IIn Herbert Ross’s magisterial 1987 film The Secret of My Success, Michael J. Fox plays Brantley Foster, a charming chancer who works his way up (spoiler alert!) from mailroom to boardroom in his uncle’s corporation. Meeting him in his plush corner office, Foster makes a heartfelt appeal to give him a chance in the company. “What experience have you had?” asks his flustered uncle. “Practically none,” says Foster. “But I believe in myself. Doesn’t that count for something? I can do anything if I just get a chance!” Here’s where audiences divide, both Europeans and Americans simultaneously responding, “That’s so American!” with exact opposite meaning and inflection.
Here, too, is where Jeff Koons’s work comes in, whose career and persona (like that of Michael J. Fox, or his late sometime muse, Michael Jackson) is so inextricably tied to the 1980s culture of capitalist optimism that it’s a mild surprise not to see his jacket sleeves rolled to the elbow in the press shots for his new show in London.