronically.
On the wall hangs a pair of trainers clearly made by Nike, the goddess of victory in Greek mythology. Contrary to their appearance, they are made of bronze. “They are in harmony with the rest,” explains Jeff Koons, who conceived the pair of sports shoes while thinking about one of his old professors who always used to say, “it is important to know how to wear one’s own shoes.”
There are some moral phrases also written in Greek around the interior décor, such as “Nothing in excess” or “Know yourself”. On the balcony of the stone house directly overlooking the sea, Jeff has placed one of his famous gazing balls, an object for repelling birds from bourgeois American gardens, transformed through the Koons magic into a metaphysical object. This reflective ball evidently inspires artists since Gerhard Richter also amused himself by making them in the 1990s.
An archaeological fiction
“Koons: Apollo” is a sort of 21st-century archaeological fiction. A total work of art. He has transformed a slaughterhouse into a temple. We can see multiple symbolisms there.
Destruction of the frescoes
It will however be destroyed after 31 October, except perhaps for the windmill in the shape of a sun. Dakis Joannou justifies the destruction of the sumptuous frescoes and mosaic explaining that permanent artworks don’t attract the public. Ultimately the artwork at the old slaughterhouse is also, through its fleeting nature, one huge vanitas.
NFT To the moon
In conclusion, I asked Koons about his next project. Here he talks about NFTs and sending his artworks to the moon. Next up… to the moon and back.
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