Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Antiquity 2 (Dots), 2012, Antiquity, Oil on canvas, 277 x 371 x 25 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Ushering in Banality, 1988, Banality, Polychromed wood, 96.5 x 157.5 x 76.2 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons Painter Goes Head-to-Head with Jeff Koons Sculptor

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988, Banality, Porcelain, 106.7 x 179.1 x 82.6 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Kiepenkerl, 1987, Kiepenkerl, Stainless steel, 180.3 x 66 x 94 cm, Courtesy Murderme, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Large Vase of Flowers, 1991, Made in Heaven, Polychromed wood, 132.1 x 109.2 x 109.2 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Hulk Elvis II, 2007, Hulk Elvis, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, Image: Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Antiquity 1, 2010, Antiquity, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Bagel, 2002, Easyfun-Ethereal, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Rabbit, 1986 (Statuary), Stainless steel, 104.1 x 48.3 x 30.5 cm, © Jeff Koons.


Schirn Kunsthalle
Römerberg 6
+ 49 69 299882-0
Jeff Koons, the Painter
June 20-September 23, 2012

Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung
Schaumainkai 71
+49 69 650049
Jeff Koons, the Sculptor
June 20-September 23, 2012

Schirn Kunsthalle and the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung in Frankfurt are devoting this summer to the work of American artist Jeff Koons (born 1955), who has played a pioneering role in the contemporary art world since the 1980s. The two concurrent exhibitions will deliberately separate the painterly and sculptural aspects of his oeuvre and present each in a context of its own.

Comprising some 40 paintings, Jeff Koons. The Painter at the Schirn focuses primarily on the artist’s structural development as a painter. With motifs drawn from a diverse range of high and pop-cultural sources, his monumental painted works combine hyper-realistic and gestural elements to form complexes as compact in imagery as they are with regard to content. Jeff Koons. The Sculptor at the Liebieghaus, will present some 50 world-famous and entirely new sculptures which will enter into dialogue with the historical building and a sculpture collection spanning five millennia. Making its debut in Frankfurt is Jeff Koons’s new series Antiquity in which he explores antique art and its central motif — Eros.

Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955. He studied at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is today one of the world’s most prominent contemporary artists. His works are to be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Tate in London, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and elsewhere. They have moreover been featured internationally in numerous solo exhibitions. He has been awarded many distinctions for his art, and his sculptures in the public realm, such as the monumental flower sculpture Puppy (1992), have attained far-reaching popularity.

In his paintings and sculptures, Jeff Koons employs elements from the consumer world and “high culture” alike, quotes artistic epochs as readily as he does objects from everyday life and advertising, and thus draws our attention again and again to such categories as beauty and desirability. Within this context, he has become an unequalled master of the interplay between the sublime and the banal. Although his works quote familiar motifs from the consumer context, it is not for the sake of kitsch and irony. In an interview he commented: “I work with things that are sometimes referred to as kitsch, even if kitsch per se has never interested me. I always try to convey self-confidence, a certain inner sense of security, to the viewer. My chief concern in my work is the viewer.” Koons is interested “not in the complexity, but in the simplicity of being” and its acceptance. This aspect finds expression in his oeuvre in elementary themes such as childhood or sexuality. Contrary to the long tradition of subjectivity in art, however, Koons constantly emphasizes artistic objectivity, working in the tradition of the “ready-made”. Both his sculptures and his paintings have a particularly evocative and striking effect on the viewer through their exquisite craftsmanship and the lure of their surfaces.

The exhibition Jeff Koons. The Painter at the Schirn, which occupies virtually all the gallery’s exhibition space, will be the first ever to offer a comprehensive overview of the artist’s painterly work, from the early machine paintings of the Luxury & Degradation series and the Made in Heaven works to the large-scale hand-painted work of the Celebration, Easyfun, Easyfun-Ethereal, Popeye, Hulk Elvis and the new Antiquity series. The quotations from everyday life and various art-historical as well as general-historical epochs which Koons interweaves in his paintings are free-floating compositional elements assigned a modulatory or repetitive function. With the aid of image-editing computer programmes, he succeeds in superimposing many layers and creating a whole without a centre. By means of analytical attention to detail, he dissolves the pictorial composition which has thus evolved into a spectrum of multiply differentiated colours, only to have them then painstakingly transferred to canvas.

Cool, mechanical, and absolute perfection are the qualities that characterize these paintings which — even though they have been painted by hand — follow a clearly defined route. In the Made in Heaven series of 1989-91 that show the artist having sex with the Hungarian-Italian adult film actress and politician Cicciolina (Ilona Staller), who would later become his wife, the sculptures and paintings still differ distinctly with regard to motif. The mingling of the two media began in the context of Celebration, a series developed from 1994 onwards. A heart, a piece of cake or a children’s birthday party hat, placed on shiny, colourful gift-wrapping paper, stands out three-dimensionally while at the same time merging with the foil reflecting it, its background. In the two consecutive series Easyfun (1999-2000) and Easyfun-Ethereal (2000-02) — collages of body parts, food, landscapes, everyday objects, quotations from past art, etc. — foregrounds and backgrounds, centres and edges are virtually no longer distinguishable from one another. With them, Koons attains a simultaneity and hybridity which virtually defy decipherment. On the other hand, in his more recent series Antiquity, he draws on the bountiful repertoire of antique art and combines it with his own iconography.

The Schirn exhibition will bring the quotations as well as the thematic and compositional development of Jeff Koons’s painting oeuvre to the fore. What is more, throughout the 140 metres of the gallery’s length, the paintings will create a virtually magnetic force that — far from keeping the viewer at arm’s length — will ply him with universally understandable pictorial worlds.

In the exhibition Jeff Koons. The Sculpto at the Liebieghaus, the artist’s sculptures will be integrated into the museum’s own collection, which mirrors the history of sculpture from antiquity to Neoclassicism. In close cooperation with the artist, one of his numerous and often iconic sculptural works will be introduced to each of the Liebieghaus’s various sections, causing a range of widely different dialogues to ensue. The entire Liebieghaus ensemble — the richly detailed historicist villa, the gallery buildings and the large, fairy-tale-castle-like garden — will together present the sculptures by Jeff Koons as if on a single big stage.

In various galleries, the presence of the Koons works will create visual plays in which they will often be discerned only on closer inspection. In his Statuary series, Koons consistently adheres to the motifs and forms of the European Baroque. It is left to the idiosyncratic choice of materials alone to trigger a suspenseful encounter between the modern Baroque forms cast in highly polished steel and the historical Baroque portraits in the Frankfurt collection. Other works, for their part, demonstrate astounding proximity to the historical works as regards material. In those cases, however, it is the motifs that will contrast strongly, for example when the colourfully glazed terracotta altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia is juxtaposed with the polychrome porcelain figure of a Woman in Tub (from the Banality series). In another room, Koons’s famous porcelain sculpture of pop idol Michael Jackson, showing him in a golden suit with his monkey Bubbles, will bask in the wide-eyed gazes of the partially gilded Egyptian death masks of Priestess Takait and the gods of the Egyptian pantheon. The chief focus of the encounter between Koons and the history of sculpture so uniquely represented by the Liebieghaus will be the matter of the “migration of images” — Koons’s quotations and borrowings from past art-historical epochs. The story of Eros in his original Greek significance — above all in the pictorial context of Aphrodite, the goddess of love — will provide the leitmotif that links famous Jeff Koons works with masterpieces of antiquity. The affinity will perhaps be most evident in works from Koons’s most recent series, entitled Antiquity, which has not been shown to the public before. These creations make direct reference to grandiose sculptures of Greek antiquity conjuring up the world of Dionysus and the goddess of love. At the same time, they illustrate the degree to which Koons translates antique traditions into modern forms — and proposes a modern approach to grasping their meaning in the process.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Monkey Train, 2007, Hulk Elvis, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, Image: Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, Private collection, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Pink Panther, 1988, Banality, Porcelain, 104.1 x 52.1 x 48.3 cm, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona, 1991, Made in Heaven, Marble, 113 x 71.1 x 53.3 cm.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Loopy, 1999, Easyfun, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 200.7 cm, Courtesy Bill Bell Collection, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Woman in Tub (Jeff Koons, 1988) in front of the Altar of the Assumption of the Virgin (Andrea della Robbia, ca. 1500) at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung (simulation), © Jeff Koons, Photo: Markus Tretter.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Bluepoles, 2000, Easyfun-Ethereal, Oil on canvas, 299.7 x 431.8 cm, Image: Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Poodle, 1991, Made in Heaven, Polychromed wood, 58.4 x 100.3 x 52.1 cm, © Jeff Koons.


Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Popeye Train (Crab), 2008, Popeye, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, Photo: Rob McKeever, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons (American, born 1955), Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994-2000, High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating, 121 x 143 x 45, The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons Gets on Top (of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1986.

Jeff Koons, Hanging Heart, 1994-2006.

Jeff Koons Rabbit, puhallettava lelu, 1986.

Jeff Koons, Red Balloon Flower, in foreground; Jenny Holzer, text and light installation, 7 World Trade Center lobby, Photo Aude.

Jeff Koons (American, born 1955), Coloring Book, 1997-2005, High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating, 222 x 131-1/2 x 9-1/8", Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la création, © Jeff Koons.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden
Jeff Koons on the Roof
April 22-October 26, 2008

Sculptures by American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) comprise The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2008 installation on The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, opening April 22. The installation will feature several of the artist's meticulously crafted works, including a new piece conceived for this site, and will take place in the 10,000-square-foot open-air space that offers spectacular views of Central Park and the New York City skyline.

Jeff Koons on the Roof is organized by Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Curator in Charge, and Anne L. Strauss, Associate Curator, both in the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1976. Mr. Koons lives and works in New York City and York, Pennsylvania.

His work has been exhibited internationally and is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), The National Gallery (Washington, DC), Hirshhorn Museum (Washington, DC), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA), The Eli Broad Family Foundation (Santa Monica, CA), Tate Gallery (London, UK), Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), Museum Ludwig (Köln, Germany), Tokyo Metropolitan Museum (Tokyo, Japan).

Koons is also known for his public sculptures, such as the monumental floral sculptures Puppy, shown at Rockefeller Center and permanently installed at the Guggenheim Bilbao, and Split-Rocker, exhibited at the Papal Palace in Avignon, France. Most recently, in 2006, Balloon Flower (Red) was unveiled at 7 World Trade Center in New York City.

Mr. Koons has lectured at many universities and institutions, including Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Yale University (New Haven, CT), Columbia University (New York, NY), New York University (New York, NY), the Royal Academy of Arts (London, UK), the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), and the Hirshhorn Museum (Washington, DC).

He is noted for his use of kitsch imagery using painting, sculpture and other forms, often in large scale.

As a teenager he revered Salvador Dalí, to the extent of visiting him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. 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 basketballs floating in formaldehyde, which half-fills a glass tank.

Koons carefully cultivated his public persona 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 international art magazines featuring photographs of himself surrounded by the trappings of success. In personal appearances and interviews Koons began to refer to himself in the third person.

Koons moved on to Statuary, large stainless-steel blowups of toys, then a series Banality, which culminated in 1988 with Michael Jackson and Bubbles — considered the world's largest ceramic — a life-size gold-leaf plated statue of the seated 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 Astrup Fearnley Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo, Norway, and was exhibited there. It is now on display at the BCAM Exhibition in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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 Italian parliament. His Made in Heaven series of paintings, photos and sculptures portrayed the couple in explicit sexual positions and created 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 U.S. 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."

In 2008 Staller filed suit against Koons for failing to pay child support.

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 43 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 to the original:

Koons has received extreme reactions to his work. Supporters claim (for Balloon Dog) "an awesome presence … a massive durable monument" (Amy Dempsey, ed. Styles, Schools and Movements, 2002, Thames & Hudson), 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 Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and much later by Damien Hirst, one of Koons' later influences (e.g. in Hirst's Hymn, an 18-foot version of a 14-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.

Jeff Koons: Ilona on Top (Rosa background) 1990. Oil inks on canvas.

Jeff Koons (American, born 1955), Sacred Heart (Red/Gold), 1994-2007, High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating, 140-1/2 x 86 x 47-5/8, The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Pink Panther, 1988. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Gerald S. Elliott Collection.© Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Triple Hulk Elvis I, 2007. Collection of William J. Bell. © Jeff Koons.

Provoking on the Surface, at its Core it is Emblematic of Craft

Jeff Koons, Naked, 1988. Collection of Stephanie Seymour Brant, courtesy The Stephanie and Peter Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona, 1991. Collection of Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Elvis, 2003. Collection of Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Woman in Tub, 1988. The Art Institute of Chicago, Stefan T. Edlis Collection, © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers, New Shelton Wet/Dry 10-gallon Displaced Tripledecker, 1981-1987. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gerald S. Elliott Collection. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1986. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Partial gift of Stefan T. Edlis and H. Gael Neeson. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Ilona's Asshole, 1991. Private collection. © Jeff Koons.


Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue

Jeff Koons
May 31-September 21, 2008

The contemporary artist and provocateur Jeff Koons is one of the best known and intriguing artists of the 20th century. The seductive surfaces, luxurious scale and quality, and flawless execution of his works — many of which have become icons, such as Rabbit, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, and Puppy — transform everyday objects and fantasies into high art. After presenting the first survey of Koons’ work in 1988, the MCA is revisiting the work of this seminal figure in contemporary art, exploring his powerful influence on contemporary art and his significance for a new generation.

Jeff Koons worked closely with the MCA to create a carefully selected survey focusing on his most iconic works from the 1980s to the present. The exhibition reveals relationships between the artist’s works both through and across series, surveying Koons’ career from the celebrated sculptures of the 1980s to new paintings completed in 2007. One of his most recognized recent pieces, Hanging Heart (Blue/Silver), will hang from the MCA's atrium ceiling as a centerpiece to the exhibition.

Koons mirrors society's obsession with popular culture and negates simple divisions between appearance and reality, surface and depth, and art and commodity. With roots in Pop, Conceptual, and Minimalist art, Koons models his sculptures on consumer products and manipulates store-bought items to dramatize mass-produced cultural objects while exposing the subtleties of marketing. But unlike his 1960s predecessors, Koons’ agenda is to address people’s psychological investment in consumer objects and how these objects are designed to seduce. “My work,” says Koons, “will use every possible opportunity. It will employ all possible tricks and do everything — really everything — to communicate and win the viewer over.”

The exhibition features iconic works from each of Koons' series:

Pre-New and New “I have always used cleanliness and a form of order to maintain for the viewer a belief in the essence of the eternal, so that the viewer does not feel so threatened economically. When under economic pressure you start to see disintegration around you. Things do not remain orderly. So I have always placed order in my work not out of respect for Minimalism but to give the viewer a sense of economic security.” The first two series, Pre-New and New, draw upon the American public’s desire for new consumer products. Referencing methods of display in retail stores and museums, Koons mounted mass-produced consumer goods such as Hoover vacuum cleaners, and placed them within airtight Plexigas vitrines as if preserved artifacts. Koons elevation of everyday objects to symbols of desire explores cultural value judgments and the public’s quest for status, permanence, and “the new.”

Equilibrium “The show was about equilibrium, and the ads defined personal and social equilibrium. There is also the deception of people acting as if they have accomplished their goals and they haven’t: "Come on! Go for it! I have achieved equilibrium!" Equilibrium is unattainable; it can be sustained only for a moment. And here are these people in the role of saying, "Come on! I’ve done it! I’m a star! I’m Moses!" It’s about artists using art for social mobility. Moses [Malone] is a symbol of the middle-class artist of our time who does the same act of deception, a front man: ‘I’ve done it! I’m a star! … And the bronzes were the tools for Equilibrium that would kill you if you used them. So the underlying theme, really, was that death is the ultimate state of being. What was paralleling this message was that white middle-class kids have been using art the same way that other ethnic groups have been using basketball — for social mobility.”

Created in 1985 for his first solo exhibition, Equilibrium, the show included basketballs floating in display tanks, along with cast bronze lifesaving gear, a diver’s vest, an inflatable lifeboat, and a snorkel. Framed advertising posters of American basketball heroes wearing Nike clothing and surrounded by basketballs continue the artist’s examination of consumption and the desire for lasting perfection. Similar to the New series, the tanks and the bronze works cannot fulfill their intended function; however, Koons changes the objects’ materiality to make connections between objects, their economic and cultural value, and public perception.

Luxury and Degradation “Coming from these wombs and the masculine color of Equilibrium, all these internal areas, Luxury and Degradation is much more sociological. I just rode the subways here in New York. And I would go from one economic area, from Harlem, to the other, Grand Central Station. I got the whole spectrum of advertising. You deal with the lowest economic base to the highest level. I realized how the level of visual abstraction is changing. The more money comes into play, the more abstract. It was like they were using abstraction to debase you, because they always want to debase you.” In this series, exhibited in 1986, Koons presents a view of consumerist decadence by appropriating images and objects related to the marketing and consumption of alcohol. Luxury and Degradation features precisely reproduced paintings of liquor advertisements and stainless steel alcohol-related items ranging from children’s toys to Baccarat Crystal sets. The series reflects a variety of consumer income levels and tastes that are united in a desire for status and power through conspicuous consumption.

