Occupation: Artist and Sculptor
Education: Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, School of the Art Institute, Chicago,
Jeffrey Koons, popularly known as Jeff Koons, is a contemporary American pop artist and sculptor best known for his replication of everyday items into gigantic stainless steel pieces with mirror reflective surfaces. Although his work reveals a depth of thought and precision, Koons is concerned with their immediate aesthetic and emotional impact on viewers.
At a Christie’s auction in November 2013 in New York City, a stainless steel sculpture by Koons, titled ‘Balloon Dog (Orange)’ was sold for $58.4 million, making it the most expensive work by a living artist sold at an auction.
“Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” 1988
“Ushering in Banality,” 1988
“Woman in Tub,” 1988
“Balloon Dog (Blue),” 2002
“Balloon Dog (Orange)”
Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania, the son of a seamstress and an interior decorator. As often is with future artists, his interest in drawing was evident from childhood. He began selling copies of Old Masters’ paintings at the age of eight, signing his full name at the bottom and selling them in his family furniture shop. By the time he was a teenager, Koons had a basic knowledge of the 20th century art, and he had a favorite: the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. He went as far as to imitate both his idol’s hairstyle and moustache in later life.
Koons began his student career at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, graduating with a BFA in 1976. While at the university, he took an exchange year at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. There, he made the acquaintance of Polish-American artist Ed Paschke, who became both an influence and an employer of Koons’ in the late 1970s.
In 1977, Koons moved to New York City to establish himself as an artist. He took a position at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art and began building a network within the art industry. During his time there, Koons became infamous for his extreme hairstyles and sartorial choices, as well as his charm and incredible salesmanship. The steady income allowed him time and space to work on his own sculptures, and he began to experiment with inflatable animals and flowers, merging them with fiberglass, plastic and mirrors to produce kitschy but arresting pieces.
In 1980, he applied for a license to sell mutual funds and began work on Wall Street as a commodities broker at First Inventors Corporation, and then at the Clayton Brokerage Company and Smith Barney. In this way, he put his talent for sales into financing his own show, ‘The New Series’, which appeared in the window of the New Museum in the same year. It consisted of a combination of vacuum cleaners and shampoo polishers in transparent Plexigas vitrines positioned around a fluorescent lightbox.
This exhibition was followed by ‘Equilibrium’, a peculiar installation of basketballs floating in water, along with Nike posters and metal casts of a flotation vest and a lifeboat. Next was a series named ‘Luxury and Degradation’, a statement on the effects of advertising and alcohol on different social classes. ‘Statuary’ was mounted in 1986, followed by the critically acclaimed ‘Banality’. Koons’ increasing popularity and commercial demand led him to set up a studio in SoHo, staffed with assistants to help him in the production of his work.
Made In Heaven
In 1989, Koons met and married Italian parliamentarian and porn star Ilona Staller, despite the fact that he needed a translator in order to speak to her. He began work on ‘Made In Heaven’, a series of photorealistic paintings and sculptures based on images and films of the couple having sex. At a time when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, the explicit nature and emotional rawness of the exhibition made viewers uncomfortable. Even though the show resulted in a lot of sensational media attention, it did not fare well commercially and also embarrassed the art world.
In 1992, Koons erected a 43 ft tall sculpture of a West Highland terrier covered in 70,000 marigolds, begonias and petunias in Arolsen Castle in Germany. Titled ‘Puppy’, this topiary installation on a stainless steel sub-structure travelled during the next decade, from its original home in Europe to the Museum of Contemporary Art on the Sydney Harbour, and then to the Rockefeller Center in New York. It was a massive public and critical success. It is now permanently installed outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain after it was bought by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1997.
One of his most celebrated series is ‘Celebration’ comprising sculptures and paintings though the former are more well-known. The sculptures are large and represent commonplace subjects such as dogs, bracelets, cakes, diamond, elephant, hanging heart and others. Created in editions of five differently colored stainless steel sculptures, these works are still being produced since early 1990s when the series was conceived. ‘Balloon Dog (Orange)’, a stainless steel sculpture from this series is the most expensive Koons work ever sold at an auction, fetching $58.4 million in November 2013.
Work In Progress
In 2008, Chateau de Versailles in France hosted a selection of Koons’ works at the Grand Apartments, making him the first living artist to get an exhibition at the prestigious venue in Versailles.
The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York recently hosted his retrospective that was on display from June 27 to October 19, 2014. Two more of his retrospective shows are coming up — one at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, between November 2014 and June 2015 and the other at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain from June 2015.
Koons’ work has been categorized as pop minimalist, neo-pop, surrealist and hyperrealist. Themes illustrated throughout his works include sex, celebrity and mass media explored by appropriation and parody. With critics, Koons treks the line between lowbrow dismissal and highbrow praise.
At present, Koons lives in New York City with his wife, Justine Wheeler, also an artist and their six children. His studio is located in Chelsea, where he regularly works with 90-120 assistants.
1955 - Born in York, Pennsylvania
1976 - Graduates from Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA
1977 - Moves to New York
1980 - Starts working as a Wall Street broker
1989 - Marries Italian parliamentarian and porn star Ilona Staller
2013 - Balloon Dog (Orange) makes a record by fetching $58.4 million
1980 - New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
1986 - Sonnabend Gallery, New York
1988 - Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
1990 - Venice Biennale
1993 - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
2000 - Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
2004 - Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo
2008 - Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin
2008 - Museum of Conyemporary Art, Chicago
2009 - Serpentine Gallery, London
2012 - Beyeler Museum, Basel
2014 - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Tate Gallery, London
CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, France
Arken Museum for Modern Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark
Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain
Museum Ludwig, Koln, Germany
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
“Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal” by Jeff Koons and Norman Rosenthal
“Jeff Koons” by Eckhard Schneider and Katy Siegel
“Jeff Koons” by Lynne Warren and Francesco Bonami
“Jeff Koons: Hulk Elvis” by Scott Rothkopf and Hans Ulrich Obrist
“Jeff Koons: Versailles” by Jean-Pierre Criqui and Edouard Papet