Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Recent Novels of Note

It's pretty quiet in the dance world now, so thought I'd share some notes on books of interest that I've read recently.

In the historical novel vein, I was quietly won over by Michel Déon's The Foundling Boy, originally published in 1975 in French, but recently translated into English by Julian Evans. It follows twists and turns in the life of Jean, a foundling, in France during WWI. Despite some gender chauvinism, which winds through the narrative, Déon paints an absorbing portrait of Provence, Paris, London, broaches the topic of nature vs. nurture, and brings to life some all-too human characters. This fall, the translated second volume in the Foundling series is being published; I look forward to it with relish.


California, by Edan Lepucki, made headlines as the first of Hachette's titles to be touted by Stephen Colbert after Amazon began its campaign to punish the mega-publisher. This post-near-apocalyptic story focusing on a couple surviving in what they thought was solitude resonated with me far more than I expected. Some plot changes were at times predictable, at other times shocking, and some settings fantastical to the point of disbelief. Lepucki treats the lasting significance of institutions on impressionable youth, the enduring bonds and resentments of family, and the terrifying mindset of survivors.



Haruki Marukami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, currently being über marketed, is strange, as the author's settings and conceits can be. The book itself is highly designed, from its Mondrianesque hard cover cloaked by a perforated surcover, to the graphic treatment of its page numbers, to the precious size and look of the volume. It reflects in part Marukami's smooth, almost glib language to describe complicated emotional states. The novel follows the title character in the aftermath of being banished from a clique of five friends, and his efforts to come to terms with it. Marukami makes even the most difficult of topics emerge in casually forced pitter patter. There's a supernatural streak that runs through his novels—less so in this than his epic previous work, 1Q84—that makes you wonder if the events in dreams can possibly be real. At times it can feel lightweight, but his writing style is distinctive. Still, all the hype feels misplaced.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mark Morris' Acis and Galatea

Douglas Williams (Polyphemus) with Spencer Ramirez, Lauren Grant, and Noah Vinson. Photo: Richard Termine
Mark Morris is among the few modern choreographers at this moment who can put together—direct and choreograph—a dance-driven, full-length opera. His new production of Handel's Acis and Galatea was performed as part of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival at the Koch Theater last week. It is telling, and fitting, that Morris is as at home in this music festival as anywhere else. The music which provides the structure, however, is at times fallible. The opera itself is largely light, bubbly, sometimes silly, with jaunty rhythms and repeating lyrics, and a trenchant, somber aria by Galatea, mourning Acis, prior to a festive finale. It's also sometimes irritating, like a pop music station where you hear a clunker every now and then. It might explain why it's not as commonly performed as other Handel compositions.

The pre-dance overture however, with a toe-tapping tempo, is an immediate reminder of the joys of hearing well-played music, live. Nicholas McGegan conducts the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale with finesse and verve. (It is clear that the orchestra takes things seriously from the program's list of instruments and their provenances; some date back to the 17th century.) The 18 dancers sweep on and off in arcs, ebbing and flowing, spelling out some of the shapes that accumulate to create a selected syntax specific to this work, as Morris does with each dance he creates. Draped tree branch hands, or arms straight, palms spread, as a dancer rushes upstage. A woman is lifted and wafted back to earth, one arm held higher than the other. A couple echoes one another's side leg lifts, with the man peeling backward. The endless repetition of musical phrases means a mirroring of the companion dance phrases, providing ample views and reviews.

The singers, pure and agile in voice, were integrated into the movement, sometimes more successfully than others. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (Galatea) moved more naturally than her paramour, Acis (tenor Thomas Cooley), who might have benefitted from more movement training, particularly in simply running across the stage. Tenor Isaiah Bell (Damon) sang with ringing clarity and youthful brio. But it was Douglas Williams who grabbed the spotlight as bad-boy Polyphemus, rejected by Acis. In a snarling solo, he groped each dancer as they passed by him with increasing reluctance, as if on a conveyor belt. This from a choreographer who once famously yelled "No more rape!" at a performance of Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs. But a cluster of dancers forms a chair for Polyphemus, who is in turn groped by them—turnabout is fair play. In the end, he throws a boulder (appropriately, the rock-solid Maile Okamura, held aloft by two men) to strike dead Acis, whom Galatea resurrects as a flowing, life-giving stream.

