Puppy is a telling self-portrait of an adamant, anxious, infatuated, and troubled soul. Despite Koons’s cheerful Ronald Reagan optimism and daffy pronouncements (he called Puppy “a contemporary Sacred Heart of Jesus”), just beneath the surface of the sculpture and its maker is an obsessive rage. Koons is a driven perfectionist in pursuit of unconditional love, and his Puppy is at once an overeager peace offering and a Trojan Horse declaration of war. […]
Koons’s work has always stood apart for its one-at-a-time perfection, epic theatricality, a corrupted, almost sick drive for purification, and an obsession with traditional artistic values. His work embodies our time and our America: It’s big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted—while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy. He doesn’t go in for the savvy art-about-art gestures that occupy so many current artists. And his work retains the essential ingredient that, to my mind, is necessary to all great art: strangeness.
You can see this in his glorious phantasmagorical masterpiece, the large-scale topiary sculpture Puppy. This 40-foot visitor from another aesthetic dimension appeared in New York in the first year of the new millennium. It assumed the form of a West Highland white terrier constructed of stainless steel and 23 tons of soil, swathed in more than 70,000 flowers that were kept alive by an internal irrigation system. The sculpture was fabricated in Germany in the early nineties, and it took eight years for Koons to bring Puppy to New York, where he plopped it down in front of the G.E. Building in Rockefeller Center, where the Christmas tree now stands.