Archival finds in the whaling museum, New Bedford.
Jean Arp, one of the very first Dadaists—he was also and almost simultaneously one of the great classicists of twentieth-century sculpture—wrote that “Dada wished to destroy the hoaxes of reason and to discover an unreasoned order.” The delicacy with which Arp describes an old reason being destroyed in order to discover a new, “unreasoned order” (ordre déraisonnable) has nothing whatever to do with the chilly, pompous certainties that fill the Whitney. Koons’s overblown souvenirs are exactly what Duchamp warned against, a habit-forming drug for the superrich.
Dada—whatever its deficiencies, and the fact is that it produced relatively little enduring art—was part of a tradition of doubt about the possibilities of art that is woven deep into the history of art. You can trace this tradition back to the accounts in Pliny and other historians of the struggles of ancient painters to disentangle the relationship between the natural world and the pictorial world. The tradition runs through Michelangelo’s Neoplatonic worries about the conflict between the material and spiritual powers of art. And it reaches a first tragic climax in Chardin’s statements about the uselessness of artistic training as a preparation for the real challenges of art and his haunting confession that painting was an island whose shores he doubted he even knew.
There is not a shred of doubt in Jeff Koons. And where there is no doubt there is no art. Those who care to understand Duchamp’s impact on recent art must look elsewhere—perhaps to the enigmas and paradoxes of Robert Gober and Vija Celmins, two artists who keep some of Duchamp’s quixotic elegance and eloquence alive. But Gober and Celmins are artists’ artists. That is what Marcel Duchamp and the rest of the Dadaists were, at least for most of their careers. Koons is a publicist’s artist.
"I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person."
Franz Kafka (via 1109-83)