Jeff Koons (born January 21, 1955), is an American artist. He is noted for his use of kitsch imagery using painting, sculpture and other forms, often in large scale.
Early life and work
Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania; as a teenager he revered Salvador Dalí, to the extent of visiting him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Koons attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art, and studied painting. After college he worked as a Wall Street commodities broker, whilst establishing himself as an artist. He gained recognition in the 1980s, and subsequently set up a factory-like studio in a SoHo loft on the corner of Houston and Broadway in New York. This had over 30 staff, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work—in a similar mode to both Andy Warhol's Factory and many Renaissance artists.
Koons' early work was in the form of conceptual sculpture, one of the best-known being Three Ball 50/50 Tank, 1985, consisting of three basket balls floating in water, which half-fills a glass tank.
Koons carefully cultivated his public person by employing an image consultant— something that at the time was unheard of for a contemporary artist. As an artwork in their own right Koons placed full page advertisements in the main international art magazine featuring photographs of himself surrounded by the trappings of success. During personal appearances and interviews Koons began to refer to himself in the third person.
Koons then moved on to "Statuary", the large stainless-steel blowups of toys, and then a series "Banality", which culminated in 1988 with Michael Jackson and Bubbles—stated to be the world's largest ceramic—a life-size gold-leaf plated statue of the sitting singer cuddling Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee. Three years later it sold at Sotheby's New York as Lot 7655 for $5,600,000, tripling Koons' previous sale record. The statue was acquired in 2002 by the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Norway, and is exhibited there.
In 1991 he married Hungarian-born naturalized-Italian porn star Ilona Staller who for five years (1987–1992) pursued an alternate career as a member of the Italian parliament. His "Made in Heaven" series of paintings, photos and sculptures portrayed the couple in explicit sexual positions and created even more controversy than he had before.
In 1992 they had a son Ludwig. The marriage ended soon after. They agreed joint custody but Staller absconded from New York to Rome with the child, where mother and son remain, despite the award in 1998 of sole custody to Koons by the US courts, which had dissolved the marriage. In the aftermath he stated: "That experience really gave me a sense of responsibility to the public. I was losing my sense of humanity. Now, every day, I feel more and more responsible in the act of communicating and sharing and really trying to be as generous as possible as an artist."
During this time, he was commissioned in 1992, to create a piece for an art exhibition in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The result was Puppy, a forty-three foot (12.4 meter) tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy executed in a variety of flowers on a steel substructure. In 1995 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.
In 1997 the piece was purchased by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and installed on the terrace outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain. Before the dedication at the museum, a trio disguised as gardeners attempted to plant explosive-filled flowerpots near the sculpture, but were foiled by Bilbao police. Since its installation, Puppy has become a noted icon for the city of Bilbao. In the summer of 2000 it travelled to New York City for a temporary exhibition at Rockefeller Center.
Media mogul Peter Brant and model-wife Stephanie Seymour have an exact Koons duplicate of the Bilbao statue on the grounds of their Connecticut estate.
In 1999 he commissioned a song about himself, on Momus' album Stars Forever.
In 2001 he concentrated on painting in a series "Easyfun-Ethereal", a collage approach incorporating bikinis (with the bodies wearing them removed), food and landscape—painted under his supervision by assistants.
In 2006 he appeared on Artstar, an unscripted television series set in the New York art world.
On November 14th, 2007 his art piece "Hanging Heart" sold at Sotheby's auction house for $23.6 million becoming the most expensive piece by a living artist ever auctioned. It was bought by the Gagosian Gallery which also purchased another Koons sculpture entitled "Diamond (Blue)" for $11.8 million from Christie's auction house on Tuesday, November 13.
Among curators and art collectors and others in the art world Koons' work is labeled as Neo-pop or Post-Pop, as part of an 80s movement in reaction to the pared-down art of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the previous decade. Like many artists, Koons resists being labeled with comments such as this: "A viewer might at first see irony in my work... but I see none at all. Irony causes too much critical contemplation.". The crucial point of Koons is to reject an alleged hidden meaning of a work of art. The meaning is only what you perceive at the first glance, there is no gap between what the work is in itself and what is perceived.
He caused controversy by the elevation of unashamed kitsch into the high art arena, exploiting more throwaway subjects than even, for example, Warhol's soup cans. His work Balloon Dog (1994-2000) is based on balloons twisted into shape to make a toy dog. Koons' sculpture differs in two major respects from the original: 1. it is made of metal (painted bright red to give the appearance of balloons), 2.
it is more than ten feet (three metres) tall.
Koons has received extreme reactions to his work. Supporters claim (for Balloon Dog) "an awesome presence... a massive durable monument" that the Australian Generation X Pastellist James DeWeaver reconceptualized this Balloon Dog in his works in a 2006 Dogs of War' series, placing this banal and obtenabrated dog into the Modern Contemporary realms of War , sex and violence. And for other work that it is possible to be "wowed by the technical virtuosity and eye-popping visual blast" (Jerry Saltz, art critic).
However, 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 threw in for good measure "artificial," "cheap" and "unabashedly cynical."
Whether Koons will be seen in time as a critical commentator in the tradition of the Dadaists and a genuine leader in the controversial tradition of the avant-garde, or merely as a fashionable purveyor of meaninglessness and banality, remains to be seen. However, this judgement cannot be made in isolation from the evaluation of the wider contemporary art scene. He has had an undoubted influence on noted younger artists: his extreme enlargement of mundane objects has been first shown by Damien Hirst, one of Koons' later influences (e.g. in Hirst's Hymn, an eighteen-foot version of a fourteen-inch anatomical toy) and Mona Hatoum amongst others.
Even a cursory study of history shows that contemporary institutional acceptance (his work has been exhibited in London's Royal Academy) is no reliable guide to the judgment of posterity. What can be said is that at the moment Koons attracts extremes of enthusiasm and vitriol, and that his work is amongst the most expensive in the world.
Koons has received recognition by his peers. In 2005 he was elected as a Fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Koons has been sued several times for copyright infringement over his use of pre-existing images 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 a lawsuit in 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.