Koons in December 2014
January 21, 1955
York, Pennsylvania, U.S.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago|
Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore
Balloon Dog (1994–2000)
Ilona Staller (m. 1991–1994)|
Jeffrey Koons (//; born January 21, 1955) is an American artist known for working with popular culture subjects and his reproductions of banal objects—such as balloon animals produced in stainless steel with mirror-finish surfaces. He lives and works in both New York City and his hometown of York, Pennsylvania.
His works have sold for substantial sums, including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. On November 12, 2013, Koons's Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York City for US$58.4 million, above its high US$55 million estimate, becoming the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction. The price topped Koons's previous record of US$33.7 million and the record for the most expensive living artist, held by Gerhard Richter, whose 1968 painting, Domplatz, Mailand, sold for US$57.1 million at Sotheby's on May 14, 2013. Balloon Dog (Orange) was one of the first of the Balloon dogs to be fabricated, and had been acquired by Greenwich collector Peter Brant in the late 1990s.
Critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch, crass, and based on cynical self-merchandising. Koons has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques.
Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania, to Henry and Gloria Koons. His father was a furniture dealer and interior decorator; his mother was a seamstress. When he was nine years old, his father would place old-master paintings copied and signed by his son in the window of his shop in an attempt to attract visitors. As a child he went door to door after school selling gift-wrapping paper and candy to earn pocket money. As a teenager he revered Salvador Dalí so much that he visited him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City.
Koons studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. While a visiting student at the Art Institute, Koons met the artist Ed Paschke, who became a major influence and for whom he worked as a studio assistant in the late 1970s. He lived in Lakeview, and then in the Pilsen neighborhood at Halsted Street and 19th Street.
After college, Koons moved to New York in 1977 and worked at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art while establishing himself as an artist. During this time, he dyed his hair red and would often cultivate a pencil mustache, after Salvador Dalí. In 1980, he got licensed to sell mutual funds and stocks and began working as a Wall Street commodities broker at First Investors Corporation. After a summer with his parents in Sarasota, Florida (Koons took on a brief job there as a political canvasser), he returned to New York and found a new career as a commodities broker, first at Clayton Brokerage Company and then at Smith Barney. He did this job when he encountered the problem of financing his first series, but also in order to be independent from the art market: "I could make exactly what art I wanted to make. And I would always know that I didn't need the art market."
Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era. He gained recognition in the 1980s and subsequently set up a factory-like studio in a SoHo loft on the corner of Houston Street and Broadway in New York. It was staffed with over 30 assistants, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work—in a similar mode as Andy Warhol's Factory (notable because all of his work is produced using a method known as art fabrication). Today, he has a 1,500 m2 (16,000 sq ft) factory near the old Hudson rail yards in Chelsea, working with 90 to 120 regular assistants. Koons developed a color-by-numbers system, so that each of his assistants could execute his canvases and sculptures as if they had been done "by a single hand". "I think art takes you outside yourself, takes you past yourself. I believe that my journey has really been to remove my own anxiety. That's the key. The more anxiety you can remove, the more free you are to make that gesture, whatever the gesture is. The dialogue is first with the artist, but then it goes outward, and is shared with other people. And if the anxiety is removed everything is so close, everything is available, and it's just this little bit of confidence, or trust, that people have to delve into."
Between 1977 and 1979 Koons produced four separate artworks, which he later referred to as Early Works. Starting from 1978 he worked on his Inflatables series, consisting of inflatable flowers and a rabbit of various heights and colours, positioned along with mirrors.
Since 1979 Koons has produced work within series. His early work was in the form of conceptual sculpture, an example of which is The Pre-New, a series of domestic objects attached to light fixtures, resulting in strange new configurations. Another example is The New, a series of vacuum-cleaners, often selected for brand names that appealed to the artist like the iconic Hoover, which he had mounted in illuminated Perspex boxes. Koons first exhibited these pieces in the window of the New Museum in New York in 1980. He chose a limited combination of vacuum cleaners and arranged them in cabinets accordingly, juxtaposing the verticality of the upright cleaners with the squat cylinders of the "Shelton Wet/Dry drum" cleaners. At the museum, the machines were displayed as if in a showroom, and oriented around a central red fluorescent lightbox with just the words "The New" written on it as if it were announcing some new concept or marketing brand.