A joyous finale. Photo: Richard Termine
Adrienne Lobel created vivid, expressionistic painted drops; one psych evokes a mountainous grove, another more rigid geometric forms, and a mid-stage drop features cut-out portals. When they are all lowered in place, the effect is visual cacophony. The stage is covered with a garish green marley—more tennis court than grass—whose effect was heightened by Michael Chybowski's lighting. Isaac Mizrahi designed wonderful floor-length chiffon, floral camo print dresses for the women and skirts for the men; the singers wore individual designs in varying plant hues.  

Morris is masterful at creating lilting, organic movement phrases that present a bright, philanthropic view of love and life. His dancers glow and gaze with affection at one another, and at the singers. There are also humorous sardonic scenes, such as when some of the women gang up with Galatea and pummel Polyphemus. Rita Donahue leads a memorable scene comprising a rapid series of strident gestures—hands stab the air, arms flail as if rowing followed by a violent stomp, a phrase which elicited giggles time and again. In another section, to a militaristic march, Laurel Lynch, carriage upright, sweeps her bent leg in an arc and straightens her limbs rigidly. In a visual non sequitur, Polyphemus lies on the ground and circles his ankles like a dancer warming up. The movements can get literal—to the phrase "ample strides," several dancers lift and vault another who plants her flexed feet defiantly. For a playful choreographer such as Morris, even if the results can be somewhat obvious, such visual pictures are priceless gifts in an oeuvre filled with days worth of non-narrative choreography

Integrating opera singers and dancers onstage is, of course, nothing new. (Once in a blue moon, someone like Simon Keenlyside, who is an impressively fleet physical presence, comes along to shift the paradigm.) It's one way Morris has approached opera—he also worked this way with the Met's Orfeo and Eurydice a few years ago. He has also placed singers in the pit and given the lead roles to dancers, as with his well-loved Dido and Aeneas. As long as Morris continues to have opportunities to do one, the other, or yet something else, productions of even less sturdy scores are welcome.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bolshoi Ballet—the drama moves onstage

Mikhail Lobukhin as Spartacus. Photo: Elena Fetisova, Bolshoi Ballet
The Bolshoi Ballet was in town recently as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, in the wake of the scandalous acid-throwing incident suffered by artistic director Sergei Filin, who watched from the audience and is looking in better condition than I had feared from all the news reports. It was a relief to see the drama move onstage.

Spartacus, a historical ballet choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to swashbuckling filmic music by Aram Khachaturyan, is a genre that is rarely produced in New York, with reason—there's a fine line between a historical costume dance and spoof. In the first scene's demonstrations of Roman military might, I had to stifle the giggles and adjust my mindset. Athletic bombast became the norm throughout the three-hour ballet, as the large cast's many men stomped and punched their expressions of prowess while carrying shields and swords, and wearing armor including shinguards and helmets. Many of the women, on the other hand, wore hand scarf-sized stylized togas with pointe shoes. Well, why not?

Mikhail Lobukhin chomped heartily into the title role, flexing his tanned muscles and flinging his lank hair in rhythm. He literally flew across the stage in jetés and even a rivoltade (a fancy, floor-stabbing tour jeté), flinging his arms wide and thrusting his chest out in extreme confidence. Simon Virsaladze's costumes for the principals, despite their mixed messages on veracity and a tendency to over-weaponize, were flattering, including Spartacus' red, one-shouldered obi/loin cloth over grey tights.

Svetlana Zakharova as Aegina in Spartacus. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Svetlana Zakharova, glamorous and conspiratorial, gobbled even more scenery as the courtesan Aegina. Dripping with rhinestones to complement her mini toga, she used her fabulous forced arches as lethal weapons, repeatedly brandishing them at anyone nearby. You could practically hear her purring as she minxed her way through the ballet, slicing the poor air with her ferocious developpés, upturned palms, and in one scene, a floral staff. In the less gratifying "good" roles, Alexander Volchkov as Crassus, leader of the Roman Army, and Anna Nikulina, as Phrygia, Spartacus' gal pal, fared as well as could be expected. 

While Spartacus reads as kitsch much of the time, it has entertaining pre-battle pep rally scenes and bacchanales, although a little goes a long way, and many of Grigorovich's choreographic inventions—duly repeated, again and again—are artless and bone-jarring. Virsaladze's expressionistic scenery—columned stone temples—is modernized by an evocative, hammocked scrim raised up and down to conceal and reveal stage elements. This ballet may not be one that you'd want to catch repeatedly, but as a staple of the Bolshoi's repertory, it was a fascinating glimpse into the Russian cultural canon.
    
