Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Jeff Koons is one of the most popular, influential, controversial and best-known artists of the post-war generation.
Koons was born in Pennsylvania in 1955. By the age of twelve he had begun to create replicas of Old Master paintings which he sold at his father’s antique shop. After graduating high school, Koons enrolled in the Maryland Institute College of Art.
In 1974, Koons attended an exhibition of Jim Nutt’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art, an experience that would prove to be a turning point in the young artist’s career. He transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to work with Nutt and other Chicago Imagists. (“Imagists” is a term describing a number of groups emerging from SAIC during the post-World War II era, broadly characterized by representational work influenced by Surrealism and Art Brut.) Koons then returned to the Maryland Institute College of Art where he finished his undergraduate degree in 1976.
In 1977, Koons moved to Manhattan, took a job in the membership department at the Museum of Modern Art and produced his first inflatable sculptures. In 1980, Koons left MoMA to sell stocks and mutual funds for the First Investors Corporation, a job that financed his The New series. The New series – which included three vacuum cleaners encased in Plexiglass vitrines - debuted in 1980 in the New Museum’s storefront window and nothing was ever the same again for Jeff Koons. The work received immediate critical acclaim as a brilliant commentary on American consumerism and artistic sterility.
Koons manufactures his works in a large antiseptic studio employing over one hundred people. He names and markets his work much as a manufacturer names his product lines. Among the “lines” he has produced since the early 1980s are “Equilibrium” (the floating basketballs); “Statuary/Kiepenkerl” (stainless steel replicas of a statuette of Bob Hope, an inflatable rabbit, a bust of Louis XIV); “Banality” (reproductions in porcelain and polychromed wood of various knickknacks); and “Made in Heaven” (photorealist paintings and glass sculptures of Koons in flagrante delicto with his then wife, Ilona Staller, known in Italy as the porn star Cicciolina). The newer brands include “Celebration” (jumbo-sized renderings in mirror-polished stainless steel of a heart, an egg, and a variety of animals) and “Easyfun” (colored mirrors shaped like animals’ heads). Balloon Dog, from the “Celebration” series, may be the most famous of all Koons’s work. Produced in an edition of five in various colors, the one in orange sold at a Christie’s auction in 2013 for more than $58 million, setting a new record for a work by a living artist.
Koons’ place in art history is most often tracked from the Dadaist Duchamp to Rauschenberg, Johns, and Warhol - artists who simultaneously criticized and celebrated commercial culture.
There is near unanimity in the art world as to Koons’ greatness and to his art as an authentic aesthetic response to our global consumer society. In The New Yorker, the knowledgeable and discriminating critic Peter Schjeldahl has called Koons “the signal artist of today’s world.” In New York magazine, Jerry Saltz announced that “haters will hate, but [the 2014 Koons retrospective at The Whitney in New York City] will allow anyone with an open mind to grasp why Koons is such a complicated, bizarre, thrilling, alien, annoying artist.”
His detractors see him otherwise: as a salesman of shiny toys to billionaires who confuse high-tech kitsch with art and seek status in the purchase of that which is unaffordable to all but a few. Jed Perl, writing in The Atlantic, calls him “a high-end purveyor of the literal” and a “recycler and regurgitator of the obvious.” He sees Koons’ admirers as victims of mass illusion that “a work of art that disturbs or annoys or flummoxes…most likely is important.” His take on the Koons’ oeuvre? “Just because it makes you sick doesn’t mean that it’s any good.”
Koons's work has been widely exhibited internationally since his first show in the 1980s. Major retrospectives have been presented by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1992); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1992); Aarhus Kunstmuseum (1993); Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (1993); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1993); Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004); and Helsinki City Art Museum (2005). "Jeff Koons: A Retrospective" opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2014 and traveled to Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2014–15).
His art is held in the collections of numerous museums around the world, among them the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Guggenheim, the Tate Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Broad Art Foundation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Jeff Koons lives and works in New York City.