Jeff Koons' Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) is a gleaming monument to the awe of childhood. Looking at the rich, variegated surface of this sculpture, which is almost seven feet tall, we are lost in the crinkled, shining texture of the lower egg element, while the elaborate crest of metal which forms the ribbon that loops and curves atop it has a smooth, mirror-like sheen, adding to the visual contrast between the two. Distorted reflections abound within the orange and magenta surfaces, which are stacked horizontally and shimmer like a glitzy reincarnation of one of Mark Rothko's paintings. From a sheer abstract point of view, the large, complex form of Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) is entrancing; yet with the added reference to childhood treats, to the taste of chocolate at Easter, it becomes a celebration indeed.
Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) forms a part of Koons' famous Celebration series, which he embarked upon in the 1990s. For some time, Koons' obsession with this series was seen as almost quixotic: the perfectionism he demanded in his sculptures, combined with other extraneous factors, meant that several of the finished works only appeared more than a decade after they had originally been conceived, as is the case with Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta). Koons managed to perfect the casting techniques that result in the incredibly transparent, mirror-sheen surface of his Celebration sculptures. Looking at Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta), that perfectionism has clearly paid off: the sculpture comprises two forms of different texture and color, one atop the other; yet they are united by both the theme and by the pristine surface, which has an almost mouth-watering perfection to it.
In both the pristine quality of its surface and the egg-like form of Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta), Koons appears to have been paying tribute to one of the greatest pioneers of sculpture in the twentieth century, the Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi. In several of his own works, for instance his sculptures of new-borns and of sleeping Muses, Brancusi created ovoid forms that recalled eggs and as such conveyed a concept of creation and procreation. They contain a sense of infinite potential and imminent life. This is crucial subject matter for Koons as well: the egg is a theme that has recurred in several works in the Celebration series for instance, the painting and the sculpture each entitled Cracked Egg, as well as the picture Bread with Egg, 1995, and the sculptures Bowl with Eggs, 1994-2008, and the related Smooth Egg with Bow, 1994-2009.
Koons introduces a sense of birth and rebirth alike in Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta): appearing as though it should belong on some giant confectionary stand, Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) also hints at the imminent emergence of some new lifeform, some new era. In this sense, it recalls Salvador Dalí's painting Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New World, in which a new man emerges from an egg upon which a map of the world is visible, with Europe partially crushed and the figure emerging as though he were the incarnation of North America. Dalí's work may have been in part a slighting comment on the change of the balance of power during the 1940s and the emergence of the United States as a superpower. Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) clearly echoes Dalí's painting, for instance, in the ribbons that take the place of the baldaquin Dalí suspends over the egg. However, unlike the more cynical Spanish artist whom he had met in his youth, Koons is demonstrating his customary earnestness and is instead celebrating the potential birth of a new age.
For Koons, the Celebration series was concerned with the cycle of life, a concept that he conveyed through the use of milestones in the calendar of the year and in a life. Accordingly, flowers, diamonds, cakes, and toys all came to feature in the paintings and sculptures from the series. In this way, he managed to evoke notions of seduction, of romance, of reproduction, and of birth. In his egg-related works, he therefore references sex, birth, and also the concept of resurrection while also paying tribute to the joy and wonder of eating candy, one of the ultimate consumer pleasures: "I was interested in the dialogue with nature and aspects of the eternal, the here and now, the physical with the ephemeral," Koons has explained in terms that clearly relate to Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta). "You know, aspects of images and the spiritual world. So this balance of the symmetrical and asymmetrical, a sense of the fertile, and a sense of the eternal through biology and procreation, and then, on the other hand, you have the sense of the spiritual, very ethereal, eternal: the polarities" (J. Koons, quoted in P. Schuster, "In Conversation with Jeff Koons," in A. Hüsch (ed.), Jeff Koons: Celebration, exh. cat., Berlin, 2008, p. 87).
It is for this spiritual reason that Koons has touched upon the Baroque in both the Celebration works and in other earlier series such as Banality and Made in Heaven. There, as here, he combined subject matter taken from secular life and from popular culture, granting them an apotheosis through craftsmanship and ornament that itself invoked the opulent quality of decoration used in churches during the Counter-Reformation. This is echoed in the rich, furrowed surface of the wrapping in Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) and in the hallucinatory curlicues of the ribbon. Both in those earlier works and here, Koons was turning the Baroque aesthetic to his own advantage, using it as a signpost: "I use the Baroque to show the public that we are in the realm of the spiritual, the eternal. The church uses the Baroque to manipulate and seduce, but in return, it does give the public a spiritual experience. My work deals in the vocabulary of the Baroque" (J. Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 158).
Throughout Koons' career, the spiritual aspect of procreation has run as a thread in his work, as he encourages his viewers to accept the facts of life and to shrug off any, say, Judeo-Christian sense of shame related to sex. In that sense, Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) continues the work of his Made in Heaven series, 1989-1991, with Koons inviting his viewers to overcome their hang-ups regarding both sex and, crucially, taste and in so doing embrace something as monumental and ephemeral as this vast Easter Egg.
Koons has amplified the sense of wonderment that is conjured by Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta) through both its scale and its crisp, mirrored, tactile appearance. In a sense, in his Celebration sculptures, Koons was creating Platonic, idealised, larger-than-life versions of elements of the real world: "Archetypes are really things that help everyone survive in the world. So they are bigger than everybody. That is the reason for their scale. It is not to intimidate at all, it's more that I love vanilla ice cream so instead of a little scoop I make a big scoop" (J.Koons, quoted in T. Nichols Goodeve, "Euphoric Enthusiasm: Jeff Koons's Celebrations,"Parkett, no. 50/51, 1997, p. 90). At the same time, that channelling of a concentrated, intoxicating, and overwhelming sense of fascination and amazement was intended to evoke childhood. In particular, Koons has explained that the Celebration works became a form of message to his son Ludwig, who had been taken from him following his divorce: "It was a way for me to communicate with him how much I was missing him" (J. Koons, quoted in I. Sischy, "Jeff Koons' World," in H. Werner Holzwarth (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 16).
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Jeff Koons , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, United States of America, Contemporary
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
83½ x 77½ x 60 in. (212.1 x 196.9 x 152.4 cm.)
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, p. 404 (illustrated in color).
For What You Are About to Receive, exh. cat., Moscow, Gagosian Gallery, 2008, pp. 29, 214 and 219 (Turquoise/Magenta illustrated in color).
A. Haden-Guest, "Takeover Moscow," Whitewall, Winter 2009, p. 49 (Turquoise/Magenta illustrated in color).
Jeff Koons: Celebration, exh. cat., Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2008, pp. 50 and 81 (Turquoise/Magenta illustrated in color and on the endpapers).
A. Abascal, "Vestir una Pasion," Vogue, May 2011, p. 314 (Pink/Gold illustrated in color).
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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