Artist Jeff Koons holds the world record auction price for a work by a living artist. In 2013, Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie’s in New York City for $58.4 million, the highest price paid for an artwork by a living artist sold at auction.
Koons skyrocketed to fame by merging the fantastic and beautiful with pop imagery and brilliant salesmanship. His work integrates low and high culture in conceptual, inter-related series.
To begin at the first stroke of the brush, Koons came into the world on January 21, 1955, seemingly electing, like Warhol before him, to be born in Pennsylvania. Koons took his formal art education at The Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
An anecdote has that Koons gained admission to the world of Wall Street on the strength of his sales at the front desk of The Museum of Modern Art, his first job post college. In the mid-80s, he began operating in a SoHo studio, staffed with over 30 assistants. Koons’ work is based on art fabrication, each assistant contributing, yet the completed work viewed as the effort of a solo artist.
It is Koons’ myriad series that have earned him his reputation. To begin with, the first series Koons developed was the aptly named The Pre-New, which fused, literally, domestic objects with light fixtures, creating new objects. Then came The New series, which might be read as a commentary on branding and consumerism. In this series, Koons’ main element was vacuum cleaners, which he stylistically arranged within lit acrylic boxes. The New Museum in New York, fittingly enough, presented The New series in 1980. He followed this in 1985 with the Equilibrium series, which he created with the help of bongo-playing, Nobel Prize-winning, iconoclastic physicist Richard Feynman.
Following the form of contradiction and complexity in which he excels, 1986 gave us Luxury and Degradation, flowing around the theme of alcohol. This begat the Banality series in 1988, famous for the striking statue Michael Jackson and Bubbles, the star cuddling his pet chimpanzee.
Made in Heaven, a collaboration with his then-wife, Ilona Staller, known as “Cicciolina,” an erstwhile porn star, premiered in the Venice Biennale in 1990. The series features black and white photos that mix erotic form with Baroque and Rocco references.
To honor the hoped-for reunion of his estranged son, Ludwig, who was living with his ex-wife Staller, in 1994 Koons crafted Celebration, a mix of paintings and sculptures based on images of Valentine hearts, Easter eggs, diamonds, and balloon dogs.
1997 was the year of the Puppy, a 43-foot tall topiary sculpture purchased by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In a strange twist, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna attempted to plant explosives near the sculpture. A Basque officer was killed by the terrorists while foiling the plot.
1999 gave us Easyfun, an assemblage that was made up of the easy and fun elements of Koons’ sculptures and paintings. In 2001, Easyfun transformed into Easyfun-Ethereal, a collage incorporating bikinis, food, and landscapes painted by Koons’ assistants.
2000 saw Split-Rocker, another gigantic floral sculpture, make its debut at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France. In 2014 Split-Rocker enjoyed a temporary installation at Rockefeller Plaza, coinciding with Koons’ very well-received retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.