Another example for Koons's early work is The Equilibrium Series (1983), consisting of one to three basketballs floating in distilled water, a project the artist had researched with the help of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. The Total Equilibrium Tanks are completely filled with distilled water and a small amount of ordinary salt, to assist the hollow balls in remaining suspended in the centre of the liquid. In a second version, the 50/50 Tanks, only half the tank is filled with distilled water, with the result that the balls float half in and half out of the water. In addition, Koons conceived and fabricated five unique works for the Encased series (1983–1993/98), sculptures consisting of stacked sporting balls with their original cardboard packaging in glass display case. Also part of the Equilibrium series are posters featuring basketball stars in Nike advertisements and 10 bronze objects, representing lifesaving gear.
Koons started creating sculptures using inflatable toys in the 1970s. Taking a readymade inflatable rabbit Koons cast the object in highly polished stainless steel, resulting in Rabbit (1986), one of his most famous artworks. Originally part of the private collection of Ileana Sonnabend, Rabbit is today owned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. A proof of the sculpture is owned by Eli Broad.
The Rabbit has since returned to its original soft form, and, many times larger at more than 50 feet high, taken to the air. On October 13, 2009, the giant metallic monochrome color rabbit used during the 2007 Macy's Thanksgiving day parade was put on display for Nuit Blanche in the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
The other objects of the series combine objects Koons found in souvenir shops and baroque imagery, thereby playing with the distinction between low art and high art.
First shown in Koons' eponymous exhibitions at the short-lived International With Monument Gallery, New York, and at Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1986, the Luxury and Degradation series is a group of works thematically centered on alcohol. This group included a stainless steel travel cocktail cabinet, a Baccarat crystal decanter and other hand-made renderings of alcohol-related paraphernalia, as well as reprinted and framed ads for drinks such as Gordon's Gin ("I Could Go for Something Gordon's"), Hennessy ("Hennessy, The Civilized Way to Lay Down the Law"), Bacardi ("Aquí... el gran sabor del ron Bacardi"), Dewars ("The Empire State of Scotch"), Martell ("I Assume You Drink Martell") and Frangelico ("Stay in Tonight" and "Find a Quiet Table") in seductively intensified colors on canvas Koons appropriated these advertisements and revalued them by recontextualizing them into artworks. They "deliver a critique of traditional advertising that supports Baudrillard's censorious view of the obscene promiscuity of consumer signs". Another work, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine (1986) is based on a commemorative, collectible in bottle in the form of a locomotive that was created by Jim Beam; however, Koons appropriated this model and had it cast in gleaming stainless-steel. The train model cast in steel titled Jim Beam - Baggage Car (1986) even contains Jim Beam bourbon. With the Luxury and Degradation series Koons interfered into the realms of the social. He created an artificial and gleaming surface which represented a proletarian luxury. It was interpreted as seduction by simulation because it was faked luxury. Being the producer of this deception brought him to a kind of leadership, as he commented himself.
The same material of stainless steel was used for the statue of Kiepenkerl. After being rebuilt in the 1950s, the figure of the itinerant trader was replaced by Jeff Koons in 1987 for the decennial Skulptur Projekte exhibition. Standing on a central square in Münster, the statue retained a certain cultural power as a nostalgic symbol of the past. During the production process, the foundry where the piece was being made wanted to knock the ceramic shell off too soon, which resulted in the piece being bent and deformed. Koons decided to bring in a specialist and give the piece "radical plastic surgery." After this experience he felt liberated: "I was now free to work with objects that did not necessarily pre-exist. I could create models."
Koons then moved on to the Banality series. For this project he engaged workshops in Germany and Italy that had a long tradition of working in ceramic, porcelain, and wood. The series culminated in 1988 with Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a series of three life-size gold-leaf plated porcelain statues of the sitting singer cuddling Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee. Three years later, one of these sold at Sotheby's New York for US$5.6 million. Two of these sculptures are now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) in downtown Los Angeles. The statue was included in a 2004 retrospective at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo which traveled a year later to the Helsinki City Art Museum. It also featured in his second retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 2008. The statue is currently back at the newly opened Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art at Tjuvholmen in Oslo.
