Q. Koons has expressed his desire to create art that is accessible to anyone, yet has also said that some people are misinterpreting the work. Is there a conflict there?
Gioni: Like many great artists before him, Koons has this ability to be popular and accessible, highly communicative, but at the same time his work still raises questions that are very important within the realm of culture and in the specialized field of art history. It is a balance that not many artists have been able to achieve, and it is also the reason why Koons’ work reaches very far, beyond the professional art world. All this to say that Koons’ work is capable of being extremely democratic and yet very sophisticated. It can speak about accessibility and also teach us something about elitism.
Who owns and shapes taste? Who defines what is acceptable and aesthetically or even ethically appropriate? These are the central questions that Koons' work tackles. They are basic questions that apply to both philosophers and general audiences, because we are all just trying to understand our needs and desires, and perhaps to be reassured that even our most secret passions, our most embarrassing tastes and appetites are worthy of being explored and being celebrated.
Q. What is the role of controversy in art, not just in terms of Koons, but more broadly? Does it serve a useful purpose?
Gioni: I don’t think we can judge art solely on the basis of controversy, particularly nowadays when controversy is so easily built with the help of media and can be constructed to reach quite conservative ends. On the other hand, one could say that controversy can act as a litmus test of the ability of certain artworks or artists to bring about a complete redistribution of values, hierarchies and tastes. There are some artworks that can still initiate profound crisis and doubts, raising questions about what is appropriate and legitimate, what is permitted and what is to be accepted. When controversy is a consequence rather than the main aim of the artwork, that’s when things get more interesting, I think.
Massimiliano Gioni is Artistic Director at the New Museum in New York City.