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It is rare that a conversation between two artists draws enough interest to sell out a 2,000-seat theater. But the artists are two of the most provocative creators of their time — John Waters and Jeff Koons. They spoke Monday, Feb. 24, at the Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles by invitation of the Broad Foundation and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles as part of the “Un-Private Collection” series.
The “Un-Private Collection” will feature some great pairings this year, including Takashi Murakami with author Pico Iyer, Eric Fischl with actor Steve Martin, John Currin with Getty Trust president James Cuno and Kara Walker with director Ava DuVernay.
Both artists shared some thoughts with THR prior to their talk:
Koons on his Favorite Waters Film
I’ve always liked Pink Flamingos. I enjoy Hairspray and all of his other films. But it is always fun to have that first interaction. He was right out of the chute amazing.
Waters on his Favorite Koons Artwork
Well, the one with Michael Jackson and Bubbles. That whole three arms — it’s so scary — “Does Bubbles know the truth about Michael Jackson?” I am waiting for Bubbles to tell me the answer. The jury found him innocent, but did Bubbles?
Koons on Patrons Eli and Edythe Broad
Eli and Edy have been tremendous collectors of my work for over two decades now. And they have amassed one of the greatest collections of my work in the world. And I think the Broad [the under-construction L.A. museum] will eventually become the largest collector of my work in the world. So kind of the way Philadelphia was for [Marcel] Duchamp with the large collection of his work and where people make pilgrimages there to see his work. Hopefully, some day that’s what the Broad will be for my work.
Waters on Koons’ Sky-High Prices
Can you talk about his new work without thinking about the vast amounts of money that it goes for? It’s great that he sells them for that. He’s a magician, and all artists are magicians when it works. I think some people resist it because of that now. Which is crazy, because it has nothing to do with the work itself.
Waters on Arkansas’ New Crystal Bridges Museum Acquiring a Giant Koons Heart Sculpture
I wonder — will people see anything other than something that is pretty? Will it challenge them? I would rather see those people see the work that is the hardest for them to like — the vacuum cleaners or the wishing well. I’m against art for the people. I’m for the elitism in the art world. I think it’s hilarious. And fun. I find it like joining a biker gang. They have certain rules. It’s controlled by ten people. It’s amazing to me. And funny. I like impenetrable art writing — I like all the stuff that people hate about the art world.
Koons on the L.A. Art World
Great artists have come out of Los Angeles — Paul McCarthy…I have always loved Mike Kelley’s work…the black pussy artwork by Jason Rhoades. I also had a tremendous experience of showing in Los Angeles early on.
Koons on His Favorite Recent Animated Movie
I watched the Croods with my family and I thought it was fantastic. I loved the whole foundation of it — Plato’s philosophy of getting up and walking out of the cave into enlightenment. I was impressed — I thought it was really positive, the animation was great and the message was wonderful. And I have been a friend of Jeffrey’s (Katzenberg) for a while — we saw each other in China — so I sent a letter to him to let him know what I thought of the film.
Waters on Why He Never Moved to L.A.
My movie career would have been really terrible if I had ever moved to L.A. Because when I come to L.A., I’m only there for a short time. They listen to my pitches. If they saw me at parties every week, they’d say, “Oh, we’ll see him next week.” So the fact that I didn’t live there made it more interesting. I still come every Oscar week. And I go to Elton John’s. And I have fun for a week.
Waters on Why He Goes to the Movies
I like a feel-bad kind of movie. People always say, “I like movies that make me feel good.” Well, I already feel good. I don’t see the movies as a psychiatrist or a mood elevator pill. I never understand that. Why should the movies have to deal with your problems. Go to a shrink.
Koons on the Nature of Art
I think that art really uses different images and objects and metaphor for that process — for not making judgment and having acceptance. And it really becomes a whole way of life, a philosophical way of life that helps remove anxiety. And it helps bring one closer to a position to have enlightenment — the greatest understanding of our possibilities to exercise human freedom. It is really dialogue about trying to live life to its fullest.
Waters on Finding His Art in Baltimore
My mom just died and I said in the eulogy that she not only taught me the rules of good taste, she drilled them in me so much that I turned them into a career by violating them. So you cannot have fun with any issues of taste unless you know the rules of good taste, which Jeff certainly does, I believe. Jeff spent some time in Baltimore, too. He was at the Maryland Institute at the time that I was making Pink Flamingos. We were both starting out, but we did not know each other at the time. There was a department store in Baltimore named Stanley’s that was really shocking. I mean, it shocked me and we tried to imitate it for Pink Flamingos — all that blonde furniture and gaudy kind of stuff. I always wonder if he ever saw that department store.
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