Jeff Koons is a world renowned contemporary artist widely known for his iconic large-scale sculptures and monumental floral works, as we see in the Guggenheim Bilbao’s Puppy (1992). From conception to production Koons draws heavily from his own emotional experiences as a child, as an artist, and as a purveyor of popular culture. The following texts and images examine a few of the biographical, cultural, and art historical influences present in his work.
Discover the archetypes that rule Koons’s world!
Bicycle Wheel and New Hoover Deluxe Rug Shampooer
Since the beginning of his career, Koons has been deeply influenced by Marcel Duchamp, an artist involved in the early-twentieth-century Dada movement that critiqued artistic and social convention. In Koons´s words, “to me the major artistic dialogue of the twentieth century was between subjective and objective art. Subjective art is about the self and personal experience, when you’re working physically with your own hands. Objective art is like the art of Duchamp or [Andy] Warhol that’s more about communal experience.”
In the spirit of Duchamp’s “objective” art and readymades, which combine preexisting objects to present them as works of art such as Bicycle Wheel (1913), Koons presents his New Hoover Deluxe Rug Shampooer (1979) from The New series. In this piece the artist removes the household appliance from its ordinary environment and refashions it as a study of line, form and mass displayed against a backdrop of fluorescent lights. He uses new common objects with artistic purposes.
Macy´s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Rabbit
As part of his Statuary series, Koons, inspired by his earlier work Inflatable Flower and Bunny (Tall White, Pink Bunny), creates his now iconic stainless steel sculpture entitled Rabbit (1986).
In 2007, Koons created a large-scale helium-filled balloon of his original Rabbit sculpture, measuring approximately 16 meters in height, for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Thanksgiving is a North American holiday rooted in the tradition of expressing gratitude for the fall harvest, which traces back to the Colonial era. Every year on this day at the end of November, Macy’s department store sponsors a widely attended and televised parade that marches down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Along with this New York parade, his own childhood memories, including participating in Colonial Day Parades in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, served as inspiration; in this case fusing tradition and contemporary art in pursuit of social celebration.
The Birth of Venus and ARTPOP
The Birth of Venus (1483–85) was painted by Sandro Botticelli, a master of the Italian Renaissance. The painting shows the figure of Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, love and desire, rising from the ocean. Beauty and ideal proportions are presented in the human figures that resemble classic sculptures in Koons’s series such as Antiquity, which he started in 2008, and Gazing Ball.
In addition to sculptures Koons has designed the album cover for pop star Lady Gaga´s newest album ARTPOP (2013). In the background of the cover image, Koons includes fragments of Botticelli´s The Birth of Venus, and the placement of the opened seashell gives the illusion of an alabaster Lady Gaga emerging from the sea, as if a goddess herself.
Koons photographed Lady Gaga in the theme of his Gazing Ball series (mostly on view in Gallery 105), in which the same blue metallic orb, originally inspired by lawn ornaments from the artist´s native Pennsylvania, appears against pristine plaster sculptures. By producing a monumental sculpture of the contemporary pop star, Koons´s work once again connects to past and present icons.
Double Elvis and Hulk Elvis I
Elvis Presley, known as the “King of Rock and Roll,” was an American music icon and actor, who remains the best-selling musical solo artist in history. In the 1960s, pop artist Andy Warhol produced full-size, silkscreen prints of Elvis in his famous pose, as we see in his Double Elvis (1963); a work produced after Elvis’s Flaming Star film from 1960.
In Koons´s painting Hulk Elvis I (2007), the artist portrays the cartoon character Hulk, which was originally introduced to the public by Marvel comic books in 1962. By referencing Warhol´s famous series in the title of this painting and placing Hulk in the same position as Elvis, Koons evokes the idea of celebrity in popular culture. An ordinary man turns into a hero. In his words, “the Hulk Elvis series tries to deal with the visceral but also to connect people using references to art history. Art history has a way of connecting people with humanity, with the depths of our own history. It gives us a sense of our past, but also our future.”
The Arnolfini Portrait and Moon
Jan van Eyck was a painter who worked in Bruges, Belgium, during the first half of the fifteenth century, and he often produced commissioned portraits of society figures. In his famous The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Van Eyck depicts the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. Hanging in the background is a convex mirror in which two observers of the scene appear, one of whom is thought to be the artist himself.
Koon’s sculpture Moon (1995-2000), from his Celebration series, creates the same fishbowl perspective as we see in Van Eyck’s mirror, but the figure reflected in Koon’s image is the viewer rather than the artist. Interaction occurs between the art, the space, and the viewer in Moon’s reflective surface, which, like Tulips (1995–2004) from the Guggenheim Bilbao’s collection located on the first floor terrace, has inspired innumerable visitor reflections.
A specific video has been exclusively produced on occasion of this exhibition. This video offers a glimpse into Puppy, Koons´s massive topiary sculpture of a West Highland terrier located in the front of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao since its inauguration in 1997. Acquired for the museum collection, the flowering figure was quickly embraced by the city of Bilbao. With its seasonally shifting flower arrangements and inviting pose, Puppy has become an icon of Bilbao´s cultural landscape.