Anticipating a less than generous critical response to his 1988 Banality series exhibition, with all of his new objects made in an edition of three, allowing for simultaneous, identical shows at galleries in New York, Cologne, and Chicago, Koons devised the Art Magazine Ads series (1988–89). Placed in Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, and Art News, the ads were designed as promotions for his own gallery exhibitions. Koons also issued Signature Plate, an edition for Parkett magazine, with a photographic decal in colors on a porcelain plate with gold-plated rim. Arts journalist Arifa Akbar reported for The Independent that in "an era when artists were not regarded as 'stars', Koons went to great lengths to cultivate his public persona by employing an image consultant". Featuring photographs by Matt Chedgey, Koons placed "advertisements in international art magazines of himself surrounded by the trappings of success" and gave interviews "referring to himself in the third person".
In 1989 the Whitney Museum and its guest curator Marvin Heiferman asked Koons to make an artwork about the media on a billboard for the show "Image World: Art and Media Culture". The billboard was meant as an advertisement for an unmade movie, entitled Made in Heaven. Koons employed his then-wife Ilona Staller ("Cicciolina") as a model in the shoot that formed the basis of the resulting work for the Whitney, Made in Heaven (1990–91). Including works with such titles as Dirty Ejaculation and Ilonaʼs *******, the series of enormous grainy photographs printed on canvas, glassworks, and sculptures portrayed Koons and Staller in highly explicit sexual positions and created considerable controversy. The paintings of the series reference art from the Baroque and Rococo periods—among others, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher—and also draw upon the breakthroughs of early modern painters as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.
The series was first shown at the 1990 Venice Biennale. Koons reportedly destroyed much of the work when Staller took their son Ludwig with her to Italy. In celebration of Made in Heaven's 20th anniversary, Luxembourg & Dayan chose to present a redux edition of the series. The Whitney Museum also exhibited several of the photographs on canvas in their 2014 retrospective.
Koons was not among the 44 American artists selected to exhibit his work in Documenta 9 in 1992, but was commissioned by three art dealers to create a piece for nearby Arolsen Castle in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The result was Puppy, a 43 ft (13 m) tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy, executed in a variety of flowers (including Marigolds, Begonias, Impatiens, Petunias, and Lobelias) on a transparent color-coated chrome stainless steel substructure. The self-cleaning flowers would grow for the specific length of time that the piece was exhibited. The size and location of Puppy -the courtyard of a baroque palace- acknowledged the mass audience. After the outbreak that followed his Made in Heaven series, Koons decided to make "an image that communicated warmth and love to people." In 1995, in a co-venture between Museum of Contemporary Art, Kaldor Public Art Projects and Sydney Festival, the sculpture was dismantled and re-erected at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sydney Harbour on a new, more permanent, stainless steel armature with an internal irrigation system. While the Arolsen Puppy had 20,000 plants, the Sydney version held around 60,000.
The piece was purchased in 1997 by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and installed on the terrace outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Before the dedication at the museum, an Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) trio disguised as gardeners attempted to plant explosive-filled flowerpots near the sculpture, but was foiled by Basque police officer Jose María Aguirre, who then was shot dead by ETA members. Currently the square in which the statue is placed bears the name of Aguirre. In the summer of 2000, the statue traveled to New York City for a temporary exhibition at Rockefeller Center.
Media mogul Peter Brant and his wife, model Stephanie Seymour, commissioned Koons to create a duplicate of the Bilbao statue Puppy (1993) for their Connecticut estate, the Brant Foundation Art Study Center. In 1998, a miniature version of Puppy was released as a white glazed porcelain vase, in an edition of 3000.
Koons entitled Celebration, to honor the ardently hoped-for return of Ludwig from Rome. Consists of a series of large-scale sculptures and paintings of, among others balloon dogs, Valentine hearts, diamonds, and Easter eggs, was conceived in 1994. Some of the pieces are still being fabricated. Each of the 20 different sculptures in the series comes in five differently colored "unique versions", including the artist's cracked Egg (Blue) won the 2008 Charles Wollaston Award for the most distinguished work in the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. The Diamond pieces were created between 1994 and 2005, made of shiny stainless steel seven-feet wide. Created in an edition of five versions, his later work Tulips (1995–2004) consists of a bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers blown up to gargantuan proportions (more than 2 m (6.6 ft) tall and 5 m (16 ft) across). Koons finally started to work on Balloon Flower in 1995.