Alexander Petukhov (Sancho Panza in Don Quixote) in flight. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Last week, I saw the company perform Don Quixote. There are few surprises since it's comparable to the ballet that ABT just performed earlier this summer. The Bolshoi's production, by Alexei Fadeyechev after Petipa and Gorsky, goes for busily milling crowd scenes, Cubistic painted flats by Sergei Barkhin, and a sultry Flamenco number, although in this scene both the pace and the leg-hiding floor-length dresses drag. 

Kristina Kretova, a leading soloist (the rank below principal) danced Kitri, flashing huge smiles and fanning her ruffled skirt with fervor. Lobukhin was her Basilio; despite its broad comic strokes, the role requires far more restraint than Spartacus, not to mention more clothing (the black tights tend to make Lobukhin's legs look skinnier than they are). But the bold, joyful attitude of Don Quixote is well-matched to the Bolshoi's nature. 

Random notes:
The orchestra sounded bright and lustrous; Pavel Klinichev conducted.
The Koch Theater is perhaps slightly small for these productions, but the closer proximity than the Met (where ABT performs its spring season) makes it easier to read.
Some of the technique looked slightly ragged, especially in Don Quixote.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mortal Davids

Herman Cornejo in The Dream. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Ballet and baseball seasons coincide, and deep into both seasons, key players are suffering wear and tear, and that has a ripple effect on their colleagues and fans.

Namely, the Davids have been waylaid—Hallberg (ABT, foot) and Wright (Mets, shoulder). I got a hefty, overdue dose of Hallberg in recent weeks, seeing him in Cinderella and then twice in Giselle, the second time when he substituted for an ill Herman Cornejo. Then Hallberg succumbed to an injury last Saturday—perhaps from overwork?—and Cory Stearns stepped in for a performance of Swan Lake. Stearns again replaced Hallberg last night in Frederick Ashton's The Dream (1964) in a double bill of Shakespeare. It was a good opportunity to see him dance, and one I wouldn't have had otherwise.

The best news of last night, however, was that Cornejo had recuperated and danced Puck in The Dream, among his finest roles, and one which he originated with ABT in this production in 2002. It fully displays all of his strengths—his utter naturalness (complemented by his woodland creature costume) in a highly unnatural art form, suspended leaps, a lovely musicality both precise and organic, and dashing wit. And while he is among the most romantic and sensitive of dancers, and is now in the regular rotation in white-tights roles, he remains legend in such spritely  characters.


Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak in The Tempest. Photo: Marty Sohl
His compact body type is of course not a first in ballet's principal ranks, though it is still the exception. It serves as a fine example for newly-appointed soloist Joseph Gorak, who on this program reprised the romantic duet with Sarah Lane in The Tempest, by Alexei Ratmansky, to music by Sibelius. Marcelo Gomes and Daniil Simkin portrayed Prospero and Ariel, and James Whiteside the beast Caliban (with a fright wig and patchy fur); Cornejo debuted that role last year, although I can't say it entirely rewards such accomplished dancers. Gorak has also been cropping up with regularity in lead roles including in Ashton's Cinderella and Ratmansky's Nutcracker. As previously noted, he recalls Hallberg in his innate nobility and épaulement, elegant line, superbly arched feet, flexibility, and composure. And since there are several gifted smaller women in ABT, he should be busy.
Gillian Murphy in The Dream. Photo: Gene Schiavone

Seeing The Tempest in its sophomore season and transferred to the Met from the Koch, it still reads as overly prop-heavy, which forces the staging into a flat, narrow horizontal area, and it is visually over-busy. Gomes is given solid geometric movements to underscore Prospero's gravity. Ariel is an ideal role for Simkin, freeing him to flit and spin, and fly in one of his signature moves, a low arabesque sauté in which the torso is kept perpendicular. (He is another principal who distinguishes himself best in solo character roles.) As Prospero's daughter, Lane is convincingly girlish and devoted. The corps comprises the ocean, most effective when spilling downstage in a crashing wave, although Santo Loquasto's overly embellished costumes distract.