Statuary “This was to show that if you put art in the hands of a monarch, which Louis XIV was a symbol of, it would become reflective of their ego, and eventually become decorative. And if you put art in the hands of the masses, which Bob Hope was a symbol of, that eventually art would become decorative. And if you put art in the hands of Jeff Koons, it will eventually reflect my ego and also eventually become decorative.” Similar to Luxury and Degradation created the same year, Koons conceived of Statuary as a panoramic view of society. The sculptures, all made of stainless steel, draw from a range of art historical themes and sources from the bust of Louis XIV, to the figure of Bob Hope, to an inflatable bunny. For Koons, stainless steel simulates the economical security of luxurious objects. Because he aims to address the entire social spectrum with his art, he uses the democratic material of stainless steel rather than bronze or gold which historically have been materials associated with the elite social classes.

Banality “I don’t see a Hummel figurine as tasteless, I see it as beautiful. I see it and respond to the sentimentality of the work. I love the finish, how simple the color green can be painted. I like things being seen for what they are. It’s like lying in the grass and taking a deep breath. That’s all my work is trying to do, to be as enjoyable as that breath.” The works in Koons' Banality series in 1988, made in porcelain, ceramic, or polychromed wood, draw on images and icons in popular culture and often combined people and animals with ambiguous sexual undertones such as in Pink Panther. While the series continues Koons' use of common objects in the New series and his use of kitsch in the Statuary series, Banality offers a distinct shift in scale. Enlarged, these monumental works challenge the relationship Koons questioned earlier between art and commodity, as well as between sublime art and banal taste, and valuable sculpture and cheap kitsch.

Made in Heaven “It’s about the sense of security one has with one’s own body and the sense of being with nature itself. It’s also about the act of how we preserve the species through procreation. The Made in Heaven series has an aspect of the eternal, spiritual, and sexual. You know, there are these two poles of the eternal, the biological and the spiritual.” In 1990, Koons began Made in Heaven which combined his fascination with sexuality, the readymade, and the Baroque in a series of photographs and sculptures of himself with his former wife, Ilona Staller (La Cicciolina), the Hungarian-born porn star and member of Italian parliament. Wooden sculptures of animals, flowers, and cherubs help celebrate the couple’s rapturous sexual union and Koons’ ideas about procreation as the ultimate goal of mankind.

Celebration “My son was born on October 1992. Immediately I became interested in a lot of images I came across, the packaging of toys, a playful rabbit — things that I enjoyed again. I had used a lot of these images in the past. I started the celebration series without a title. My son used to come into the studio while I was working on Hanging Heart. Then he was abducted, and my ex-wife later kidnapped him. So the work fell into an area where I felt that I wanted my son to feel how much I was thinking of him.” Celebration, begun in 1994, has been the artist’s longest running series. Based on commercialized celebratory events held throughout the calendar year, such as holidays or birthdays, the sculptures and paintings depict toys, baubles, and childhood themes blown up to fantastical proportions, such as the ten-foot-tall, one ton, stainless steel Balloon Dog. Their grand scale, intoxicating surfaces, and extraordinary production standards aim to communicate archetypal ideas of beauty, pleasure, and survival. In making the familiar beautiful, as in his entire oeuvre, Koons aspires to reflect the viewers’ tastes and in doing so encourage the viewers’ faith in themselves and their taste.

Easy-Fun | Ethereal “Now, when you’re working on a painting, a surface can present itself somewhat to you, but it wasn’t something that directed me for completion of an image. I knew the surface I wanted: the whole idea of the Ethereal paintings was to have a little bit of a blur, the sense of a photograph, not having edges defined so sharply — a little bit of a sense of a snapshot, something you may take with your own camera.” The paintings in this series mix texture, abstraction, advertising, and food within a hyperrealistic fantastical montage of layered forms. Drawing from a whirlwind of historical and pop cultural references, the paintings celebrate Koons’ ongoing interest in the Baroque and Rococo use of spiritual ecstasy and sensual excess as a tool for enlightenment.