Koons was pushing to finish the series in time for a 1996 exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, but the show was ultimately canceled because of production delays and cost overruns. When "Celebration" funding ran out, the staff was laid off, leaving a skeleton crew of two: Gary McCraw, Koons's studio manager, who had been with him since 1990, and Justine Wheeler, an artist from South Africa, who had arrived in 1995 and eventually took charge of the sculpture operation. The artist convinced his primary collectors Dakis Joannou, Peter Brant, and Eli Broad, along with dealers Jeffrey Deitch, Anthony d'Offay, and Max Hetzler, to invest heavily in the costly fabrication of the Celebration series at Arnold, a Frankfurt-based company. The dealers funded the project in part by selling works to collectors before they were fabricated. In 1999, his 1988 "Pink Panther" sculpture sold at auction for US$1.8 million, and he returned to the Sonnabend gallery. Well aware of Koons's bottomless needs and demands, Ileana Sonnabend and Antonio Homem, her gallery director and adopted son, nevertheless welcomed him back; in all likelihood they sensed (correctly, it turned out) that he was poised for a glorious second act—something that only he, among his generation of overpublicized artists, has so far managed to pull off. Koons, however, no longer confines himself to a single gallery. Larry Gagosian, the colossus of New York dealers, agreed to finance the completion of all the unfinished "Celebration" work, in exchange for exclusive rights to sell it.
In 2006, Koons presented Hanging Heart, a 9-foot-tall highly polished, steel heart, one of a series of five differently colored examples, part of his Celebration series. Large sculptures from that series were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008. Later additions to the series include Balloon Swan (2004–2011), an 11.5-foot (3.5-meter), stainless-steel bird, Balloon Rabbit (2005–2010), and Balloon Monkey, all for which children's party favors are reconceived as mesmerizing monumental forms.
Commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in 1999, Koons created the first seven paintings of the new series, Easyfun, comprising paintings and wall-mounted sculptures. In 2001, Koons undertook a series of paintings, Easyfun-Ethereal, using a collage approach that combined bikinis, food, and landscapes painted under his supervision by assistants. The series eventually expanded to twenty-four paintings.
In 2000, Koons designed Split-Rocker, his second floral sculpture made of stainless steel, soil, geotextile fabric, and an internal irrigation system, which was first shown at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France. Like Puppy, it is covered with around 27,000 live flowers, including petunias, begonias, impatiens, geraniums and marigolds. Weighing 150 tons and soaring over 37 feet high, Split-Rocker is composed of two halves: one based on a toy pony of one of Koons's sons, the other based on a toy dinosaur. Together, they form the head of a giant child's rocker. Koons produced just two editions of the sculpture. As of 2014, he owns one of them; the other is in the collection of Mitchell Rales. In summer 2014 Split-Rocker was installed at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City for several months in coincidence with the opening of Koons's retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Paintings and sculptures from the Popeye series, which Koons began in 2002, feature the cartoon figures of Popeye and Olive Oyl. One such item is a stainless steel reproduction of a mass-market PVC Popeye figurine. The artist will also make use of inflatable animals again, this time in combination with ladders, trashcans and fences. To create these sculptures, the toys get a layer of coating after finding the right shape. Then a hard copy is made and sent to the foundry to be cast in aluminium. Back in the studio the sculptures are painted in order to achieve the shiny look of the original inflatables. For these surrealist installations, Acrobat in particular, Koons got inspiration from the Chicago Imagist H.C. Westermann.
Hulk Elvis is a work series by Jeff Koons created between 2004 and 2014. The works range from precision-machined bronze sculptures—inspired by an inflatable of the popular comic book hero and extruded in three dimensions—to large-scale oil paintings. The work series’ title combines the popular comic book hero Hulk with the pop icon Elvis. The triple image of the Hulk figure recalls Andy Warhol's silk-screen printing Triple Elvis (1963), regarding both the multiplication and the posture of the Hulk figure.
According to the artist, the Hulk Elvis series with its strong, heroic image of the Hulk represents "a very high-testosterone body of work". Koons also perceives the series as "a bridge between East and West" since a parallel might be drawn between the comic book hero Hulk and Asian guardian Gods.
The three-dimensional works Hulk (Friends) and Hulks (Bell) (both 2004–2012) feature apparently inflatable Incredible Hulks that actually weigh almost a ton each and are made of bronze and wood. The sculpture Hulk (Organ) (2004-2014) includes a fully functional musical instrument whose potential deep sounds match the figure’s powerful and masculine appearance.
