Human Flower Project
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Jeff Koons—Buy Flower Me!
With big shiny blooms and cuddly “toys,” a U.S. artist makes serious money by breaking the cute-taboo.
Balloon Flower (Magenta), by Jeff Koons
at the Rachofsky estate, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Brad Loper for Dallas Morning News
Infantilism is certainly a reasonable place to start. But Jeff Koons, who at age 53 might qualify as grown up, has managed to build a whole career on it.
There have been many before him, of course, making art out of generalized regression, temper tantrums, even “go-potty” media. Koons’ approach is a bit different – he’s the world’s most pretentious toymaker.
And he has a thing for flowers. It was his monumental Ballon Flower (Magenta) that caught our attention (big shiny things do that well). The piece has been the plaything of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky, Dallas art collectors, but they’ve decided to sell it at Christie’s London next month. Balloon Flower resembles just that; a huge metal rendering of those kiddie party favors clowns make, minus the squeak of inflated latex.
According to Bloomberg, the sculpture is “expected to fetch about 12 million pounds ($23.8 million).” You can buy a lot of hot wheels with that!
Jeff Koons - Art Magazine-Ads
Photo: Jeff Koons
Babies tend to look and act a lot alike, and Koons’ gurgles echo Andy Warhol (fond of flowers, too). Like Warhol, Koons has made a good living out of seeming to trespass on sacred cultural ground, only there’s quite a bit less of that than there was even in 1965. Rather than studied and serious, his works are bright, goofy and glossy. Rather than turning away (or pretending to) from commercialism and self-promotion, Koons hired an “image consultant” and bought full page ads for himself in art magazines. They’re wonderfully silly, showing the artist in a monogrammed bathrobe, sitting out by a sauna, accompanied by a couple of seals (trained?) who wear floral wreaths around their necks.
Like Warhol, Koons has captivated at least part of the art world (the $23.8 million-paying part) by flouting the conventions of disinterestnessness and intellectual depth.
Big flower Yum!
Puppy, by Jeff Koons
Crassness is about the only thing that hasn’t already been promoted to significance by the art world. Ordinariness has, ugliness has, emptiness has. What’s left to play with?
Sentimental banality! So Koons has made images of kindergarten cutness his signature, breaking one of the last taboos left in the taboo-bereft art world. His Puppy, first created in 1992 for an exhibit in Arolson, Germany, is a giant topiary with 70,000 flowering plants. Koons declared that he intended the piece to symbolize “love, warmth and happiness.” We who have worn black to a hundred sullen art openings get the message. Gooey good cheer is “revolutionary.”
Howard Rachofsky told the Dallas Morning News that selling off Balloon Flower (Magenta) was “the most difficult decision I’ve ever made about a work of art.” Yes indeed. For safety’s sake, better bring angst back into the picture if you expect to raise $23 million. Otherwise that big purple flower might just look like just a toy somebody has outgrown.