You are in Artists > Jeff Koons
Place(s) of work: New York (us)
A controversial artist who is as divisive among critics as he is passionately sought after by collectors, Jeff Koons is a New York-based sculptor and painter whose art is informed by mass media, consumption, kitsch, and pornography. A veritable household name--he has declared himself the “most written-about artist in the world”--Koons works at the intersection of conceptual and Pop art, creating lines of seamless, lavishly-produced pieces that appear almost to be Platonic expressions of a warped American sensibility.
A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied painting, Koons moved to New York in his early 20s to pursue a career as an artist. But his early work-- mostly appropriated blow-up animals inspired by the inflatable ornaments Koons saw on neighbors' yards growing up in Philadelphia--failed to sell, and he supported himself by selling membership at MoMA and eventually working as a Wall Street commodities broker, a job he held with zeal and considerable success for six years. In 1985 Koons had his first solo show, called "Equilibrium," at the influential International with Monument gallery in the East Village. It was an immediate success. Featuring basketballs floating submerged in glass tanks, framed Nike advertisements featuring black NBA stars, and a lifeboat cast disconcertingly in bronze, the show set the tone for works to follow, bringing the banal into the gallery to comment on the era's obsessions with achievement and unattainable dreams.
In 1988 Koons pressed this interest even further with his "Banality" series, which debuted in three galleries around the world simultaneously--the pieces were made in identical editions of four, with one reserved for the artist--and included some of his best-known works, including Michael Jackson and Bubbles, in which the singer holds the monkey against his groin, and Pink Panther, a ceramic sculpture of the cartoon feline embracing a curvaceous blonde. The series, which Koons promoted with advertisements depicting himself in the company of pigs and bikini-clad women, demonstrated Koons' ability to imbue meticulously-rendered pop-culture icons with a subversive libidinality--creating works that are as accessible as they are complex. One buxom woman in this series was modeled on a Hungarian-born Italian porn star named Ilona Staller (a.k.a. La Cicciolina) would become Koons' wife and his creative partner in his most controversial series, "Made in Heaven," a 1989-91 group of sculptures and photographic "paintings" depicting the two in explicit sexual positions, as well as sculptures of cherubs and terriers. A 1991 show of the work received an X-rating, surely delighting the artist.
When Cicciolina and Koons divorced in 1992 after the birth of their son Ludwig, an ensuing custody battle of unusual viciousness continued for nearly two decades, costing the artist a fortune in legal fees and effectively banning him from seeing his child--a tragic state of affairs that inspired Koons to create his famous "Celebration" series, which he says was an attempt to communicate with his son. His most ambitious group of works, it embodies symbols of love and childhood themes of play on a massive scale, with shiny balloon dogs forged from high chromium stainless steel, brightly-colored cracked eggs with seductive mirrored surfaces, and enormous dangling heart pendants. Executed to the highest standards of craftsmanship, the series was so expensive to produce that it nearly bankrupted art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, Koons' backer for the project. The resulting works radiate goodwill, functioning as ostensibly pure evocations of joy. "At the end of the day what matters is whether something really helps empower you as a viewer or not," Koons said. "If it helps empower you, you know, that's wonderful. But the art happens inside the viewer. The object is just some type of transponder--it's not really where the art is."
While Koons is most widely known for his sculptures, especially his iconic rabbit and puppy works, over the years he has also steadily produced a large body of photo-realistic paintings--which, like all of his work, are fabricated by a large team of artists, with Koons himself as the "idea man." As a rule two-dimensional tableaux of overlaid cultural and sexual imagery, these collage-like montages depict cartoon characters like the Incredible Hulk or Popeye mixed and matched with pool toys, grilled-cheese sandwiches, pornographic images, and other superficial pop detritus in a way that indicates various modes of consumption, eroticism, and, of course, banality. Immediately recognizable as Koons' work, these paintings have been slowly winning over critics as the years go by.
A softspoken man whose polite manners belie his astonishing market success, Koons has repeatedly been named the most expensive living artist thanks to the enormous sums his works can fetch at auction--a title that nowadays passes between him and Damien Hirst, Lucian Freud, and Jasper Johns from sale to sale. (Koons last held the position in 2007, when his Hanging Heart brought in $23.6 million at Sotheby's; the work is from an edition of five.) The monetary value of Koons' art, along with the enormous sums that go into its production, are inextricably tied to their aura as objects, according to the artist. "The seriousness with which a work of art is taken is interrelated to the value that it has," he has said. "The market is the greatest critic." In 2008, Koons--an avid collector of Old Master paintings--became the first artist to have his work exhibited in the palace at Versailles.
Watch a TV segment on Koons' studio:
Watch a Tate Shots interview with Jeff Koons:
Watch a video of Jeff Koons' exhibit at Versailles:(read less)
Techniques & Media: Installation, Painting, Photography, Sculpture
Inspirations & Key Themes: banality, Cartoons, Consumerism, Everyday objects, Futurism, kitsch, object of desire, Popular Culture, sex
Influenced : Takashi Murakami , Ai Weiwei
Influenced by : Salvador Dali , Marcel Duchamp , Claes Oldenburg
Worked with : Martin Kippenberger