Popeye “I thought it was very archetypal. All these pieces play a lot with male and female aspects.” In this series, Koons uses collage to create brightly hued paintings drawn from advertising, and cast-aluminum sculptures based on inflatable bathing and beach toys. Like the Celebration series, these sculptures and paintings draw on the interplay between ideas of childhood innocence and adult sexuality. In contrast to other series where the choice of material is evident, these sculptures appear to be made of plastic but are actually cast in aluminum. Similarly, despite the paintings’ deceptive hyperrealism, a comprehensive understanding of them is made impossible by the many layers of montage.

Hulk Elvis “I remember coming across the Hulk in different stores and not having [an] interest, and then I was at an amusement fair and saw a Hulk hung up, and all of a sudden it hit me that this is really a very global-type image, this Hulk is performing like an Eastern god, a guardian god, a protector, and this was a very global-type archetype. And to be able to connect it to the sense of arrogant masculinity and to connect it to Eastern guardian gods … And when these things came together I began to have an interest in these paintings. What I’ve enjoyed is to look at the Hulk and I think have the viewer look at the Hulk, and have it transformed into Warhol’s Elvis. And I call it Hulk Elvis to make a reference to this type of masculinity of Andy’s Elvis. Even though the Hulk doesn’t have a gun pointing at you, it still has this type of masculinity.” This series of large paintings combines figurative and abstract elements manipulated and collaged into spectacular pictorial arrangements. Brightly colored images and contours of the Incredible Hulk, the Liberty Bell, and landscapes appear and recede through the paintings’ multiple layers of realism and abstraction. In these visually complex paintings, Koons furthers the Popeye series in its exuberant presentation of image, color, texture, and detail.

Koons has a strong connection to Chicago where he came in the 1970s to study at the School of the Art Institute under artists Ed Paschke and Jim Nutt and briefly worked at the MCA as a preparator. For Koons, this was a critical time in his development — what he calls a period of transcendence. In practical terms, working for and befriending the artist Ed Paschke taught him that he could be a professional artist. Koons began to see his ideas in dialogue with Dada, Surrealism, and the Chicago Imagists, all genres that communicate with personal icons: from Salvador Dali’s mustache to Paschke’s tattoo parlors. Through Paschke and others, he looked to the external world to find his personal iconography, which he used to explore his subjectivity, transcend his limits, and fulfill his potential as an artist.

The exhibition is guest curated by Francesco Bonami, Artistic Director of the Fondazione Sandretto ReRebaudengo and Pitti Immagine Discovery. It is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Bonami and an interview by MCA Curator Lynne Warren focusing on Koons’ Chicago roots and his links to artists such as Ed Paschke, Jim Nutt, H.C. Westermann, and others.

Jeff Koons, Ushering in Banality, 1988. Courtesy The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Lifeboat, 1985. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gerald S. Elliott Collection. © Jeff Koons.

Jeff Koons, Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Dr. J Silver Series), 1985. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gerald S. Elliott Collection. © Jeff Koons.

H. C. Westermann, W.W.I General, W.W.II General, W.W.III General, 1962, MCA Collection, gift of Mrs. Robert B. Mayer. Art © Estate of H. C. Westermann / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Jeff Koons Curates Chicago Artists, Says that Chicago Has it All

From left, Jim Nutt, Summer Salt, 1970. MCA Collection, gift of Dennis Adrian in honor of Claire B. Zeisler. Right, Ed Paschke, Elcina, 1973. MCA Collection, gift of Albert J. Bildner. © 1973 Ed Paschke.

From left, Ed Paschke, Red Sweeney, 1975. Private collection. Photo courtesy of the Ed Paschke Foundation, San Francisco. © 1975 Ed Paschke. Jim Nutt, Summer Salt, 1970. MCA Collection, gift of Dennis
Adrian in honor of Claire B. Zeisler.


Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue

Everything's Here: Jeff Koons
and His Experience of Chicago

June 14-October 26, 2008

Jeff Koons, subject of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago’s featured summer exhibition, was inspired and influenced by Chicago artists. Everything’s Here serves as a companion to the Koons exhibition and presents a glimpse of the back-story of one of the best known, intriguing artists of the 20th century. The exhibition includes works by artists drawn mostly from the MCA Collection who influenced Koons during his formative years as a young artist in Chicago.

Chicago served as the setting for Koons’s significant artistic development. He encountered the work of Jim Nutt in the MCA-organized 1974 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York upon which he was greatly impressed and challenged to explore new paths for his own work. Koons attended the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in 1975-76 on a student mobility program at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, where he received his BFA. He also was an art handler and preparator at MCA during his studies at SAIC.

