Art21 Extended Play

Jeff Koons: Art History

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Episode #112: Jeff Koons describes how he likes to “communicate with other artists” by making art historical references — from Classical to Modern — in his sculptures and paintings.

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 figure, if you folks can recycle another excerpt from this monotonous monologue, I should be able to repurpose an earlier comment of my own. After all, it is a holiday weekend.

    At the beginning of the 21st century, just what does Jeff Koons bring to the art party? Certainly not the elevation of the ordinary, commercial object (been there: Duchamp) or its representation in a new material or scale (done that: Oldenburg). How about the appropriation of glossy, erotic pop culture images? (Lost the tee-shirt and threw away the bra: Ramos.) And as for making references to art history, countless others have been there and done that, too, with far more wit. Larry Rivers’ “The Greatest Homosexual” springs to mind. That was 45 years ago.

    So what does Jeff Koons bring to the party? I suggest that Jeff Koons’ work demonstrates that today it requires a third party to validate, add value, and thereby CREATE a work of art. It’s “American Idol” for the art crowd. It requires someone like a dealer with a financial stake, a curator with a reputation to make, an aggressive publicist — and of course, buyers with deep pockets — to provide the credentials. Jeff Koons’ success in the marketplace is critical to his art. (“Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold)”: $23.5 million at Sotheby’s, 2007; also available in four other colors, including Violet: $11 million reportedly by private sale, 2009)

    In fact, perhaps the more a work of art costs, the better it is — completely reversing conventional notions about value. Exposing that reversal is Jeff Koons’ role in Art History.

  2. brio says:

    Koons will never be any kind of an idol to me. He might consider apprenticing with a real master to learn his skills.

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