Jeff Koons, “Tulips”, 1994-2000, and “Dog Ballon (Blue)”, 1995-2004. High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating. Image courtesy of The Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the LA Country Museum of Art
Jeff Koons (January 21, 1955) studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art. 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 late 1970.
Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980 as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-satured era. His early work was in the form of conceptual sculptures, an example of which is “The Equilibrium Series” (1985), consisting of one of three basketball floating in distilled water, a project the artist had researched with the help of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.
Jeff Koons, “Cracked Egg (Violet)”, 1994-2006. High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating approximately 78 x 62 x 120 inches, 5 unique versions (Blue, Red, Magenta, Violet, Yellow). ©Jeff Koons
In the 1970 Koons started creating sculptures using inflatable toys like “Rabbit” (1986), one of his most famous artworks. Koons then moved on to the “Banality” series that culminated in 1988 with a series of three life-size-gold-leaf plated porcelain statues “Michael Jackson and Bubbles“, his pet chimpazee. In 1989 the Whitney Museum asked Koons to make an artwork about the media on a billboard for the show “Image World: Art and Media Culture”. Koons employed Ilona Staller as a model in the shoot that formed the basis of the resulting work for the Whitney, “Made in Heaven” (1990-91). The series of paintings, photographs, and sculptures portrayed the Koons and Staller in explicit sexual positions and created considerable controversy.
Jeff Koons, “Hanging Heart (Red/Gold)”, 1994-2006. High chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating and yellow brass 106 x 85 x 40 inches, 5 unique versions (Red/Gold, Magenta/Gold, Silver/Blue, Violet/Gold, Gold/Red). ©Jeff Koons
Koons is famous also for his “Puppy“, a 13m tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy, executed in a variety of flowers, and for “Celebration“, a series of large-scale sculptures and paintings of, among others “Balloon Dogs“, “Valentine Hearts“, “Diamonds” and “Eastern Eggs“. Koons began the series with “Balloon Dog” in 1994, based into the shape of a toy dog and coated with transparent color in blue, magenta, yellow, orange and red. He later made ten monumental “Easter Eggs” with ribbon, each one uniquely colored, between 1994 and 2008.
Jeff Koons, “Jeff and Ilona (Made in Heaven)”, 1990. Polychromed woods. Ludwing Forum. Aachen ©Alain Rézette
“A viewer might at first see irony in my work…but I see none at all. Irony causes too much critical contemplation” says Koons about his work, but critics are sharply divided in their views of the artist. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Other dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising.
Jeff Koons, “Hand on Breast”, 1991. Oil inks on canvas. Image courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan, New York
Koons first exhibition was in the window of the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York) in 1980. Then his performances have taken place at many notable art institutions like the Venice Biennale in 1990, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) in 1988, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1993, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 2000, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Napoli in 2003 and the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo) in 2004.