Jeff Koons is an American contemporary artist whose works often reference popular culture and are characterised by an interest in the banal and readymade.Read More
Koons received his BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York, his current city of residence. During the late 1970s, Koons worked as a student assistant for the artist Ed Paschke, whom is cited along with Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Duchamp as early influencers upon the artist’s practice. In the 1980s, Koons worked as a commodities broker, later explaining this move as a way to finance his artistic career before returning to being a full-time artist.
During the 1980s, Koons rose to prominence as part of a group of artists who came to be associated with the term Neo-Geo. The group is often discussed in the context of the art world’s critique of a media-saturated and consumer-influenced culture and the commodification of the art object. Other artists included Ashley Bickerton and Peter Halley.
Working predominantly in series, Koons creates works in a number of mediums ranging from photography to sculpture, often using readymade objects or objects that appear to be readymade. Early work included The New (1979–1987), a series of branded and mounted vacuum cleaners. When they were first exhibited in the window of the New Museum in New York in 1980, they were arranged in cabinets and displayed as if in a showroom. The works were oriented around a central red fluorescent lightbox, which had the words ‘The New’ written on it, as if referencing a new brand. Subsequent series included Easyfun Ethereal (2001), which included multi-media collages of images of bikinis, lips, eyes, cars, food and landscapes. Koons drew from the visual language of advertising to make the familiar yet unrelated images communicate to his audience.
His sculpture Acrobat (2003–2009) exemplifies Koon’s often deceptive riff on the concept of Marcel Duchamp’s readymade. The work is a large lobster, vertically balanced upside down on its claws between an upturned bin and a chair. It immediately appears to be an inflatable plastic pool toy, due to the realistic paint detail and naturalistic crinkling around its edges. The work is in fact made from stainless steel and is exceptionally heavy.
The artist is perhaps best known for his large-scale public sculptures. An example is Puppy (1992), a giant 13-metre sculpture created using live flowers and depicting a West Highland Terrier. The work references the topiary garden style that dates back to Roman times, when bushes were trimmed to resemble statues of animals. In 1995, the work was erected at Darling Harbour, Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and in 1997, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation purchased the work and relocated it to the exterior of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. At the inauguration of the Bilbao that same year, Spanish police intercepted a terrorist plan to blow up the Puppy sculpture. The men, disguised as gardeners, planned to install detonating flowerpots into the work.
Works such as Puppy are highly technical, taking several months to create. In addition to flowers grown offsite, a 3D computer model was used to construct the stainless steel framework of the work. Hand-moulded wire mesh lined with soil was then placed on the frame, along with an internal irrigation system. The irrigation system ensures the work is kept blossoming and allows it to continue growing. Its creation is due both in part to Koons’ conceptual premise and the manpower of his studio assistants. Koons currently employs 148 people in his studio to assist with his projects. Although Koons began by making his own sculptures and paintings, he now employs people so that he is not limited by the time taken to make his works. This time gives him the freedom to edit his works, increase his productivity and control the process of each work.
Nina Lala | Ocula | 2017