(In addition to Gorak, other ABT promotions are the buoyant and pristine Isabella Boylston to principal, and new soloists are Christine Shevchenko, who acquitted herself so well in Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy, Devon Teuscher, and ABT's resident actor par excellence, Roman Zhurbin—all deserved and made from within the ranks.)

Back to The Dream, which is such a prime casting vehicle. Gillian Murphy danced Titania with a proper mix of fortitude and flourish, and her auburn ringlets somehow reinforce the fairy tale setting. Stearns seemed more at ease as Oberon than ever, again, finding the right balance of petulant and regal, and properly savoring the moments of technical braggadocio.    Blaine Hoven was Bottom, and while he needs to hone his pointe shoe work, he captured the charm and innocence of his furry, long-eared avatar. The star-struck lovers were Adrienne Schulte, so comically expressive; the plastic-faced Grant De Long, Stella Abrera, convincingly puzzled at being spurned, and Jared Matthews, who once more showed his acting chops, which we will miss as he departs to Houston Ballet with Yuriko Kajiya. 

Heal, shoulder of David Wright.
And as for the other David, over at the Mets (and not the Met)... fortunately, it's just a bruised rotator cuff on his non-throwing left shoulder. He should be back in the line-up this weekend, which is fortunate, as the Mets need him, his bat, his shoulder, and his rally towel. • Frank Cashen, Mets GM during the team's late 1980's golden era, passed away recently. He put together the 1986 world championship team which, in retrospect, was miraculous. Mex, the Kid, Doc, Nails, Strawbs, Mookie, Backman, Knight, Darling... while their fates have mixed to say the least, at least we have the privilege of hearing commentary by Keith and Ronnie, even as they twist in the wind as they cover the lackluster current team. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Q&A with Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga



The Boston Ballet is performing at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater, through June 29. Principal Misa Kuranaga, phenomenal in William Forsythe's The Second Detail, answered a few questions for Ephemeralist.

Ephemeralist: What does it mean to you that the company is making its debut at Lincoln Center, and in particular on the Koch Theater stage?

Misa Kuranaga: This means a lot to me and the entire Boston Ballet organization. We are such a versatile dance company at the height of our skills and it will be a joy to share this with the dance scene of New York City.

E: Of the repertory to be performed in New York, what do you most eagerly anticipate performing, and why?

MK: I love The Second Detail and I'm the most excited to perform this ballet. It is such a thrilling piece... you can give it all you have and explore your art form in the midst of a performance. It is a piece that is constantly growing and changing.

Working with Mr. Forsythe was such an amazing experience for me. He inspired me by sharing his life experiences. I hope I can share all of the things he taught me on stage with the audience in NY.

E: You guested with New York City Ballet in Serenade. What memories do you have from that performance?

MK: I remember when I first got the news of receiving the opportunity to perform at the Koch Theater with New York City Ballet. I was just so excited! I was given the chance to dance the Russian girl in Serenade and Heather Watts and Margaret Tracy helped me prepare for the show. I had a great time dancing on stage with friends I had not seen in years and they were all very supportive. It was a special moment for alums of School of American Ballet. I'm not always happy with my shows but this one I was very happy with, and it is one of the best shows I can remember. Because of such support from everyone, I was able to dance comfortably and perform my best at the time. 

It was definitely one if the most memorable performances of my career.

E: What are you looking forward to doing during your free time in the city?

MK: I'm in every show so I'm not expecting to have a lot of free time, but meeting some friends I haven't seen in a while for dinner will be something I'm looking forward to.

Boston Ballet's Return to Gotham

Boston Ballet is performing at the Koch Theater this week, the company's welcome return to New York after a very long time. The program on Thursday included The Second Detail by William Forsythe, Resonance by José Martinez, and Cacti by Alexander Ekman.


The Second Detail. Photo: Gene Schiavone
The recent news that William Forsythe will leave his company to teach in California and perhaps pay more attention to his classical repertory in various companies shadowed my viewing of The Second Detail (1991). The operative word here is not "the," as spelled out in a downstage sign, but "cool"—as in Forsythe's lighting design of white fluorescent light, iceberg-hued leotards designed by Yumiko Takeshima and Issey Miyake, and the dancers' louche attitude between razor-sharp ballet phrases, as if they were in rehearsal. It's a rhythm of taut and relaxed that lends pace and respiration. The traditional structure of ballet is shaken up, but a profound affection for the vocabulary still resonates—posés with hyperextended ribcages, the encouragement of showy multiple pirouettes, leg extensions and leaps pushed to extremes. An upstage line of minimal stools grounds the stage (also designed by Forsythe) and serves as seating for performers, who rest, and at times gesture. 