The series’ paintings are collages made of several photoshop layers. The images range from abstract landscapes to elements of American iconography (trains, horses, carriages) and comprise characters such as the Hulk or an inflatable plastic monkey. The landscape paintings often have explicit or implicit sexual content. For example, a recurrent crude line drawing of a vulva refers to Courbets L’Origine du Monde (1866).
The Hulk Elvis series has been exhibited at a number of international art venues such as the Gagosian Gallery in London (2007), the Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong, China (2014) and the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, Austria (2015).
At the center of each scene in the Antiquity paintings (2009–13) is a famous ancient or classical sculpture, meticulously rendered in oil paint and scaled to the same size as the sculptures. The equally detailed backdrops include an Arcadian vision. In Ballerinas (2010–14), Koons depicts figurines of dancers, derived from decorative porcelain, at the imposing scale of classical sculpture.
For the season 2007/2008 in the Vienna State Opera Jeff Koons designed the large-scale picture (176 sqm) Geisha as part of the exhibition series "Safety Curtain", conceived by museum in progress. Koons worked with American pop performer Lady Gaga on her 2013 studio album Artpop, including the creation of its cover artwork featuring a sculpture he made of Lady Gaga. In September 2014 the bi-annual arts and culture publication GARAGE Magazine published Jeff Koons' first ever digital artwork for the front of its print edition. The piece, titled Lady Bug, is an augmented reality sculpture that can only be viewed on mobile devices through a GARAGE Magazine app, which allows viewers to explore the piece from a variety of angles as if standing on top of it.
In 2012, Koons bought Advanced Stone Technologies, an offshoot of the non-profit Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture's stone division. He moved the high-tech stone workshop from New Jersey to a larger, 60,000 sq ft (5,600 m2) space in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The facility exists solely to fabricate Koons's works made of stone.
A drawing similar to his Tulip Balloons was placed on the front page of the Internet search engine Google. The drawing greeted all who visited Google's main page on April 30, 2008, and May 1, 2008.
Koons acted as curator of an Ed Paschke exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, New York, in 2009. In 2010 he curated an exhibition of works from the private collection of Greek billionaire Dakis Joannou at the New Museum in New York City. The exhibition, Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection, generated debate concerning cronyism within the art world as Koons is heavily collected by Joannou and had previously designed the exterior of Joannou's yacht Guilty.
Koons was the artist named to design the seventeenth in the series of BMW "Art Cars." His artwork was applied to a race-spec E92 BMW M3, and revealed to the public at The Pompidou Centre in Paris on 2 June 2010. Backed by BMW Motorsport, the car then competed at the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
In 2013, Koons collaborated with American singer-songwriter and performance artist Lady Gaga for her third studio album, ARTPOP. The album cover depicts a nude sculpture of Gaga made by Koons behind a blue ball sculpture, and pieces of other art works in the background such as Birth of Venus painted by Sandro Botticelli, which inspired Gaga's image through the new era, including in her music video for Applause and the performance of the song at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. The image of the cover was revealed piece-by-piece in a social marketing campaign where her fans had to tweet the Twitter hashtag "#iHeartARTPOP" to unlock it.
In April 2017, Jeff Koons collaborated with the luxurious French fashion house Louis Vuitton for the 'Masters Collection' and designed a series of handbags and backpacks featuring the reproductions of his favorite masterpieces by the Old Masters, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian, Vincent Van Gogh, Peter Paul Rubens and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Later this year he presented another handful of bags and accessories featuring the reproductions of works by Claude Monet, J. M. W. Turner, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin and François Boucher. The prices range from $585 for a key chain to $4,000 for the large carryall.
Koons has also produced some fine wine-related commissions. In December 2012, Chateau Mouton Rothschild announced that Koons was the artist for their 2010 vintage label - a tradition that was started in 1946. Other artists to design labels include Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, amongst others. In August 2013, Dom Pérignon released their 2004 vintage, with a special edition done by Koons, as well as a made-to-order case called the 'Balloon Venus'. This has a recommended retail price of €15,000.
From February 15 to March 6, 2008, Koons donated a private tour of his studio to the Hereditary Disease Foundation for auction on Charitybuzz. From his limited-edition 2010 Tulip designs for Kiehl's Crème de Corps, a portion of the proceeds went to the Koons Family Institute, an initiative of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. Since his relationship with the International Centre began, Koons has given over US$4.3 million to the Institute that bears his family's name.
