At the age of 63 years, Jeff Koons boasts a long series of records and curiosities: his Instagram profile has 297 million followers, he was briefly married to Ilona Staller, also known as Ciccolina, and has beaten virtually every auction record for a living artist.

Jeff Koons. Photo: freewechat.com. Jeff Koons. Photo: freewechat.com.

The beginning of the career

Jeff Koons was born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania. Koons father sold furniture, while Koons mother was a seamstress. Jeff was a talented youth and studied painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Maryland Institute Collage of Art in Baltimore. After school, Koons found himself longing for the metropolis, and moved to New York.

Koons tried to establish himself as an artist in the city, but he was often short of money and took other jobs around town. He spent some time as a broker on Wall Street and for a while, Koons worked at the information desk at MoMA. His first work of art to gain glory was created in the 1970s and embodied what we have come to know as Koons’s characteristics: readymades and inflated toys.

"The New". Photo: New Museum of Contemporary Art. "The New". Photo: New Museum of Contemporary Art.

During his first active decade as an artist, Koons career skyrocketed. In 1980, the artist had his first solo exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. The museum showcased Koons series The New, which consisted of a number of vacuum cleaners enclosed in a glass mount and illuminated by neon lights. By placing the vacuums in an unexpected context, Koons elevated these common, household products to the stature of high-art, giving them new meaning and demanding respect from the viewer.

Between Warhol and Duchamp

Koons’s artistry is often compared with works created by artistic royalties Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. In spirit of Andy Warhol, Koons has both emphasized and further developed pop art as a concept. One example of this is the artist’s collaboration with Google in 2013, for which he designed a limited edition of smartphone covers.

- [ ] Mobilskal: Koons X Google LiveCase. Photo: Jeffkoons.com. Koons X Google LiveCase. Photo: Jeffkoons.com.
Inspired by Duchamp, Koons has taken the concept of ready-mades to another level. Koons’s works further reinforces the provocative position the art form composes when the objects are re-conceptualized – their primary function is ignored and instead presented as art. During his solo exhibition in 1980, Koons announced that if the vacuum cleaners were actually used as they were indented, for cleaning, their artistic value would have been destroyed.

Made in Heaven

In 1988, Koons continued his artistic journey with the Banality series, which included the famous sculpture of Michael Jackson along with his monkey Bubbles. The work can be understood as a paraphrase on Andy Warhol's persona with the issue of celebrity in the center. These are themes that Koons explores throughout his career, what constitutes celebrity, and the relationship between the celebrity, the artist, and the viewer.

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988. Photo: Jeffkoons.com Jeff Koons, "Michael Jackson and Bubbles", 1988. Photo: Jeffkoons.com

In 1991, Koons married the Hungarian-born Italian Ilona Staller. Their marriage caused headlines for several reasons – Staller was a former adult film actress who had appeared in several pornographic films under the name Ciccolina, and together the couple created art. The series Made in Heaven consisted mainly of erotic sculptures that showed Koons and Staller in sexual positions. The marriage didn’t last long and after the birth of their son the couple split. Koons believes that the purpose of the series was to de-dramatize sexuality and to ask questions about shame and self-destruction in relationship to sex. Made in Heaven was shown at the 1990s edition of the Venice Biennale.

Jeff Koons, "Made in Heaven", 1989. Photo: Tate. Jeff Koons, "Made in Heaven", 1989. Photo: Tate.

Records and controversies

Jeff Koons has broken several auction records during his lifetime. His world record is held by Balloon Dog (Orange), which was sold at Christie’s in 2013. With the hammer price of $58.4 million, it’s the most expensive piece ever sold by a still-living artist.

Jeff Koon's style consists of many features, including kitsch, popular culture and readymades. His way of raising the banal and provocative has earned Koons well and made him one of today's most popular artists. Both the public and private art collectors around the world reserve a special place for Koons. In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Koons described his arts’ underlying momentum:

"It's about educating people, and the way you can educate them is through your art. And I try to educate people about materialism through my work. I try to show them real visual luxury. It's intoxicating visually".

Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog (Orange)". Photo: CNN. Jeff Koons, "Balloon Dog (Orange)". Photo: CNN.

While Jeff Koons has achieved notoriety, he often endures serious criticism from the media, the art world, and the public. Much of the criticism directed against Koons has been about the artist's alleged cynicism, banality and great profits.
Controversy surrounding Koons has not diminished, but has increased further during the years. When Koons recently offered his work Bouquet of Tulips as a tribute to the French state in memory of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the artist was met with angry reactions. Koons’s own idea was that the sculpture should be placed between the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Palais de Tokyo.

"Bouquet of Tulips”. Photo: lequotidiendelart.com. "Bouquet of Tulips”. Photo: lequotidiendelart.com.

The city of Paris refused placement of the sculpture, not only that Koons choice of place wouldn’t work due to technical circumstances, but in an open letter of January 2018 about two dozen French intellectuals, politicians, artists, gallerists and art critics counteracted Bouquet of Tulips for other reasons. In the letter, Koons is defined as cynical and endeavoring, whose gift is merely an unpleasant attempt at sensational headlines and publicity.

One of the most divisive artists of the twentieth century, Jeff Koons continues to generate strong reactions, exploring relationships between commercialism and fine art. hether the viewer's response is  positive or not, one thing is certain - Jeff Koons will certainly get your attention.

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