PRINT September 2014

Rachel Harrison

Jeff Koons, Bob Hope, 1986, stainless steel, 17 × 5 1/2 × 5 1/2". From the series “Statuary,” 1986.


I DON’T LIKE BOB HOPE but I might like Bob Hope, or at least I did when I saw him at the Whitney’s Koons retrospective. His head is so big, like a bobblehead, but fixed in a creepy stainless-steel grin. He has a lot of presence for a little guy, and I wondered about the tabletop scale in the oeuvre of an artist where size really does matter. Maybe he’s meant to mimic the real Oscar that Bob joked about never getting. Although I knew he entertained our troops, Bob Hope wasn’t quite on my radar, so I thought I’d look into it, see what he’s really an icon of. In 1986 (the year Bob Hope was made), the comedian told a joke at the centennial celebration for the Statue of Liberty: “I just heard Lady Liberty has aids. Nobody knows if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Ferry.” Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who were present, laughed. How funny is that? By the end of that year, 38,401 AIDS cases had been reported; 16,301 people had died; and Reagan had yet to even mention the name of the disease publicly.

I’d like to think that Jeff Koons was interested in just a little bit more than formal issues when he cast the guy who loved to play wingman to Reagan, and who was a practical toady to Texaco and the oil companies. Maybe it caught his eye that you could be a big-time entertainer by carrying water for the politically odious—this was in the old days, before the way to get ahead was by flattering the financially obscene. At least that’s one reason I think I like Bob Hope, and he looks pretty sharp in the same room with Louis XIV. Was there ever a critical edge locked inside the breath of the bunny? And if so, when did the air go out of the room?

Rachel Harrison is an artist based in New York.