Jeff Koons on the Roof

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through October 26.

Inside, the enormous shiny metal balloon dog might look overwhelming or creepy, but outside, underneath the vast blue sky on the Met’s roof garden, it’s charming and whimsical, a giant-child’s plaything. Even after all the trouble to get to the roof, even when the sun creates a glare on the lacquer, the sculpture feels utterly blithe. It makes me smile just to look at it.

I suspect, though, that happy giggles are not necessarily what artist Jeff Koons wanted, for alongside “Balloon Dog (Yellow)” is “Sacred Heart (Red/Gold),” another shiny metal sculpture, but one the environment can’t dwarf into innocence. Koons’ “Sacred Heart” is not a religious devotional but a garish Valentine’s Day monstrosity: a heart-shaped, foil-wrapped chocolate standing on end and blown up to absurd dimensions. It feels wrong—a superficial debasement of love and purity—and I can’t help but wonder whether “Balloon Dog,” too, had something more to say.

But try as I might to see something more, I just can’t get past the goofy wonder of it. Koons’ detail work is extraordinary. Intellectually, I understand that the sculpture is made of steel, but the “knots” shaping it, the “creases” at its joints, and the puckered balloon-end of its nose are so perfectly rendered that the illusion is inescapable. Part of me insists on believing that if I were to stick it with a pin, I would hear not a ping but a pop. Maybe I’m supposed to see something darker in “Balloon Dog”—unhealthily prolonged childhood? a menacing wolf in sheep’s clothing? an orgy of phallic imagery?—but I can’t do it. I love “Balloon Dog.” It dazzles me past the point of seeing shadows.

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