Since a 1980 window installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Koons' work has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. In 1986, he appeared in a group show with Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Ross Minoru Laing and Meyer Vaisman at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 1997, the parisian Galerie Jerome de Noirmont organized his first solo show in Europe. His Made in Heaven series was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1990.
As a young artist, Koons was included in many exhibitions curated by Richard Milazzo including The New Capital at White Columns in 1984, Paravision at Postmasters Gallery in 1985, Cult and Decorum at Tibor De Nagy Gallery in 1986, Time After Time at Diane Brown Gallery in 1986, Spiritual America at CEPA in 1986, and Art at the End of the Social at The Rooseum, Malmö, Sweden in 1988. These exhibitions would be alongside other notable artists such as Ross Bleckner, Joel Otterson, and Kevin Larmon.
His museum solo shows include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1988), Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1993), Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2000), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2001), the Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli (2003), and a retrospective survey at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004), which traveled to the Helsinki City Art Museum (2005). In 2008, the Celebration series was shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Considered as his first retrospective in France, the 2008 exhibition of 17 Koons sculptures at the Château de Versailles also marked the first ambitious display of a contemporary American artist organized by the château. The New York Times reported that “several dozen people demonstrated outside the palace gates” in a protest arranged by a little-known, right-wing group dedicated to French artistic purity. It was also criticized that ninety percent of the US$2.8 million in financing for the exhibition came from private patrons, mainly François Pinault.
The May 31 – September 21, 2008 Koons retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which was widely publicized in the press, broke the museum's attendance record with 86,584 visitors. The exhibition included numerous works from the MCA collection, along with recent paintings and sculptures by the artist. The retrospective exhibition reflects the MCA's commitment to Koons's work as it presented the artist's first American survey in 1988. For the final exhibition in its Marcel Breuer building, the Whitney Museum is planning to present a Koons retrospective in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
In July 2009, Koons had his first major solo show in London, at the Serpentine Gallery. Entitled Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, the exhibit included cast aluminum models of children's pool toys and "dense, realist paintings of Popeye holding his can of spinach or smoking his pipe, a red lobster looming over his head".
In May 2012, Koons had his first major solo show in Switzerland, at the Beyeler Museum in Basel, entitled Jeff Koons. Shown are works from three series: The New,Banality and Celebration as well as the flowered sculpture Split-Rocker.
Also in 2012, Jeff Koons. The Painter at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt focussed primarily on the artist's development as a painter, while in the show Jeff Koons. The Sculptor at the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, the sculptures by Jeff Koons entered enter into dialogues with the historical building and a sculpture collection spanning five millennia. Together, both shows form the largest showing of Koons's work to date.
The artist enjoyed a 2014 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Scott Indrisek, writing for ARTINFO.com, described it as "brash, fairly entertaining, and as digestible as a pack of M&Ms".
Koons received the BZ Cultural Award from the City of Berlin in 2000 and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2001. He was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 2002 and then promoted to Officier in 2007. He was given the 2008 Wollaston Award from the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 2013 he received the U.S. State Department's Medal of Arts. In 2017 he accepted the annual Honorary Membership Award for Outstanding Contribution to Visual Culture from the Edgar Wind Society, University of Oxford.
Many of Koons's works have been sold at auctions and privately. His auction records have primarily been achieved by his sculptures (especially those from his Celebration series), whereas his paintings are less popular. In 2001, one of his three Michael Jackson and Bubbles porcelain sculptures sold for US$5.6 million. On November 14, 2007, Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold) from the collection of Adam Lindemann, one of five in different colors, sold at Sotheby's New York for US$23.6 million becoming, at the time, the most expensive piece by a living artist ever auctioned. It was bought by the Gagosian Gallery in New York, which the previous day had purchased another Koons sculpture, Diamond (Blue), for US$11.8 million from Christie's London. Gagosian appears to have bought both Celebration series works on behalf of Ukrainian steel oligarch Victor Pinchuk. In July 2008, his 11-foot (3.3 meter) Balloon Flower (Magenta) (1995–2000) from the collection of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky also sold at Christie's London for an auction record of US$25.7 million. In total, Koons was the top-selling artist at auction with €81.3 million of sales in the year to June 2008.
