Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994 Page: 7
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wipe the tears from their eyes. Off in the
distance, atop a mammoth stairway, and
beneath a permanent rainbow, the adult-sized
Jesus greets a flock of new arrivals.
Compared to this, Michelangelo's heroic
articulations of the Sistine Chapel appear
heavyweight. To the Sistine ceiling's existing
system of vaults, Michelangelo added
illusionary stone columns and friezes. Further
emphasizing its weight, the artist populated
this stone masonry with a miserable race of
muscle-bound human beings and gigantic
Prophets and Sibyls. Butcher, in contrast,
paints his ceiling out of existence, and we
look out into the sky where feather-weight
cherubs float about defying gravity. Whatever
the ceiling weighed when Butcher started, it
weighs nothing now.
In Michelangelo The Last Judgment, the
figures on the left attain hard-
fought salvation, their chunky,
cumbersome bodies work
against their own ascent as they
are pulled up into heaven.
Man's essentially corrupt nature
must be overcome to attain
salvation. On the right, the
damned thrash about in painful
helplessness. Intertwined arms
and legs resemble a mass of
writhing worms. A lone,
damned figure crouches down, his legs held
together by a pair of demons, his left hand
covering half of his contorted face.
If a typical figure in the Sistine weighs 250
pounds, a PMC peoplette weights maybe five.
In this born-again world, there is no Catholic
notion of self-denial or self-sacrifice-this is a
religion of feeling good and doing well for
yourself and others.What better way to
portray this world in which man has no inner
conflict, no essentially corrupt nature than to
render it devoid of nasty adult flesh? We are
literally children of God. Not real children
who, say, pick their noses, but instead the
idealized, sanitized children of adult fantasy.
So, in the process of creating a chapel full of
saccharin-sweet cartoon characters, Butcher
successfully pitches himself about as far from
Michelangelo as it's possible to get, and lands
in the lap of Koons.
Butcher uses cartoon children to depict
grown-up myths like the Daniel in the lion's
den and the crucifixion. Koons has a similar
fascination with the confusion surrounding
childhood and adulthood. Michael Jackson
and Bubbles (1988) is a monument the
archetypical perpetual child holding his pet
primate. In Koon's Bear and Policeman
(1988) we see a bigger-than-life-size teddy
bear chatting with a uniformed officer-while
the bear holds his whistle-suggesting some
incongruous relationship between the
policeman and the oversized bear. With
Koons and Butcher what you see is what you
get. Both are just more comfortable in a not-
so-grown-up world. In Koon's Naked a pre-
pubescent nude boy and girl stand together on
a heart shaped pedestal. And even in the Made
in Heaven Series (1989), Koons and Cicciolina
fuck against a snow white, Disneyland
Likewise, Koons and Butcher are more
comfortable with the stuff just plain folks like.
Says Koons, "I've tried to make work that any
viewer, no matter where they came from,
would have to respond to, would have to say
that on some level 'Yes, I like it.' If they
couldn't do that, it would only be because
they had been told they were not supposed to
like it. Eventually they will be able
to strip all that down and say 'You
know, it's silly, but I like that piece.
It's great.'" One way to concoct
likable artwork is to put cute little
people in it. But animals are even
more appealing, not real animals
that bite and smell bad, but puppy-
lovable stuffed or cartoon animals.
Once again, both Butcher and
Koons deliver. Koons contributes
Yorkshire Terriers (1991), Poodle
(1991), Rabbit (1986) just to name a few. For
his part, Butcher makes sure a puppy dog gets
to heaven in Hallelujah Square. And, in a new
addition to PMC, Butcher depicts judgment
day with porcelain bisque peoplettes and
animalettes, the adult Jesus floating above.
One little girl boldly faces Him, hands at her
back, with a goose at her side. A few cows
with birds on their backs dot the scene along
with Koons-like clusters of ceramic roses. A
policeman, wearing his oversized cap, stands
with a skunk at his feet. A girl holds her
stuffed bunny as she looks to Jesus and a
sleepy little boy in his PJs covers the left side
of his face with his teddy bear. The most
ominous aspect of the piece, the title phrase,
"WILL YOU BE READY WHEN JESUS
COMES?" is printed in capital letters in an
arc above the sky suggesting, in this happy
setting, that you'd better be out of bed (up-
and-adam) for the ascent.
Looking at PMC, we are privileged to witness
the emergence of a new aesthetic system
blooming right before our eyes: an
iconography for an amorphous, uniquely
American, born-again theology. The word
"theology" is used loosely here because this
new aesthetic is remarkably secular. The
chapel itself is a large open room with only a
balcony. There's no altar, no raised area for
clergy nor any pews. Butcher's
Creation panel, also secularized,
includes three angels holding up
flash lights and reads "Let there Be
Light" (Says a tour guide, "Mr.
Butcher has a sense of humor").
The very act of including cartoon
characters in a sacred place
constitutes a secularization of that
space. Imagine the Smurfs going
to the Rothko Chapel. In the
same way, Koons' garish,
irreverent artworks violate the
here-to-fore "sacred" gallery and
museum spaces they inhabit.
Reveling in this, Koons produces
Ushering in Banality (1988)
which consists of a little boy and
two little angels attempting to
push along a preoccupied pig.
Koons and Butcher are immensely
entertaining in their unabashed
celebration of the banal. While
Butcher raises the banal up to God,
Koons raises it up to High Art, all
the while basking in its perversely
innocent sentiment. Writes Koons
of the porcelain bisque both he and
Butcher use in their sculptural work,
"Of course, over the centuries it has
become totally democratized but still
the material always wants to return to the
service of the monarch."(ibid., 100) Likewise,
in PMC, Butcher proudly raises his tiny
figurine and greeting card characters (sales
earn him some half million a year) from
Hallmark shops and living rooms nation
wide, to the hallowed, monumental walls of
a public house of worship. In "Will You Be
Ready When Jesus Comes" peoplettes scoot
around in tiny rounded autos. Apparently
Butcher is completely comfortable putting
cars-worldly goods-in a church. The key is
that Butcher and Koons are unhampered by
any Catholic or Puritanical notion of giving
up worldly goods or a Marxian disdain for
money. We certainly don't see Koons toeing
any anti-establishment, art-for-art's-sake line.
Just as Koons is not concerned with the
Western tradition of the tormented artist, the
notion of creating artwork to convey some
deep truth, or to serve some cathartic purpose
of self purging, so too is Butcher's born-again
universe delightfully free of such inner
struggles and soul searching. "Jesus Christ,"
they seem to sigh in unison, "let's not
complicate things." *
1 TheJeffKoons Handbook (New York: Rizzoli, 1992), p.1 12.
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Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994, periodical, March 1994; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/m1/7/: accessed October 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .