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Jeff Koons (American, b.1954)
Birth Place: York (York county, Pennsylvania, United States)
Jeff Koons (January 21, 1955 - ) is an American pop-contemporary artist. His work is a reflection of modern-day America, with wry humor, bright colors, pop art sensibilities, and just a whiff of commerce and advertisement. Born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955, Koons studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago before moving to New York in the seventies to become a stockbroker.
The late eighties and early nineties were a breakout time for Koons as an artist when he burst onto the New York scene with now-iconic pieces of pop art like Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988) and Puppy (1992). By his own admission, Koons is heavily inspired by the Surrealist, Dadaist, and Pop Art movements that defined the second half of the 20th century. In this vein, Koons set up a Warhol-influenced studio in Chelsea which employs 90-120 assistants to produce Koons’ work to his exacting specifications.
His re-imagining of everyday objects became a trademark Koons’ stylistic flourish in the late seventies, starting with Inflatables (1979) which featured a number of kitschy vinyl inflatable objects that Koons found in discount shops all over downtown Manhattan, augmenting them with mirrors to play with space, reflection, and social reality.
Koons continued his sense of play with pop art in the eighties, giving new meaning to the otherwise mundane. His Equilibrium series (1983) featured basketballs suspended in distilled water. Rabbit (1986) represents a seminal moment, a seed, a bridge between Koons’ early work and his later experiments with stainless steel. A callback to Inflatable Flower and Bunny (1979), Koons took the same inflatable bunny from this early piece, coating it with stainless steel for Rabbit (1986). The result is a piece that is both beautiful and loud, familiar and foreign -- undeniably Koons.
Koons prodigious output of pop art continued through the late eighties and nineties with the series Banality (1988), which featured a number of porcelain sculptures that referenced pop icons, from Jaime Mansfield seductively holding the Pink Panther, to Odie and Jon from the comic strip Garfield, to the aforementioned Michael Jackson and Bubbles in full military garb. These pieces raised Koons’ profile while inciting controversy, but undeniably they presented Koons’ as a modern pop-art icon, respected by critics and artists alike.
Koon continues to fuzz the boundaries between high and low in his work today, working with Lady Gaga on the cover art for her album Artpop (2013) and designing an Art Car (2010) for BMW. Above all, the word, “play” seems to be the key to understanding Koons’ work. His pieces are instantly recognizable, bright and shiny, oversized sculptures that exude humor and add a startling significance to the otherwise overlooked. His choice of medium is always deliberate and always unique, from the bright blue stainless steel of Balloon Dog (1994) to the finely detailed porcelain Banality sculptures. The throughline being that a piece by Koons will always inspire, entertain, and delight -- just as pop art should.
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