During the late 2000s recession, however, art prices plummeted and auction sales of high-value works by Koons dropped 50 percent in 2009. A violet Hanging Heart sold for US$11 million in a private sale. However prices for the artist's earlier Luxury and Degradation series appear to be holding up. The Economist reported that Thomas H. Lee, a private-equity investor, sold Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train (1986) in a package deal brokered by Giraud Pissarro Segalot for more than US$15 million. In 2012, Tulips (1995-2004) brought a record auction price for Koons at Christie's, selling to a telephone bidder for US$33.6 million, well above its high US$25 million estimate. At Christie's in 2015, the oil on canvas Triple Elvis (2009) set a world auction record for a painting by the artist, realizing $8,565,000, over $5 million more than the previous high.
Koons has been represented by dealers such as Mary Boone (1979–1980), Sonnabend Gallery (since 1986), Max Hetzler in Berlin and Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris. The exclusive right to the primary sale of the "Celebration" series is held by Gagosian Gallery, his dominant dealer. Today Koons works closely with Gagosian and with Sonnabend. The artist is widely collected in America and Europe, where some collectors acquire his work in depth. Eli Broad has 24 pieces, and Dakis Joannou owns some 38 works from all stages of the artist's career.
Among curators and art collectors and others in the art world, Koons' work is labeled as Neo-pop or Post-Pop as part of a 1980s movement in reaction to the pared-down art of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the previous decade. Koons resists such comments: "A viewer might at first see irony in my work ... but I see none at all. Irony causes too much critical contemplation". Koons' crucial point is to reject any hidden meaning in his artwork. The meaning is only what one perceives at first glance; there is no gap between what the work is in itself and what is perceived. He tries to reach a widest possible audience by using familiar objects with sentimental value. He considers it his mission to make the viewer confident of his own judgment and taste.
He has caused controversy by the elevation of unashamed kitsch into the high-art arena, exploiting more throwaway subjects than, for example, Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. His work Balloon Dog (1994–2000) is based on balloons twisted into shape to make a toy dog.
Yet for all his assumed faults, Koons is also praised by some art critics. Theorist Samito Jalbuena wrote, "From the beginning of his controversial career, Koons overturned the traditional notion of art inside and out. Focusing on banal objects as models, he questioned standards of normative values in art, and, instead, embraced the vulnerabilities of aesthetic hierarchies and taste systems."
Koons has received extreme reactions to his work. Critic Amy Dempsey described his Balloon Dog as "an awesome presence ... a massive durable monument". Jerry Saltz at artnet.com enthused that it was possible to be "wowed by the technical virtuosity and eye-popping visual blast" of Koons' art.
Mark Stevens of The New Republic dismissed him as a "decadent artist [who] lacks the imaginative will to do more than trivialize and italicise his themes and the tradition in which he works ... He is another of those who serve the tacky rich". Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times saw "one last, pathetic gasp of the sort of self-promoting hype and sensationalism that characterized the worst of the 1980s" and called Koons' work "artificial", "cheap", and "unabashedly cynical".
In an article comparing the contemporary art scene with show business, renowned critic Robert Hughes wrote that Koons is “an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him.” Hughes placed Koons's work just above that of Seward Johnson and was quoted in a New York Times article as having stated that comparing their careers was "like debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement".
He has influenced younger artists such as Damien Hirst (for example, in Hirst's Hymn, an 18 ft (5.5 m) version of a 14 in (0.36 m) anatomical toy), Jack Daws, Matthieu Laurette and Mona Hatoum. In turn, his extreme enlargement of mundane objects owes a debt to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Much of his work also was influenced by artists working in Chicago during his study at the Art Institute, including Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, and H. C. Westermann.
Koons has been sued several times for copyright infringement over his use of pre-existing images, the original works of others, in his work. In Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a judgment against him for his use of a photograph of puppies as the basis for a sculpture, String of Puppies.
Koons also lost lawsuits in United Features Syndicate, Inc. v. Koons, 817 F. Supp. 370 (S.D.N.Y. 1993), and Campbell v. Koons, No. 91 Civ. 6055, 1993 WL 97381 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 1, 1993).
More recently, he won one lawsuit, Blanch v. Koons, No. 03 Civ. 8026 (LLS), S.D.N.Y., Nov. 1 2005 (slip op.), affirmed by the Second Circuit in October 2006, brought over his use of a photographic advertisement as source material for legs and feet in a painting, Niagara (2000). The court ruled that Koons had sufficiently transformed the original advertisement so as to qualify as a fair use of the original image.
