Jeffrey "Jeff" Koons (born January 21, 1955) is an American artist known for his reproductions of banal objects-such as balloon animals produced in stainless steel with mirror finish surfaces.
Koons' work has sold for substantial sums of money including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. The largest sum known to be paid for a work by Koons is Balloon flower (Magenta) which was sold at Christie's London, on Monday, June 30, 2008 (Lot 00012) in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, where it sold for 12,921,250 GBP or $25,765,204.
Critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising. Koons has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques.
Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania. As a child he went door to door after school selling gift-wrapping paper and candy to earn pocket-money. As a teenager he revered Salvador Dali, to the extent that he visited him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Koons studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art. After college, he worked as a Wall Street commodities broker while 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. It was staffed with over 30 assistants, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work-in a similar mode as Andy Warhol's Factory (notable because all of his work is produced using a method known as Art fabrication).
Koons's early work was in the form of conceptual sculpture, an example of which is The Equilibrium Series (1985), consisting of three basketballs floating in distilled water that half-fills a glass tank.
Arts journalist Arifa Akbar reported for The Independent that in "an era when artists were not regarded as 'stars', Koons went to great lengths to cultivate his public persona by employing an image consultant." Featuring photographs by Matt Chedgey, Koons placed "advertisements in international art magazines of himself surrounded by the trappings of success" and gave interviews "referring to himself in the third person."
Koons then moved on to Statuary, the large stainless-steel blowups of toys, followed by the Banality series that culminated in 1988 with Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a series of three life-size gold-leaf plated porcelain statues of the sitting singer cuddling Bubbles, his pet chimpanzee. Three years later, one of these sold at Sotheby's New York for $5.6 million. Two of these sculptures are now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The statue was included in a 2004 retrospective at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo which traveled a year later to the Helsinki City Art Museum. It also featured in his second retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 2008.
In 2001, Koons undertook a series of paintings titled Easyfun-Ethereal, using a collage approach that combined bikinis, food, and landscapes painted under his supervision by assistants.
In 2006, he appeared on Artstar, an unscripted television series set in the New York art world and from February 15 to March 6, 2008, he donated a private tour of his studio to the Hereditary Disease Foundation for auction on www.charitybuzz.com.
In 2006, Koons showed his Hanging Heart, a 9 feet tall highly polished, steel heart, one of a series of five differently colored examples, part of his Celebration series. Large sculptures from that series were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2008.
A drawing similar to his Tulip Balloons was placed on the front page of the Internet search engine Google. The drawing greeted all who visited Google's main page on April 30, 2008 and May 1, 2008.
Cracked Egg (Blue) won the 2008 Charles Wollaston Award for the most distinguished work in the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition.
Koons had a minor role in the 2008 film Milk playing state assemblyman Art Agnos.
On October 13, 2009, the giant silver rabbit used during the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade was put on display for Nuit Blanche in the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
Koons and his college girlfriend had a daughter, who got adopted. She is now named Shannon Rodgers and reconnected with Koons in 1995.
In 1991, he married Hungarian-born naturalized-Italian pornography star Cicciolina (Ilona Staller) who for five years (1987-1992) pursued an alternate career as a member of the Italian parliament. His Made in Heaven series of paintings, photographs, and sculptures portrayed the couple in explicit sexual positions and created even more controversy.
In 1992, they had a son, Ludwig. The marriage ended soon afterward. They agreed to joint custody of the child, but Staller absconded from New York to Rome with the child, where mother and son remain. A long custody battle ensued with the award of sole custody to Koons by the U.S. court in 1998, which had also dissolved the marriage. However, he ended up losing custody when the case went to Italy's Supreme Court.
In 2008, Staller filed suit against Koons for failing to pay child support.
Koons is now married to Justine Wheeler, an artist and former employee who began working for Koons's studio in 1995.
Since a 1980 window installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Koons' work has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. In 1986, he appeared in a group show with Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, and Meyer Vaisman at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 1997, the Galerie Jerome de Noirmont organised his first solo show in Europe. His Made in Heaven series was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1990.
His first museum solo shows include the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2000), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2001), the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2003) and a retrospective survey at the Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004), which traveled to the Helsinki City Art Museum (2005). In 2008, the Celebration series was shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Considered as his first retrospective in France, the 2008 exhibition of seventeen Koons sculptures at the Chateau de Versailles also marked the first ambitious display of a contemporary American artist organized by the chateau. The New York Times reported that "several dozen people demonstrated outside the palace gates" in a protest arranged by a little-known, right-wing group dedicated to French artistic purity.
The May 31 - September 21, 2008 Koons retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which was widely publicized in the press, broke the museum's attendance record with 86,584 visitors. In July 2009, Koons had his first major solo show in London, at the Serpentine Gallery. Entitled, "Jeff Koons: Popeye Series," the exhibit included cast aluminum models of children's pool toys and "dense, realist paintings of Popeye holding his can of spinach or smoking his pipe, a red lobster looming over his head."
Koons's works have sold for astronomical prices at auctions and privately. His auction records have primarily been achieved by his sculptures (especially those from his Celebration series), whereas his paintings are less popular.
In 2001, one of his three Michael Jackson and Bubbles porcelain sculptures sold for $5.6 million. On November 14, 2007, a magenta Hanging Heart, one of five in different colors, sold at Sotheby's New York for $23.6 million becoming, at the time, the most expensive piece by a living artist ever auctioned. It was bought by the Gagosian Gallery in New York, which the previous day had purchased another Koons sculpture entitled "Diamond (Blue)" for $11.8 million from Christie's London. Gagosian appears to have bought both Celebration series works on behalf of Ukrainian steel oligarch, Victor Pinchuk. In July 2008, his Balloon Flower (Magenta) also sold at Christie's London for a record $25.7 million. In total, Koons was the top-selling artist at auction with 81.3 million euros ($117.2 million) of sales in the year to June 2008.
During the late 2000s recession, however, art prices plummeted and auction sales of high-value works by Koons dropped 50 percent in 2009, A violet Hanging Heart sold for $11 million in a private sale. However prices for the artist's earlier Luxury and Degradation series appear to be holding up. The Economist reported that Thomas H. Lee, a private-equity investor, sold "Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train" in a package deal brokered by Giraud Pissarro Segalot for more than $15 million.
Koons has been represented by dealers such as Sonnabend Gallery, Max Hetzler in Berlin and Jerome de Noirmont in Paris. The exclusive right to the primary sale of the "Celebration" series is held by Gagosian Gallery, his dominant dealer. The artist is widely collected in America and Europe, where some collectors acquire his work in depth. Eli Broad has 24 pieces, and Dakis Joannou owns some 38 works from all stages of the artist's career.