The women get the meaty sections, spinning like dervishes on pointe. I watched Misa Kuranaga perform two revolutions, looked away; and when I looked back a moment later, she was still finishing what must have been six revolutions. She has the right approach to Forsythe's style—without affectation, which can happen with certain dancers; fluid, technically astonishing (a leg afloat to the side, serene and unwavering). Thom Willems' score—electronic keyboard evoking a pipe organ—provided little structure, yet some of the dancers' moves seemed to align precisely with specific notes. A woman in a dress of white sheaves signalled the finale's onset; the work ended when a man kicked over "The." End!

Ji Young Chae and Patrick Yocum in Resonance.
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

Forsythe has influenced an entire generation of choreographers, including, apparently, José Martinez, who choreographed Resonance. This ambitious work, in shades of pewter and blue, features a set of rolling grey panels that reworked the stage space every few minutes. Two pianists play Liszt (one at first hides behind a panel), an odd and at times awkward musical choice that can be melodramatic and rhythmically unsupportive. One group of women, led by Lia Cirio, wears flared navy sundresses; the other (by Dusty Button), camisole leotards. 

John Cuff's pale, silvery moonlighting frequently features dancers' silhouettes framed on the  panels. The ever-shifting set creates a feeling of unease and provides visual variety, but proved distracting at times. Martinez's movement abides by a similar muscularity and an extreme rendition of ballet as Forsythe's. It includes difficult phrases of pirouettes that change direction and foot positions, particularly in a polished performance by Alejandro Virelles. The work ended as it began, with a solitary woman walking backwards. 

I must confess that Alexander Ekman's Cacti left me with mixed feelings. He pokes fun at dramaturgical pretense and dance criticism, and those who practice one or both and have thin skin might understand. With that in mind, here are some notes:

Cacti. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Wow, that is an impressive sight... 16 dancers who all look the same, like they're not wearing tops but they actually are wearing flesh-toned leotards (is that a woman? not sure) with funny short black pants, each on a little platform... scary light grids falling askance from the fly... a few musicians standing around playing... the dancers are pounding their platforms and bodies, making rhythms, alternating and in unison, like football players doing the Polynesian haka pre-game... even slapping their heads, covered with chalk dust… poof… some mock critic's thoughts are read aloud… it sounds pompous and lugubrious… wait, I take that back, those words are pompous and lugubrious. sorry.

Hey! there are the cacti, obviously cheap and light plastic versions, seemingly red herrings, but I'm not supposed to get into any meaning here… those side light grids actually spell out "cacti," flashing like traffic alerts... platforms are dragged and arranged in a little fort… a couple performs a scene while their dreary thoughts and shorthand for moves are spoken aloud… it's supposed to be funny… and it's really just annoying… everyone comes back onstage, without their black pants, and they pose like some expensive Vanity Fair portrait… and the dumb voice comes back on asking if this is the end, like, eight times, and we're all praying it's the end... and it actually does end one second before I actually scream "It better be the end!"

That said, several viewers guffawed at every silly visual joke and satirical sentence. And the stagecraft—set arrangement, lighting (both by Tom Visser), tasteful music played live (Haydn, Beethoven, etc.), and the synchrony and execution of the company, were top-notch. Ekman had hit his target, but it clearly wasn't (or was?) me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Koons—First and Last Laughs at the Whitney

Hoovers galore! 
The Whitney Museum's show, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, (Friday through Oct 19) fills the one truly glaring blank in the artist's lengthy CV. Until now, he has never been featured in a major New York museum exhibition, though he has been ubiquitous in group and gallery shows since the '80s. Not only does the Whitney show, organized by Scott Rothkopf, capture this wily artist's body of work at a peak in his career, it is the final Whitney exhibition at the Madison Avenue building. (That said, it's not for a lack of opportunity—in 1996 he was scheduled for one at the Guggenheim, but he was unable to complete the work in time.) Those are some meaningful firsts and lasts.

Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994—2000

Despite all that cold-shouldering by the curators, Koons' oeuvre has emerged among the most famous and high-priced in recent years. And why not? Shiny objects appeal to humans as much as they do to magpies, who collect little glittering baubles for their nests. So it is with rich collectors and their nests, particularly the clientele of Gagosian Gallery, which shows Koons (in addition to Sonnabend Gallery) and is the lead sponsor for the Whitney show and of a companion installation of a giant, floral Split-Rocker at Rockefeller Center. And Koons' sculptures really do shine and glitter; many even make convenient mirrors if you need one in a pinch. But he also knows that simple objects from childhood can be like visual baby blankies or junk food—comforting, reminiscent of innocent times and carefree days before adulthood and its dreary responsibilities set in. Thus, inflatable things—mylar bunnies, flowers, pool toys, balloon animals; plastic stuff, cheery tchotchkes—are the bulk of the subject matter in this multi-floor show. And they make you smile.

Gorilla, 2006—11.
I am 8' tall and granite!
Lines can be drawn connecting Koons to Duchamp and his readymades, and Warhol and his Brillo boxes, pop art staples, and the Factory. But Koons has taken the techno-industrial supersizing of his subjects to Frankensteinian lengths. What appears to be an inflatable lobster pool toy is actually painted aluminum. (By god, it's all one can do not to squeeze it for proof. Perhaps that's why a guard stood not a foot away.) An 8' tall gorilla that looks like a giant version of a little plastic figurine is made of highly polished granite. The recent Celebration series of colored, mirror-surfaced works familiar to many of us—including a balloon dog, a heart with a bow, a dome—are made of polished steel with transparent color coatings. It's mind-boggling to think of the number of steps involved in creating these scale-ups and highly seductive surfaces. These technical feats alone are worth a tip of the hat, even if the subjects are trite.

One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J 241
Series)
, 1985. Nearly nothin' but window.
One of the most visually powerful, yet understated, galleries is a temple for his vacuum pieces from the early '80s. (An early iteration appeared in the window of The New Museum on Broadway back in the day.) The room comprises single and multiple arrangements of various models encased in plexi boxes and is lit almost solely with fluorescent tubes, lending the space a tongue-in-cheek gravity and solemnity. And the basketball equilibirum sculptures look downright like old masters by now. 

In between these robust periods, however, we cannot avoid the early '90s Made in Heaven series (when he married Cicciolina, a porn star/politician, and decided to explicitly immortalize their love on photographic canvases and in life-sized 3D). This was when he alienated pretty much everyone (though I have to hand it to Sonnabend Gallery, which stuck by him even through this), and critics found the perfect ammunition to justify dismissing his work as glib and egomaniacal. Before that came the Banality series of tchotchkes in polychromed porcelainMichael Jackson and Bubbles, Woman in Tub, String of Puppies, and prior to that, the semi-serious statuary collection of pewter-toned replicas of bar paraphernalia, renaissance sculptures, and kitsch. While the show features sculpture, a number of 2D works are on view, including a series based on the power of advertising, and the Easyfun-Ethereal series of funny paintings such as Sandwiches, in which the pseudonymous lunch items are affixed with googly olive-and-pickle eyes and moustaches. 

Sandwiches, 2000
In a sense, the slickness and dumb appeal of Koons' technically challenging sculptures are as deceptive as his current popularity, which has taken his entire career to reach. (You can bet many people will see this show seeking not just floating basketballs, but also Schadenfreude.) And the man himself looks the same as he did decades ago, more like the investment banker he once was, and nowhere near his 59 years. Then again, he himself has been a consistent subject of his own work. One more example of the exterior appearing to be one thing, and the interior quite another. Taking the analogy a step further, despite their fragile appearance, you cannot pop his inflatables—they will endure, just as the artist has despite critical drubbings and symbolic exile.

A note on Gagosian's sponsorship: on the one hand, it would seem scandalous that Koons' dealer is underwriting these high-profile exhibitions, but on the other, the clarity is rather refreshing, as opposed to banks and real estate developers trying to bleach their spotty reputations in philanthropy.

The Whitney moves to MePa, or should I say HiLi, after this, with exhibitions planned for next spring in its new 60,000 square foot digs with a river view. The Met will take over the Breuer building on Madison, with its well-proportioned rooms, stone and wood floors, and embroiled history with Landmarks.

Photos by Susan Yung, except Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994–2000, © Jeff Koons, courtesy the Whitney Museum.