Cynicism has been a staple undercurrent of contemporary art since the early days of Pop. But back then, in the late '50s and '60s, it was so laced with ironic humor that one couldn't always be sure whether the artists were celebrating or razzing the consumerist bent of popular culture. With the arrival of "appropriationists" and "simulationists" in the '80s, cynicism has become so calculated and codified that there's no room for subtlety.
Thus, we find Jeff Koons presenting gleaming vacuum cleaners and floor polishers in perfect plexiglass boxes lighted with banks of fluorescent tubes. He chooses different models, pairing and stacking them in various arrangements, but it only takes one to convey the idea. And there is an idea behind this audacious work: consumerism as religion. The problem is that the only conviction behind this stuff is that art is a hot commodity and Koons is a smart artist. Without a trace of irony, a sense of humor or the moral outrage that, say, Hans Haacke might bring to such a statement, the art comes off as a clinical position paper.
The eight versions of "The New: Encased Pieces" currently on view are dated 1981-1987, but Koons' vacuum cleaners already looked old when we saw a similar example last year at Margo Leavin's and earlier at LACE. (Daniel Weinberg Gallery, 619 N. Almont Drive, to Jan. 9.)