Koons was also richly inspired by the work of his mentor Ed Paschke, who is often considered the most prominent of the generation of Chicago-based artists who are collectively known as the Chicago Imagists. Koons served as a studio assistant to Paschke, whose works are represented in depth in Everything’s Here with paintings from the 1970s. Koons’s relationship to Paschke is also reflected in the exhibition’s title. In Paschke’s 2005 eulogy Koons said, “Ed taught me that everything’s here, and you just have to look for it, that it’s just here. This is the most generous thing that I think that someone can give, that, ‘it’s just here,’ you just open your eyes and all these metaphysical connections can occur.”

H.C. Westermann was also an inspirational figure for Koons, so much so that his woodblock print The Dance of Death is featured in Koons’ Elvis, a painting from 2003 that is on view in the Jeff Koons exhibition. The original woodblock from Westermann’s The Connecticut Ballroom suite is also featured, along with several sculptures, including Death Ship of No Port, 1957.

Other featured artists, all part of the Chicago Imagists community, include Roger Brown, Robert Lostutter, Karl Wirsum, and Christina Ramberg. Many of these works are from the 1970s when the Imagists first captured widespread public attention. Everything’s Here is organized by MCA Curator Lynne Warren.

Christina Ramberg, Sleeve Mountain #1 and #2, 1973, MCA Collection, gift of Albert J. Bildner.


Jeff Koons, Olive Oyl, 2003, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, © 2009 Jeff Koons.

A Visit with Jeff Koons Popeye Series and Surreal Everyday Objects

Jeff Koons, Caterpillar Ladder, 2003, Polychromed aluminium, aluminium, plastic, 213.4 x 111.8 x 193 cm, © 2009 Jeff Koons.


Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
+ 020 7402 6075
Jeff Koons: Popeye Series
July 2-September 13, 2009

For his exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, Jeff Koons presents works from his Popeye series, which he began in 2002. The works Incorporate some of Koons’s signature ideas and motifs, including surreal combinations of everyday objects, cartoon imagery, art-historical references and children’s toys.

The sculptures on show continue Koons’s interest in casting inflatable toys. Those typically used by children in a swimming pool are cast in aluminium, their surfaces painted to bear an uncanny resemblance to the original objects. Koons has used inflatables in his work since the late 1970s. He further develops his use of cast inflatables in the Popeye series by juxtaposing these replica ready-mades with unaltered everyday objects, such as chairs or rubbish bins. The paintings in the series are complex and layered compositions that combine disparate images both found and created by Koons, including images of the sculptures in the series.

Featuring loans from both public and private collections, the exhibition also includes works that have never been shown publicly before. The immediately recognisable figures of Popeye and Olive Oyl are central in the series and will appear in several prominent works within the exhibition. One of the most iconic American cartoon characters, Popeye was conceived 80 years ago this year in 1929 when the Great Depression was taking hold. In Popeye’s early years, the cartoon addressed the hardships and injustices of the time and, in this current period of economic recession, he is a fitting character to rediscover and explore.

Working in thematic series since the early 1980s, Koons has explored notions of consumerism, taste, banality, childhood and sexuality. He is known for his meticulously fabricated works that draw on a variety of objects and images from American and consumer culture.

Jeff Koons first exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery in 1991 as part of the group show Objects for the Ideal Home: The Legacy of Pop Art. His work also appeared in the exhibition Give and Take that was organised by the Serpentine Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2000, and as part of In the darkest hour there may be light – works from Damien Hirst’s murderme collection at the Serpentine in 2006.

Koons took part in a headline event in the Serpentine Gallery’s summer events programme, Park Nights, in 2006. He appeared as part of a panel discussion involving Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rem Koolhaas, the architect of that year’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Koons also contributed to Hans Ulrich Obrist’s recent book Formulas for Now, which was presented at the Serpentine Gallery Experiment Marathon in 2007.

Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania, 1955. His work has been widely exhibited internationally. His most recent solo exhibitions include presentations at the Château de Versailles, France; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, all in 2008. Koons lives and works in New York.

Jeff Koons: Popeye Series is curated by Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, and Kathryn Rattee, Curator, Serpentine Gallery.


Jeff Koons, Popeye, 2003, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, © 2008 Jeff Koons.