Koons has also threatened others under copyright, claiming that a bookstore in San Francisco infringed his proprietary rights by selling bookends in the shape of balloon dogs. Koons abandoned that claim after the lawyer representing the bookstore filed a complaint for declaratory relief stating, "As virtually any clown can attest, no one owns the idea of making a balloon dog, and the shape created by twisting a balloon into a dog-like form is part of the public domain".
Koons is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), a global nonprofit organization that combats child sexual exploitation, child pornography, and child abduction. In 2007, Koons, along with his wife Justine, founded the ICMEC Koons Family Institute on International Law and Policy. It is the International Centre's research arm.
As highlighted by articles over the years, including a Wall Street Journal article entitled "Pooling Resources to Fight Child Abuse and Abduction", the issue of child abduction is personal to Koons. Following the end of his marriage to Hungarian-born Italian porn actress Staller in 1994, as she wanted to continue to perform as a porn actress and Koons wanted them to be monogamous, Staller, in violation of a US court order, left with their then-two-year-old son, Ludwig and took the child to Italy. After Koons spent millions of dollars in legal fees over a five-year period pursuing parental rights to his young son, the Italian Supreme Court failed to recognize the couples' US-based joint custody agreement and instead sided with Staller.
This loss for Koons led him to establish the Koons Family Institute, and devote over $4.3 million to the International Centre’s work. In addition, Koons’ 2010 partnership with Kiehl's to design the artwork for a limited edition moisturizer line raised $200,000 for the Koons Family Institute.
While a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Koons fathered a daughter, Shannon Rodgers. Though he offered to marry the girl's mother, she felt that they were too young for the commitment, and the couple reluctantly put the child up for adoption. Shannon Rodgers reconnected with Koons in 1995.
Around 1990, Koons lived in New York in a full-service hotel near Wall Street. During that time, he did not have a studio. In 1991, he married Hungarian-born naturalized-Italian pornography star Cicciolina (Ilona Staller) who for five years (1987–92) pursued an alternate career as a member of the Italian Parliament. After seeing her picture in two European magazines, he had flown to Rome, watched her perform, and gone backstage to suggest that they collaborate on what he then thought would be a movie. She agreed. A series of strenuous photographic sessions became the basis for the "Made in Heaven" paintings and sculptures, in various media. The movie never got made, but Koons and Staller fell in love. He courted her through an interpreter—she spoke very little English, and Koons, who spoke about four words of Italian, kept trying to communicate directly by speaking English with an Italian accent. The interpreter had to be let go, because she fell in love with Koons. He proposed to Staller in Venice that spring, and they were married a year later. While maintaining a home in Manhattan, Koons and Staller lived in Munich. In 1992, they had a son, Ludwig. The marriage ended soon afterward amid allegations that Koons had subjected Staller to physical and emotional abuse. Jeffrey Deitch, a close friend who became Koons's dealer after Sonnabend, couldn't understand the marriage to Staller. Koons himself says that Ileana Sonnabend and his father had warned him against it, fearing the worst. "Jeff had confused fantasy with reality", Deitch said. "It was as though he felt the 'Made in Heaven' work wouldn't be authentic unless they were married. It was a moral issue for him." The marriage began to fall apart even before their child, Ludwig, was born. Staller wanted to keep on performing. (She also offered, publicly, to have sex with Saddam Hussein in exchange for his releasing foreigners held in Iraq.) And then, after divorce proceedings had begun in New York, Staller spirited baby Ludwig out of the New York town house that Koons had rented for them and took him to Rome. Koons spent more than a decade and millions of dollars in legal battles over custody. The battle ensued with the award of sole custody to Koons by the U.S. court in 1998, which had also dissolved the marriage. However, he lost custody when the case went to Italy's Supreme Court. In 2008, Staller filed suit against Koons for failure to pay child support.
Koons is now married to Justine Wheeler, an artist and former employee who began working for Koons' studio in 1995. The couple have six children. The family currently lives on several floors of an Upper East Side townhouse. In 2009, Koons purchased 11 East 67th Street for US$12 million. In 2010, he bought the neighbouring 10,000-square-foot mansion at 13 East 67th Street, the longtime home of Barbara Sears Rockefeller, for US$20 million. In 2014, he got approval to merge the two buildings into one mega-mansion, with a reported renovation cost estimated at US$4.85 million.
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