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Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons

Handsome, globe-trotting playboy Jeff Koons, the self-proclaimed "most written-about artist in the world," works from his busy "Jeff Koons Productions, Inc." studio at 600 Broadway in NYC. Born in 1955, Jeff started his meteoric rise in the 1980's by turning contemporary american iconography and popular kitsch into controversial high art. Koons signature works feature strikingly simple imagery transformed into sculptures using the finest of materials. Koons' sculptures have recenty sold as for as much as $1.8 million or $721 per sq. inch! He has even written a book about himself and his work: "The Jeff Koons Handbook." Why should you care? Because Jeff Koons is a balloon artist, and his balloon sculptures are absolutely gorgeous!

What distinguishes Koons' balloon art from ours is that he doesn't make balloon animals -- no, this contemporary artist makes sculptures of balloon animals. Well, "make" is too strong a word... you see, Jeff isn't very "hands-on." Though he studied at the Maryland College of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, Koons lacks skill in sculpture, drawing, or painting. Instead he jots down notes and ideas, then has them brought to fruition by European craftsmen or the 35 assistants who populate his studio. In an interview Koons described it this way. "I'm basically the idea person. I'm not physically involved in the production. I don't have the necessary abilities, so I go to the top people..."

Koons' detractors say he has earned both fame and lavish compensation in the same spirit as have Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, and Milli Vanilli. However, the perfectionist Koons knows what he wants and makes sure things turn out right. Koons' frequent goal is to present common objects as is. "When I'm working with an object I always have to give the greatest consideration not to alter the object physically or even psychologically. I try to reveal a certain aspect of the object's personality. I'm placing the object in a context or material which will enhance a specific personality trait within the object. The soul of the object must be maintained..."

An early balloon-related work is his 1986 "Rabbit," a cute, warm, soft inflatable bunny, cast in cold, hard 41 x 19 x 12 inch stainless steel. The sculpture's highly polished surface has the eerie effect of including the viewer in its cool reflection regardless of the angle from which it is approached.

Click on the image for a close-up.

Here is Koons' 1995 "Balloon Dog" - a three-dimensional, limited-edition (only 2300 made) porcelain sculpture. The handcrafted sculpture illustrates Koons' unique blend of pop art and humor, with a metallic red balloon animal positioned against a slivered plate. 10 1/2" in diameter, it sold for $400 each.

Koons balloon dog

Click on the image for a close-up.

What he says about going to "the top people" is true. I saw and held one of these dogs (not mounted on the silver plate) at the WESTECH 2000 machine tool show at the LA Convention center where companies set up booths to tout what they can do, make, build, sell, etc. In an aisle filled with metals finishing vendors, I saw this totally out of place, gorgeous, shiny red balloon dog! I asked about it and the fellow running the booth handed it to me and told me "some artist created a limited quantity of the porcelain dogs and sent them to me for vacuum metallizing and anodizing." The dog itself it absolutely beautiful; shiny like a mirror, light weight (hollow porcelain china) and perfect in every detail. I was blown away when I saw and held it.

Jeff has made many more pieces, including a lifesized person riding a balloon dog. Here is his working model for that 1996 sculpture, also entitled "Balloon Dog." Made of epoxy resin fiberglass, it measured 126 x 149 x 47 inches. Koons describes it thusly "It's about celebration and childhood and color and simplicity - but it's also a Trojan horse. It's a Trojan horse to the whole body of artwork."

Koons' giant stainless steel rendition of a Mylar round balloon, "Moon," exhibited alongside the final version of his "Balloon Dog," make the room look out of scale in the photo below:

In 1997 Koons unveiled his PVC "Inflatable Balloon Flower (Yellow)" which measured in at 51 x 59 x 70 in. Only 100 were made, and they sold for $3,500 each.

Click on the image to see in 3D

But Koons' biggest "balloon sculpture" so far is his "Balloon Flower," shown here on the sidewalk at Potsdamer Platz, Berlin:

Click on the image for a close-up.  

MB 3/18/01