“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the sequel to the 2018 re-imagining of the teenage spider superhero, doubles down on the first installment with an innovative, magpie-y visual style. The result is, at least in part, a crash course in art history (literally, as characters often collide with artwork).
While the movie is largely presented in computer-generated animation quickly at a dizzying clip, There are moments of slow, awe-inspiring beauty: the backgrounds fade with graphic effect, transforming into emotional abstraction that, at turns, reminds us of the works of Kandinsky, Mondrian and Hilma af Klint. The New York City landscape has been diluted into brushless and impressionistic spaces. Ben-Day dots stutter across the screen, a nod to the story’s comic book source material, but also invoke Roy Lichtenstein’s appropriations of themselves.
Justin K. said: Thompson, the film’s director, said the collision between the technologies and the applications was intentional. “We wanted to simulate dry brush, watercolor and acrylic,” he said. “I looked a lot at Paul Klee’s work, work Lionel Fininger. Experimental films John Whitneyone of the pioneers of computer animation, was another inspiration.
There are also a number of direct allusions to contemporary art. An early piece in the Frank Lloyd Wright building at the Guggenheim Museum let the filmmakers happily leave. A copy of Spider-Man’s perpetually evil Vulture that looks as if it was lifted from a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript slashes across the museum’s rotunda, wielding weapons inspired by Da Vinci’s fantastical and terrifying inventions and wreaking havoc in what quickly appears to be a Jeff Koons retrospective. The fight scene deploys many of Koons’ inflatable toy sculptures, such as “Lobster” (2003) and “Dolphin” (2002), that are thrown as projectiles. Of course, the Koons Balloon Dog, his most easily recognizable act, receives top billing.
“When we talked about the balloon dog we said, ‘What can we do with him?'” What will be special? Thompson told me. Coons recalled, “It was actually the guy who said, ‘You know, one thing about Balloon Dog is that thing has a lot to do with breathing. It’s full of human breath. But we haven’t actually seen what’s inside of one. What if We opened one up and we could see what’s inside?” And we looked at each other, like, “But what’s inside?” He said: Whatever you want.
The inside of it ended up being the gag-sight that followed after Vulture popped off the head of a 12-foot-tall Balloon Dog, from which countless smaller Balloon Dog sculptures spilled, satisfying nagging suspicions that Koons’ mega-works are actually an elaborate piñata. (The scene brought to mind an episode earlier this year in which a collector accidentally visited Art Wynwood Gallery in Miami. Smashed 16 inch version The movie was really good through production.)
“It was very touching for me,” Kunz said on a phone call from Hydra, Greece, “because I always thought of the balloon dog as a kind of ritual act, something that could have a mythical quality to it, somewhat like a Trojan horse or Venus of Willendorf, where it would be.” There is a form of tribal society.” (his own balloon, Venus Doesn’t seem like he made the final cut.) Coons considered having Balloon Dog in the movie “really participating in a larger community where people can rally around him.”
The scene, which also displays many of Koons’ earlier, more eccentric, and less-exposed works, such as the polychrome wood sculpture “String of Puppies” (1988), from the “Banality” series, the stainless steel bust “Louis XIV” (1986), and several His 1980s Vacuum Cleaner Collections is a tribute to an artist who served as the original, albeit indirect, influence for directing the first “Spider-Verse” movie. In 2014, while still in an early conceptual stage and at a dead end as to how to create some kind of postmodern version of the undying hero, Phil Lord, the script’s co-writer, and producer Christopher Miller visited Koons Retrospective at the Whitney Museum. The Lord said that the fair crystallized their thinking.
Koons offered: “You can look at ‘The New’, ‘Equilibrium’, ‘Luxury and Decay’, ‘Antiquity’, ‘Hulk Elvis’ and all the different works that probably look like this kind of multiverse.” You can have things that are there at the same time but in different ways.”
Whether the deep dive into Koons’ work resonates with casual viewers is another story. As the plot oscillates between slightly overbearing teenage angst and extrapolation into quantum physics—itself an extended metaphor for the open, unnerving possibilities of adolescence—the art-within-jokes feel like a concession to an adult aesthetic. (“I think it’s Banksy.” is a recycled one-liner from the first movie, referring to something not like Banksy. Everyone laughed at the joke at the Upper West Side show I attended, but not at Koons’ business.)
The notion that, in an alternate universe, Jeff Koons’ career was furthered at the Guggenheim rather than the Whitney is perhaps the jokeiest of them all, something not even seasoned art-world insiders might have fully appreciated. “There was discussion for many years that I would attend my retrospective at the Guggenheim—it never happened,” Koons told me. “So it was great to see him.”
For his part, Koons gushed about the score: “I think the movie is really amazing, and I think culturally it plays a very important role for a whole generation of young people to show them the possibilities of realization.” He continued, “I’ve never seen richer colors—reds are amazing!” Koons was born in ’55 and raised in Disney. He said, “There was a certain point in the ’70s maybe where we saw animation regress, and then with Pixar we saw this huge leap forward. Film uses this technique as a base but brings back the texture, really the texture of the senses. I mean, it’s like the way we perceive Rembrandt or Titian “.
When asked if he was at all bothered by seeing representations of his work blurred by animated superheroes, Koons responded with Zen Buddhist diplomacy. “I care a lot about the world. I care about life. I care about existence,” he said. “Everything turns to dust. The world around us is turning to dust, universes are turning to dust. What is important is how we can enjoy the world we live in, and be able to form a perception of what our future could be like. As an artist, it’s nice to feel in some way that the fine arts are able to participate in culture.”