He collapses the high and the low.
We've heard of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, who could describe different objects but couldn't recognize what they were. He had a neurological condition called associative agnosia. I believe that Jeff Koons, perhaps today's most famous artist, has an artistic condition you might call aesthetic agnosia. Koons can see the difference between classic paintings and pornographic photos—he collects the paintings and has riffed on the porn—but refuses to admit they mean different things.
Even after 30 years, Koons's mashups of high and low—a dog knotted from balloons, then enlarged into a public monument; a life-size bust of Michael Jackson and his chimp in gold-and-white porcelain—still feel significant. "The hierarchy of things is a kind of defense mechanism that just alienates," says Koons, 56. "Whatever you respond to is absolutely fine."
Sitting in his lab-clean studio in Manhattan, he expounds on the full meaning of a new piece: a facsimile of the Venus of Willendorf, one of humanity's first sculptures, that he's twisted from balloons and is enlarging as a towering marble. For Koons, the aesthetic agnosiac, the piece isn't a wacky sendup or a dada collision of opposites. It's a real inquiry into the sexual content of our earliest art. "It's really about expansion, trying to create a vaster world, a more interesting world," he says. That, for sure, he's achieved.