The Phaidon Folio

What is Neo-Geo and How Is Jeff Koons Involved in the Movement?

What is Neo-Geo and How Is Jeff Koons Involved in the Movement?
Jeff Koons, "Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off)" (1985). Image via

The following is excerpted from Phaidon's Art in Time :

Neo-Geo became the catchy shorthand for “Neo-Geometric Conceptualism,” a term encapsulating the work of a varied group of artists active in New York City beginning in the early 1980s. Peter Halley (b. 1953), Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959), Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Meyer Vaisman (b. 1960) and Haim Steinbach (b. 1944) situated themselves between the two polemical poles that defined the heated debates on Postmodernism. In this ideological battle, the so-called “critical” practitioners who deconstructed representations culled from media streams were pitted against the “neo-conservative” artists who reaffirmed the traditional language of figurative painting. Saddled between these extremes, Neo-Geo simultaneously adopted the language of mass culture and the order of painting or sculpture as equally problematic examples of simulations, or technically produced copies that precede originals.

Peter Halley, Yellow Prison with Underground Conduit, 1985. Image via Peter Halley, Yellow Prison with Underground Conduit, 1985 . Image via

In one of the works most closely identified with this movement, Peter Halley’s Yellow Prison with Underground Conduit combines bold unmixed Day-Glo colors, Roll-a-Tex (an industrial material used in interior decoration) and figurative source material to reflect on the social construction of architectural forms. Over the years, Halley has maintained the same iconography of hard-edged lines and precise geometric shapes to render the basic unit of modern habitation—the cell—and emphasize its omnipresence as a mechanism of collective isolation.

Ashley Brickerton, Le Art (Composition with Logos) #2, 1987. Image via Ashley Brickerton, Le Art (Composition with Logos) #2, 1987. Image via

Meanwhile, Ashley Brickerton’s fastidious hand-executed paintings of corporate logos, such as Le Art (Composition with Logos) #2 , point to the intensified link between aesthetics and economics as so many instances of rationally produced desires. This troubling equivalence between sleek art objects and well-designed commercial products is also highlighted in Haim Steinbach’s supremely black , a juxtaposition of ceramic jugs with cardboard laundry detergent boxes on a plastic laminated wood shelf. Displayed in a gallery, this collection of random items would be interpreted as an art installation, but seen in a supermarket they would probably be appraised as merchandise for functional use. Jeff Koons’ Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) , drives home the message that the context of visual consumption determines the market status of an object, and that there is often no clear demarcation between art and commerce. The three basketballs suspended in distilled water are presented like perfectly preserved artefacts­—their prestige at once confirmed by their brand names and placement within an institutional vitrine.

Haim Steinbach, supremely black, 1985. Image via Smithsonian Institution Haim Steinbach, supremely black, 1985. Image via Smithsonian Institution

From today’s perspective, it is not always easy to decide whether Neo-Geo was critical of or complicit with the logic of advanced capitalism. Meyer Vaisman captures this dilemma in Live the Dream; And a Companion Work (1988), an acrylic painting of a clock equipped with a motor and decorated with a penny where the two hands meet. Does this parody of the old adage “time is money” have any power to intervene in the social fabric or is it just another simulation ready to be integrated into a hungry art market?


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