The ubiquitous lawn and garden ornament commonly known as the “gazing ball” is thought to have originated in 13th century Venice where they were made by highly skilled glass blowers. However, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that the mirrored spheres became popular fixtures of gardens throughout Europe and the United States. According to tradition, “gazing balls” bring good luck and ward off evil spirits, but they have also been used as symbols of friendship.
It was American artist Jeff Koons’s frequent childhood encounters with the “gazing balls” located around his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, that would later provide inspiration for his “Gazing Ball” series. Almine Rech Gallery has elected to inaugurate its second London space on Grosvenor Hill with an exhibition featuring a new series of Koons’s “Gazing Ball” paintings and sculptures, as well as two of the artist’s ballerina sculptures.
Through the simple act of placing a blue glass gazing ball on an aluminum shelf in front of a copy of a historic painting such as Giotto’s “The Kiss of Judas,” or by perching one of the reflective orbs on the top of a reproduction of Marcel Duchamp’s famous “Bottle Rack” readymade, Koons initiates a sort of metaphysical encounter, with the mirrored surface at once reflecting its host artwork as well as the viewer and their immediate surrounding.
The “Gazing Ball” series is based on ideas of transcendence and the philosopher’s gaze – “starting with transcendence through the senses, but directing one’s vision (the philosopher’s gaze) towards the eternal through pure form and ideas,” according to Koons. “The realization of one’s mortality is an abstract thought and from there, one is able to have a concept of the external world, one’s family, community, and a vaster dialogue with humankind beyond the present.”
The genius of Koons’s practice is the way he transforms definable and explainable objects and images with established experiential parameters into the catalysts for encounters that transcend time and space. With his new “Gazing Ball” works, he continues his ongoing experimentation with the mirrored surface as a gaze-subverting device – a device that collapses the past and present, the explicable and inexplicable, the celestial and terrestrial, the mutable and immutable, the seen and the seer.
In the catalogue essay, Norman Rosenthal states that mirrors have played an essential role in almost all of Koons’s work, from his very first inflatables in 1979. “Since, many of his most ambitious works – such as the 'Balloon Swan,' 'Balloon Monkey,' and 'Balloon Rabbit,' shown spectacularly in New York in 2013 – are finished with such shine that the viewer cannot but be aware of themselves many, many times as they circle the sculptures,” he says.
“Jeff Koons” runs through January 21 at Almine Rech Gallery Grosvenor Hill.