Jeff Koons: King of Kitsch / by Chris Hall

Despite being the King of Kitsch (or maybe because of it), Jeff Koons makes a pretty good dime off his work.  He holds the record for the most expensive work ever sold at auction, Balloon Dogs (Orange) sold for $58.4 million dollars.  He has regularly employed assistants for his work, stating in the 80’s with about 30, to the present, where he employs about 120 people, working in a huge 16,000 square foot factory.  Without any underlying critique in his work, Jeff Koons becomes the poster child of American decadence in art.

Jeff Koons began his career in the 80’s by displaying recontextualized everyday items, such as an inflatable rabbit and vacuum cleaners.  Later he would expand his practice by producing a series of basketballs floating in aquariums full of water.  

Perhaps acknowledging his new role in bringing the banal to the art gallery, he began creating porcelain sculptures, starting with Ushering in Banality (1988) and culminating in Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1998).

In 1989 Jeff Koons, with his then wife, the politician and porn star Ilona Staller, began making work for the Made in Heaven series.  Made in Heaven is essentially Koons and Staller making porn and recontextualizing it as art.  The work can get pretty explicit.  Below are some tame examples from the series.

In the mid 90’s Koons began making his giant Balloon Dog sculptures out of polished steel, and a series of plastic sculptures, such as his Lobster and Cat on a Clothesline (1994-2001).  His most recent works include a limited edition label design for Dom Perignon (2004) and a sculpture and cover art for a Lady GaGa album (2013). 

Despite his success in the art world, Koons has his critics.  In an article comparing the contemporary art scene with show business, renowned critic Robert Hughes wrote that Koons is “an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him.”