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Jeff Koons - an Artist Who Can Inspire

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Table of contents

  1. Kitsch Koons
  2. Childhood and Adulthood Celebrated, Reflections of Rosenquist on Jeff Koons
  3. Conclusion

The series Luxury & Degradation, 1986 feature oil inks on canvas prints of alcoholic beverage advertisements. In all these there is the presence of leisure time, sexual conquest, excess, wealth or suggestion of wealth.  The Luxury & Degradation works most resemble Jeff Koons‟ friends‟ work Richard Prince. Richard Prince took photographs of photographs, which in some way was stealing advertising images in contrast to Koons having obtained permission to use all images. Alongside the advertisements of alcoholic beverages are truly trite objects of opulence, to be used or acquired by the consumption of alcohol such as a bar set or the Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train, 1986 all cast in stainless steel.

Kitsch Koons

Statuary, 1986 continues with the use of the material of stainless steel, producing a collection of sculptures done in varying styles such as the Koons favoured Barococo and souvenir kitsch. One of the sculptures is a caricature of the actor Bob Hope, titled Bob Hope, 1986, rendered in the way the street artists do caricatures of the streets of Paris or New York, with an exaggerated size head and dwarfing body. Also featured are the Mermaid Troll, 1986 and Cape Codder Troll, 1986 that can be described as audaciously hideous and shocking in this sumptuously immaculate stainless steel. In the Journal of Contemporary Art interview with Jeff Koons by Klaus Ottman, 1986 Koons is quoted:

The basic story line is about art leaving the realm of the artist, when the artist loses control of the work. It’s defined basically by two ends. One would be Louis XIV — that if you put art in the hands of an aristocracy or monarch, art will become reflective of ego and decorative — and on the other end of the scale would be Bob Hope — that if you give art to the masses, art will become reflective of mass ego and also decorative. The body of work is based around statuary representing different periods of Western European art. Each work in the show is coded to be more or less specific about art being used as a symbol or representation of a certain theme that takes place in art, such as Doctor‘s Delight, a symbol of sexuality in art; Two Kids, of morality in art; Rabbit, of fantasy in art. Italian Woman would be a symbol of the artist going after beauty; Flowers would be art being used to show elegance and the strength of money; Louis XIV is power, a symbol of using art as an authoritarian means; Trolls, a symbol of mythology.

In Banality, 1988 we observe a change in materials to porcelain or polychromed wood. The concept is that of kitsch and triviality. Stuffed animals and teddy bears materialize in the variety of that of amusement parks and recreational machines at arcades in which one uses a mechanical arm to grasp one of, cast in an extraordinary porcelain. Works such as Bear and Policemen, 1988 exemplifies the rather commonplace sentiment of the British uniformed policemen with the signature helmet standing side by side with a figure of a man costumed as a bear. There is suggestion that Koons fascination with commodification was approaching a change in focus from the inanimate object towards living beings. 

In an article from the Stanford Undergraduate Research Journal, written by Susan Cameron, titled Classical Modern Irreverence: Jeff Koons‘ Michael Jackson and Bubbles Recontextualized, the author compares the positioning of Jackson to that of Dionysus from the East Parthenon as well as Praxiteles‟ Hermes with Baby Dionysus. The King of Pop is associated with the King of Theatre, as both possess qualities of effeminacy. Described by Ms. Cameron as vulgar, denoting the Latin definition of the word meaning of the common people. Vulgar is also defined as lacking in distinction, aesthetic value, or charm, banal. Beyond life-sized and completed with the signature of the porcelain craftsman commissioned to do the work, the work suggests the strange entertainer and his oddly eccentric tastes.

The works Naked, 1988, Serpents, 1988, St. John the Baptist, 1988 are sited in Ms. Cottingham’s writings, which I quote: In the late 1980s, Koons shifted his interest in hyper commodification away from exclusively inanimate objects. A 1988 sculpture of two Caucasian children, naked, marked a turn that would inspire the artist’s production for the next five years. Koons has described Naked as follows: ‘The young boy and young girl are like Adam and Eve, overly standing on a heart that’s flowered.’ The piece was first exhibited with twenty kitsch-inspired sculptures, including others with Biblical references such as serpents and John the Baptist Naked calls forth the Judean determination for female subjugation made cohesive in the Adam and Eve myth. In Genesis, the male pre-exists the female, and, in fact, the female is a parasite, created from the male rib. Genesis is also the primary Western text to establish the female as evil: Eve is the original heretic, liar, and sinner, and because of her disobedience all her female deserves and will receive punishment. After Eve eats a piece of (forbidden) fruit, ‘God said to the woman, ‘You shall bear children in intense pain and suffering; yet even so, you shall welcome your husband’s affections, and he shall be your master’. Genesis assigns women/women responsibility for her oppression, designates her as heterosexual, dictates reproductive intercourse as normative sex, and names man as woman’s rightful master. Koons’s Naked, as a ‘faithful’ illustration of Judaism and Christianity, depicts two Caucasian children genitally naked as male and female, as inscriptions of whiteness and heterosexuality. Me ‘sentimentality,’ of which Koons is conscious, is a fantasy of innocence romanticized according to the mythic prerequisites of Europatriarchy.

The Made in Heaven, 1989-1991 series is based on photo representations and sculptures in various materials of the artist, Jeff Koons and his first wife the pornographic actress and singer, Ilona Staller a.k.a. Cicciolina (which translates from Italian as Cuddles), in various sexual acts. They are placed on a set of a faux nature that is a representation of the Garden of Eden as Koons acts in the role of Adam and Staller acts in the role of Eve. In the Made in Heaven billboard, Koons and Staller are arranged in an embrace and Koons stares out at the audience from the billboard. Staller is costumed in a typical way for herself, a truly ingenious and kitsch representation of a sex siren. The signature garland of flowers is placed on her platinum blond head and Staller is wearing her trademark blood red lipstick on her broad mouth. Ilona Staller has worked for several years composing her persona prior to her union with Jeff Koons and is apparently a perfect muse for the artist, as she has been photographed surrounded by stuffed animals and flowers. Koons has described Cicciolina‟s overt sexuality and exhibitionism as virginal and pure. However, Koons presents an image of the superiority of the union between man and woman and appears as the master of this woman, his wife she is placed in a minor position in the composition of the photograph titled Made in Heaven, 1989. What is suggested in these works is the further exploitation of Ilona Staller and her careers‟ work, although Koons himself assumes the guise of a porno actor. Made in Heaven is a series of several glass, marble, plastic, polychromed wood sculptures and photographs, mostly of the couple in a sexual act, flowers also made of polychromed wood, such as Wall Relief with Bird, 1991, Mound of Flowers, 1991 in glass and dogs such as the Three Puppies, 1991 and Yorkshire Terriers, 1991.

After his failed marriage with Ilona Staller and the beginning of the now famous custody and abduction case of the single child the couple produced, Ludwig Maximillian Koons, Jeff Koons creates the living sculpture of fourteen thousand flowering plants on a frame of stainless steel, including an irrigation system called Puppy, 1992. The twelve-meter sculptures have been on permanent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain since 1997 and the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.A. since 2002 as well as temporarily exhibited at Rockefeller Centre, New York City, U.S.A. in 2001 and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia in 1995. The sculptures have proven to change form through the spring to summer seasons, slowly morphing into a less manicured profile as the flowers become overgrown and unruly. They are considered very joyful public art, especially in the setting of the Schloss Arolsen Palace in Hesse, Germany, which serves as a natural frame or doghouse for the optimistic Puppy figure.

Childhood and Adulthood Celebrated, Reflections of Rosenquist on Jeff Koons

Puppy was a natural continuation from Made in Heaven as the subject arose parallel to the works based on the figures of Koons and Ilona Staller. It is evident that these works were inspired by the absence of his son, Ludwig, which also inspired many works to follow, including Celebration and Easyfun – Ethereal. 

The departure of Easyfun – Ethereal entails the collection of advertisements, found images, from the Koons himself who therefore made collages from his clippings in Photoshop (a technique that Rosenquist later applied) and then with the assemblage of several teams of assistants, the paintings were executed in large scale on canvas with oils. Celebration seemingly entirely dedicated to Ludwig and his absence featured the gifts and foods that are intrinsic of holiday festivities such as Christmas and birthdays. Some of the most iconic figures of the Celebration series are the sculptures titled Balloon Dog, 1994-2000. The chromium stainless steel sculptures are coated in transparent colours of blue, magenta, yellow orange and red stands at approximately three meters high. The Balloon Dog sculpture touches upon the excitement of a birthday party feature of the entertainer that makes animals twisted from long balloons, moments of complete bliss and freedom in childhood. The series can be considered a gift to a child of happy times, cherished times. Many of the oil paintings of objects in Celebration show the predecessor to several sculptures, which dominate the collection of Celebration.

For example, Hanging Heart, 1995-1998 which displays the object set before red iridescent wrapping paper matches the Hanging Heart, 1994-2006 sculpture of chromium stainless steel with transparent coating in five versions and yellow brass. Hanging Heart, 1994-2006 rivals Balloon Dog, 1994-2000 for position of some of Koons‟ most iconic work. Hanging Heart, 1994-2006 was sold in a Sotheby’s auction to Larry Gagosian of the Gagosian Gallery for a record amount for a living artist at 23.5 million US dollars in 14 November 2007. The sculpture of Hanging Heart, 1994-2006 as well as the painting Hanging Heart, 1995-1998 seemingly grew from the inspiration of a Christmas tree bauble.

Jeff Koons with the series Easyfun – Ethereal proves that he is not finished with the subject of commodification. As he has continually addressed his inspiration from the works of James Rosenquist, he takes a departure from the template that may be considered Rosenquist’s manner.  The flight of the splash of orange juice harks back to Koons‟ theme of equilibrium, a perfect unattainable balance in space. Koons himself has referred to the series as being involved with the spirit world. This can be the surreal departure of this work. The poised, lip-stick mouths clutter a mountainous horizon renders the painting both sexually charged and innocuous, reaching a plethora of sensuality. Perhaps we can compare the splashing orange juice to other paintings as Cut-Out, 1999 from the Easyfun series, which take on a spirit of optimism. These sculptures and paintings signify a come-back for Koons as Made In Heaven was highly criticized. Koons ventures to neuter the figure with the presence only of their bathing suits or lingerie, hair or hands. One could wonder how those garments might be filled or to what purpose one might set the hands. Critics considered that the works are perhaps farcical, as they seem devoid of meaning yet Koons has repeated that the works are a support system for the viewer to feel good about him or herself that the works are about optimism. Some suggest that they present the consumer world as it may appear in all its sensuality with the deficiency of the human being.

The series of paintings from Celebration, 1995-1998, Easyfun, 1999-2000 and Easyfun – Ethereal, 2001 are outstanding in the way that they were an ambitious endeavour of the artist, some paintings taking up to three years to complete, whilst Koons employed numbers of assistants to work long days to complete them all, as well as the production of the highly polished stainless steel sculptures of massive proportions. So was the attention paid to detail for Koons that the Barococo; A hybrid of the words Baroque and Rococo. Originally coined by musicologist H.C. Robbins-Landon, used by Jeff Koons to describe the amalgamation of the two genres in art terms.


In my own unique manner, which I feel is evolving in time as I explore the idea of the medium of paint, to open volumes of optimism and envelopment in sentiment, I seek to go about using found objects, magazine clippings, photos from books of perhaps banal images and celebrate their simplicity if not directness of communicating to us. I have described some of the artists and works that have inspired me in the process of doing my paintings and feel an affinity to their objective, of using the tools of our ages, which are powerful, and make my own phrase with them.

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