But that moment crystallized what Puppy and its artist were about. There were 70,000 separate decisions involved in Puppy. Every flower had to be placed exactly right. It was mad! (Puppy remains a demanding pet: Its owner, the megacollector Peter Brant, spends upwards of $75,000 per year maintaining it.) Koons was attempting to control chaos at the very moment when chaos was beginning its reign.
Puppy was the first of this decade’s public-spectacle art extravaganzas, but it also marked the end of something, and the deepening chasm between sincerity and irony, joy and menace, life and decay. It is the last of a kind, a prelapsarian still point of perfection and innocence in a dissolving landscape of obliviousness. Puppy appeared at the end of a happy interregnum, after the Berlin Wall came down, before the economy disintegrated and the towers fell. It is an artifact from the last days of “the end of history.” We didn’t know it at the time, but what Victor Hugo called “the deepening of shadow” was happening around us that summer. With Puppy, Koons laid a beautiful, ghastly laurel wreath at our doorstep. If it could speak, it would say, “After me, the deluge.”