A Break From Koons-a-mania

by Lily Hoagland

Yes, we all know that this is the summer of Koons. His retrospective at the Whitney is as unavoidable as his giant flower sculpture in Rockefeller Center. But there is a subtler artist (as if there’s anyone broader than Koons right now) currently enjoying a retrospective at the MoMA: Christopher Williams.

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Williams’s show, “The Production Line of Happiness,” reveals a conceptual artist who prefers to let his audience search for meaning, rather than spelling it out. There are layers of social commentary in each piece, and the artistic stratigraphy needs to be done with precise and delicate tools. Williams arranged the show without any wall texts to give clue to each work’s meaning, like a trick by a professor to encourage his pupils to be better at critical analysis and research. He likes to unsettle his viewers, for example, by hanging the pictures lower than usual in order to get people to ask why they are so used to having them higher.

But this is not just for the erudite and the highbrow – his photos are gorgeous and a pleasure to spend time with. Williams uses color brilliantly. He also has his subjects smile, an anomoly in contemporary art, and it’s interesting to see how he manipulates those smiles to convey different emotions.

So when you find yourself in the 35th cocktail conversation about Koons this summer, you can bring up this counterpart as an oasis of calm in the balloon-dog storm.