Jeff Koons' Large Vase of Flowers, executed in 1991, seems to explode with colour and vitality. These are not just flowers: they appear to be a Disney-like exaggeration, with a cartoonish intensity that somehow surpasses reality itself. This gleeful sculpture bursts with joy. It is shameless and over-the-top, and as such has one foot firmly planted in the realm of the kitsch and the other in the Baroque. Indeed, Koons used master craftsmen from those centres of Baroque and Rococo art-- still in existence continuing centuries-old traditions of church decoration-- to make many of the works in the Made in Heaven series, creating a bizarre, seemingly irreverent collision of the old and the new, the high and the low, the spirituality and the ephemeral or commercial. For these flowers appear to be the reincarnation of so many of the trinkets, the flotsam and jetsam, at which supposedly cultured people wrinkle their noses. As Koons has explained:
"I was telling the Bourgeois to embrace the things that it likes, the things it responds to. For example, when you were a young child and you went to your grandmother's place and she had this little knickknack, that's inside you, and that's part of you. Embrace that, don't try to erase it because you're in some social standing now and you're trying to become a new upper class. Don't divorce yourself from your true being, embrace it. That's the only way you can truly move on to become a new upper class and not move backwards" (J. Koons, quoted in Jeff Koons, exh.cat., San Francisco, 1992, p. 89).
Large Vase of Flowers is a deliberate assault on taste, part of Koons' war against the hierarchies that society imposes through cultural indoctrination. With its incredible, buoyant, uplifting and entertaining exuberance, this sculpture banishes all notions of snobbery. If the viewer does not like a work such as this, "it would only be because they had been told they were not supposed to like it. Eventually they will be able to strip all that down and say "You know, it's silly, but I like that piece. It's great'" (J. Koons, quoted in The Jeff Koons Handbook, A. Muthesius, London, 1992, p. 112).
In the Made in Heaven series to which Large Vase of Flowers belongs, Koons extended his attack on received concepts of taste to focus on sex in particular. Alongside Large Vase of Flowers were several other smaller sculptures of flowers, several of cute dogs, and a range of two- and three-dimensional depictions of Koons in a range of explicit sexual poses with his former wife, Ilona Staller. The presence of the flowers gives the impression that the artist and his wife were a form of modern Adam and Eve, back in the Garden of Eden. He was trying to remove the illogical taint of shame and embarrassment that surrounds sex. This was all the more the case when Large Vase of Flowers and the Made in Heaven series were made, as conservative elements in the Senate and other such authorities were volubly making their feelings clear on similar matters, not least in a controversial public enquiry into pornography. Koons' work was an attempt to encourage his viewers to embrace, rather than shun, their sexuality: "I believe the way to enter the eternal is through the biological" (J. Koons quoted in The Jeff Koons Handbook, A. Muthesius, London, 1992, p. 35).
Flowers are the perfect subject matter for Koons' exploration of the importance of sex in the cycle of life: after all, they are often presented as a romantic gift, as a prelude to procreation. And crucially, the very beauty of flowers depends on the natural processes by which they themselves reproduce. In this sculpture, and in reality, their sexual organs are on flagrant display, for all to see. "In Made in Heaven, I wasn't trying to excite somebody sexually," Koons has said, referring to the images of him with his wife.
"I was trying to excite them intellectually. I tried to take the sexuality out of the images and to put them onto these objects, the flower pieces and the animals. That type of interaction, of looking at close-ups of the anatomy during penetration, is what Large Vase of Flowers would be similar to. I can't ever look at Large Vase of Flowers and not think that I'm looking at fifty assholes" (J. Koons quoted in H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 330).
Thus there is a strange and deliberate transferral of overt sexuality from the posed sheen of the sexual images of Koons himself, from which Koons had removed any titillating sense of eroticism, to the inflamed, even engorged, overspillingly sensual appearance of these blooms. These are the perfect motif for Koons, not least because they relate to his own youth, they are universal symbols of life, of beauty and, for Koons, of the way that sex and life go hand in hand with one another. "I have always enjoyed flowers," he said. "Since taking art lessons as a child, I have had flowers in my work. I always like the sense that a flower just displays itself. The viewer always finds grace in a flower. Flowers are a symbol that life goes forward" (J. Koons quoted in M. Codognato & E. Geuna (ed.), Jeff Koons, exh.cat., Naples, 2003, p. 157).
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION
Signed, dated and numbered 'J. Koons 1991 1/3' (on the base)
Jeff Koons , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, United States of America, Contemporary
New York, Sonnabend Gallery; Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler; Lausanne, Galerie Lehmann, Jeff Koons: Made in Heaven, November 1991-May 1992, (another example exhibited).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-October 1993, no. 59, pl. 59 (another example illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospektiv, November 1992-April 1993, p. 80 (Amsterdam and Stuttgart illustrated in color) and p. 73, no. 59 (Aarhus illustrated in color).
Athens School of Fine Art; Copenhagen, Museum of Modern Art and New York, Guggenheim Museum Soho, Everything That's Interesting is New: The Dakis Joannou Collection, January-April 1996, pp. 21, 160 and 161 (another example illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Center for Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons: A Millennium Celebration, December 1999-May 2000, p. 2 (another example illustrated in color).
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Museum unserer Wunsche, November 2001 (another example exhibited).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Jeff Koons/Andy Warhol: Flowers, November-December 2002, pp. 4, 7, 8-9 (another example illustrated in color).
Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Jeff Koons, June-September 2003, p. 80 (another example illustrated in color).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, October 2004-January 2005, pp. 142 and 143 (illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Monument to Now, June-December 2004, p. 222 (another example illustrated in color).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Flower as Image, September 2004-January 2005 (another example exhibited).
Riehen, Foundation Beyeler, Blumenmythos: Van Gogh bis Jeff Koons, February-May 2005, pp. 39, 164 and 195, no. 84 (another example illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, May-September 2008, pp. 6-7, 72 (another example illustrated in color; also illustrated on the back cover).
Chateau de Versailles, Jeff Koons Versailles, October 2008-April 2009, pp. 77-79, 154 and 166 (another example illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
52 x 43 x 43 in. (132 x 109.2 x 109.2 cm.)
"Morality - American Style," Tema Celeste, January-March 1992, p. 118 (illustrated).
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 145, p. 26 (illustrated in color).
J. Koons, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 127 and 163 (illlustrated in color).
Kunst and Unterricht, October 1993, vol. 176, p. 3 (illustrated; also illustrated on the title page).
T. Zaunschirm, "Kunst als Sundenfall: Die Tabuverletzungen des Jeff Koons," Quellen zur Kunst, vol. 3, 1996, p. 83.
Jeff Koons: Easyfun--Ethereal, exh. cat., Berlin, 2000, p. 41, no. 21 (illustrated in color).
Jeff Koons: Pictures 1980-2002, exh. cat., Bielefeld, 2002, p. 24 (illustrated in color).
S. Seymour, "Jeff Koons: Art Made in Heaven," Whitewall, Fall 2007, p. 140 (illustrated in color).
H. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, pp. 336, 339 and 340 (illustrated in color).
M. Nakamura, "USA: Jeff Koons," art actuel, vol. 57, July-August 2008, p. 70 (illustrated in color).
L. Cenac, "le roi Koons a Versailles," Madame Figaro, 6 September 2008, p. 142 (illustrated in color).
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Mr. Wolfgang Joop, Hamburg
His sale; Christie's, London, 27 June 2000, lot 19
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner