Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pictures at an Exhibition

Above you see"Balloon Dog (Yellow)," a sibling of the balloon dog I wrote about last week.  This statue is part of a New York museum's retrospective of the work of artist Jeff Koons.  I went with friends a couple days ago to see it.

Large crowds had  turned out for the exhibit, waiting in a line around the block just to get in the front door.  Once inside, museum-goers found five floors of Koons' work.  The Balloon Dog was by far the most popular thing in the place.

As I mentioned last week, Balloon Dog is trending this year.  If you google the term, you can see hundreds of pictures of balloon dogs in various colors and settings.  There is really no need to make your own photograph to get access to a balloon dog image.

What struck me in the few minutes I stood looking at the statue was how many people WERE taking pictures of it:  pictures from the front, from the side, with the kids standing in front, with the boyfriend standing by the side.

So I started taking pictures of the picture-takers.  Here are a few of them:

I don't know why all this surprised me.  Balloon dog has become recognizable, an icon of something even if people don't know what that something is.

Maybe people look at the 10-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture and see it as simple, friendly, nonthreatening.  Maybe they associate it with happy times at birthday parties when they were four or five years old.  Maybe they feel smart when they see a work of art and recognize what it is.

Maybe a picture of yourself by the Balloon Dog is like a picture of yourself with a television star, or at the gates of the White House, validating the experience.  "See, I was there!"

Nobody seemed to be studying the Balloon Dog particularly, but I tried to find some interesting aspects.  You can look at its shiny surface, which mirrors the rest of the room and reflects it in a distorted yellow tinge, for instance.  You can marvel at the incongruity of finding an enormous, shiny toy in the middle of a serious institution (the Whitney Museum of American Art, in this case.)

At this point, Balloon Dog seems like many of our celebrities -- famous for being famous.

I honestly don't know what Balloon Dog means, but I have a nagging suspicion that it is inviting us to look at our own warped images in its perfect, glassy surface.

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