Pictures of Popeye, the cartoon character, and what appear to be giant inflatable children’s toys draped over Little Giant Ladders have gone on show in an exhibition celebrating the work of Jeff Koons. The Serpentine Gallery, which is hosting the display in London, said it was the first major exhibition of the American artist’s work in a public gallery in England.
It includes dolphins, a paddling pool, monkeys and lobsters which, at first glance, look like they would be more at home being played with on a beach. But rather than being inflatable, the objects are cast in aluminium and their surfaces are painted.
Featuring loans from both public and private collections, the cartoon figures of Popeye and Olive Oyl are central to the series. Popeye was conceived 80 years ago when the Great Depression was taking hold.
Koons, who is based in New York, was at the gallery for Tuesday’s press launch. He said he wanted visitors to engage with the works and feel that “their history, their culture is perfect”. He added: “Working with everyday objects, it’s about people and the acceptance of others. I watched Popeye when I was younger… I always see a little bit of my father in Popeye.” He described his father as a strong and optimistic man.
Koons began his Popeye series in 2002. Speaking about the “inflatables”, he said: “In our own life we’re inflatable. We exhale and it’s a simple death. They’re (the artworks) in a state of being optimistic.” He added: “Maybe art is the spinach.”
Koons famously made a sculpture of the late Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles. “I’m saddened because Michael was a great artist. It’s a tragedy to see someone who’s so talented… not to exercise all the creativity that was within him. But he was a great artist.” Koons said he did not have any plans at the moment to make more works based on Jackson. The exhibition is open to the public from July 2 to September 13.