Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons was born in 1955, in York, Pennsylvania. In 1972, he enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and, for a time, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1976, he graduated and moved to New York City, where he worked at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and, for several years, as a commodity exchange broker.

From its beginnings, Koon’s artistic work has been situated between sculpture and object. Since the early 1980s, his vacuum cleaners and polishing machines, placed in neon-lit Plexiglas display cases (New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers, 1980; New Hoover Convertibles, New Shelton Wet/Dry, Displaced Double-Decker, 1981 — 1987), have profitably drawn on Pop Art’s dealing with popular and advertising aesthetics. Also, his de-functionalized basketballs, suspended in display cases or floating in water, were still linked to the spectrum of objects in Pop Art (Two Balls 50/50 Tank, 1985). Koons made serial use of these everyday motifs, placed under the light of glaring neon tubes. Yet he also concentrated on art historical models, such as baroque sculptures (Louis XIV, 1986) or small sculptures between Renaissance and Pop (Naked, 1988), on Kitsch, and on commercial culture. In these works, he tended to focus on an odd selection of devotional objects (Saint John the Baptist, 1988) or imitated the loud colors of products from commercial mass culture and an industrialized fan culture (Pink Panther, 1988). Sometimes he inflated these objects into large, air-filled shapes. In these works, Koons not only sought to connect to the production techniques of the mass media, but also to the arts and crafts. He therefore had sculptures, such as the porcelain sculpture (Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988), or the two glass objects (Jeff Eating Ilona (Kama Sutra); Position Three (Kama Sutra), both 1991), produced by craftsmen. Moreover, life-size, figural wood sculptures, like the Made in Heaven series, were individually carved for Koons.

The absurd constellation of angels and pigs, mutated into a gigantic, colorful group of figures that could have been taken from a store for devotional articles in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, may yield an artistic motto: Ushering in Banality, from 1988, Koon’s »introduction to banality,« is quasi-programmatic of the contested, shrill œuvre of the pop phenomenon »Koons.« From the very beginning, the artist knew how to successfully market himself and actually stressed the identity of artist and work. Koon’s self-portraits – produced in the style of baroque busts – which he arranged in a line with dukes and Sun Kings (Selbstporträt (Selfportrait) 1991) or the pornographic group portraits with his former wife, Italian sex idol Ilona Staller alias »Cicciolina« (for example, Bourgeoise Büste – Jeff und Ilona(Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona), 1991), may be understood as ironic commentary on commercialized visual culture.

Koon’s works themselves have not been part of mass marketing, even if they are connected to the mass market through the choice of material, production processes, contents, and sometimes through the artist’s collaboration with companies. Koons has produced museum art, quite often of monumental dimension, cost intensive, and with a high public resonance, such as the 12 meter high pet dog Puppy (temp. Guggenheim Bilbao), with floral ornaments. Art historical citation and altered dimensions as well as the reinterpretation and defamiliarization of western high art are among his predominant strategies. Koons has made use of almost all genres: painting, installation, photography, and wood, marble, glass, or stainless steel sculpture. His works tend to be categorized as »Post-ironic Art« or »Neo-concept Art.« They are also linked – against Koons’ own self-positioning – to the »Neo-geo Style« or Appropriation Art of the 1980s and are thus placed within the context of an imitative art that sometimes consciously goes against intellectual property rights.

During the 1990s, Koons withdrew from art business for a while. Then, a new series of works emerged, entitled Easy Fun-Ethereal (2000), large, photorealist canvas pictures using collages of digitally edited magazine advertisements. Again Koons turned towards the world of everyday objects, the food industry, and to picture sujets thematizing sexuality and pornography, sujects that had already defined his earlier series.

Koons’ first solo exhibition took place in 1980, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Numerous solo and group exhibitions followed. His works were shown at the exhibitions »Sculpture. Projects« in Münster (1987, 1997) and at the Venice Biennale in 1990. They were also part of the exhibition »Superstars« at the Kunsthalle Wien (2006). Koons’ work was honored with retrospective exhibitions at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, in 2004, and at the Helsinki City Art Museum, in 2005.

Jeff Koons lives and works in New York City and York, Pennsylvania.

Selected Literature

Jeff Koons, die Bilder 1980 — 2002: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Bielefeld, hg. v. Th. Kellein, Köln 2003

Jeff Koons: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthaus Bregenz, hg. v. E. Schneider, Köln 2001

Jeff Koons, Easyfun-Ethereal: Ausst.-Kat. Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, hg. v. J. Koons u. M. Taylor, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000

Zaunschirm, Thomas: Kunst als Sündenfall. Die Tabuverletzungen des Jeff Koons, (Quellen zur Kunst, 3) Freiburg i.Br. 1996

Das Jeff-Koons-Handbuch: Anthony d’Offay Gallery London, München u.a. 1992

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014

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