Art21 Extended Play

Jeff Koons: Potential

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Episode #109: Jeff Koons tells a story from his childhood about finding a sense of self through making art, asserting that art has the potential to inspire similar transformations within each viewer.

Jeff Koons plucks images and objects from popular culture, framing questions about taste and pleasure. His contextual sleight-of-hand, which transforms banal items into sumptuous icons, takes on a psychological dimension through dramatic shifts in scale, spectacularly engineered surfaces, and subliminal allegories of animals, humans, and anthropomorphized objects. The subject of art history is a constant undercurrent, whether Koons elevates kitsch to the level of Classical art, produces photos in the manner of Baroque paintings, or develops public works that borrow techniques and elements of seventeenth-century French garden design. Organizing his own studio production in a manner that rivals a Renaissance workshop, Koons makes computer-assisted, handcrafted works that communicate through their meticulous attention to detail.

Jeff Koons is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Fantasy of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Download-to-own the full episode from iTunes.

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Kurt Branstetter & Joel Shapiro. Sound: Mark Mandler. Editor: Paulo Padilha & Mark Sutton. Artwork Courtesy: Jeff Koons. Special Thanks: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.


  1. Ross Selavy says:

    I never thought I’d agree with anything Jeff Koons had to say. However, what he says in this video is point-blank accurate: his art is valueless.

    Four score and seven years ago (more or less), Marcel Duchamp brought forth the proposition that art is whatever an artist says is art. A commercially-made utilitarian object – a bottle rack, for example – is art. Occasionally Duchamp made slight alterations to these objects, such as signing the infamous urinal. However, the banality of the object remained. Indeed, it was the core of the concept.

    A half-century later (more or less), Andy Warhol took the idea a step further. For Warhol, REPRODUCTIONS of everyday objects (Brillo boxes) or REPRESENTATIONS (paintings of soup can labels) were also art, even (especially?) when produced mechanically by similar processes as the originals. His contribution was the ironic, self-reflecting conflation of commercial and high art. It was an appropriate stance for someone, himself a commercial artist, in an era of consumerism and celebrity adulation.

    So the ship has long since sailed on, “It’s art because I say it’s art.” That point was made comically clear to me at the Independent show held during Armory week. A very earnest dealer made the case that an ordinary object which had been bought on Ebay was “art” because the buyer was an “artist” (whose oeuvre apparently consists of buying objects on Ebay). I was told, in all sincerity, that if another person (me, for example, or perhaps someone with a faster internet connection) had bought the item, it would not be “art,” because we aren’t “artists”.

    At the beginning of the 21st century, what does Jeff Koons bring to the party? Certainly not the elevation of the ordinary, commercial object (been there) or its representation in a new material or scale (done that). Perhaps the glossy craftsmanship of the folks who actually make his stuff (maybe). I think Koons’ work demonstrates that, today, it requires a third party to validate, value, and thus CREATE a work of art. It requires someone: an aggressive publicist, a curator with a reputation, a dealer with suggestible clients with deep pockets. Perhaps the more the work costs, the better it is — completely reversing conventional notions about value.

    Art has long been a business, and there’s nothing new about artists having promoters. But now that it’s dogma that ANYONE can be an artist and ANYTHING can be art, then maybe NOTHING is art until some authoritative third party says it is. Koons’ fame and financial success are what make his work art. That revelation is probably Jeff Koons’ greatest contribution to the history of art.

  2. Pingback: Inspiration – Jeff Koons e Romulo Cyriaco «

  3. Alexa N. says:

    Jeff Koons is a very influential artist for me. From the first time I saw an artwork by Koons, I was gravitated emotionally and spiritually by his way of expression. In this video I inspired by the way he talked about his artworks having a purpose to produce an emotional experience within the viewer.

    As a student of Creative Arts Therapy, it was a relief to hear that some artists consider artworks valueless and the emphasis is made on the experience of the viewer. Koons could not say it better, “it is what is happening inside of the viewer, that is where art happens.” In my view, the product is not nearly as important as what could be taken out of the process.

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