Jeff Koons, American (1955 - )

Jeff Koons

Jeffrey "Jeff" Koons (born January 21, 1955) is an American artist known for his reproductions of banal objects—such as Balloon animals produced in stainless steel with mirror finish surfaces. He lives and works in New York City and his hometown York, Pennsylvania.

Koons' work has sold for substantial sums of money including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. The largest sum known to be paid for a work by Koons is Balloon flower (Magenta) which was sold for £12,921,250 (US$25,765,204) at Christie's London on June 30, 2008 (Lot 00012) in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale.

Critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising. Koons has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques.

Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania. His father Henry Koons was a furniture dealer and interior decorator; his mother Gloria, a housewife and seamstress. As a child he went door to door after school selling gift-wrapping paper and candy to earn pocket-money. As a teenager he revered Salvador Dalí, to the extent that he visited him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Koons studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art. While a visiting student at the Art Institute, Koons met the artist Ed Paschke, who became a major influence and for whom he worked as a studio assistant in the late 1970s. After college, he worked at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art and as a Wall Street commodities broker while establishing himself as an artist.

While a student at the Maryland College of Art, Koons conceived a daughter, Shannon Rodgers. Though he offered to marry the girl's mother, she felt that they were too young for the commitment, and the couple reluctantly put the child up for adoption. Shannon Rodgers reconnected with Koons in 1995.

In 1991, he married Hungarian-born naturalized-Italian pornography star Cicciolina (Ilona Staller) who for five years (1987–1992) pursued an alternate career as a member of the Italian parliament. In 1992, they had a son, Ludwig. The marriage ended soon afterward. They agreed to joint custody of the child, but Staller absconded from New York to Rome with the child, where mother and son remain. A long custody battle ensued with the award of sole custody to Koons by the U.S. court in 1998, which had also dissolved the marriage. However, he ended up losing custody when the case went to Italy's Supreme Court.

Koons is now married to Justine Wheeler, an artist and former employee who began working for Koons' studio in 1995.

Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era. He gained recognition in the 1980s and subsequently set up a factory-like studio in a SoHo loft on the corner of Houston Street and Broadway in New York. It was staffed with over 30 assistants, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work—in a similar mode as Andy Warhol's Factory (notable because all of his work is produced using a method known as Art fabrication). Today, he has a 1,500 m2 (16,000 sq ft) factory in Chelsea with 90 regular assistants. Koons developed a color-by-numbers system, so that each of his assistants could execute his canvases and sculptures as if they had been done "by a single hand".

Since a 1980 window installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Koons' work has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. In 1986, he appeared in a group show with Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, and Meyer Vaisman at Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 1997, the Galerie Jerome de Noirmont organised his first solo show in Europe. His Made in Heaven series was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1990.

His museum solo shows include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1988), Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1993), Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2000), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2001), the Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli (2003), and a retrospective survey at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2004), which traveled to the Helsinki City Art Museum (2005). In 2008, the Celebration series was shown at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Considered as his first retrospective in France, the 2008 exhibition of 17 Koons sculptures at the Chateau de Versailles also marked the first ambitious display of a contemporary American artist organized by the chateau. The New York Times reported that “several dozen people demonstrated outside the palace gates” in a protest arranged by a little-known, right-wing group dedicated to French artistic purity. It was also criticised that ninety percent of the $2.8 million in financing for the exhibition came from private patrons, mainly François Pinault.
The May 31 – September 21, 2008 Koons retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which was widely publicized in the press, broke the museum's attendance record with 86,584 visitors. The exhibition included numerous works from the MCA collection, along with recent paintings and sculptures by the artist. The retrospective exhibition reflects the MCA's commitment to Koons's work as it presented the artist's first American survey in 1988.[67] For the final exhibition in its Marcel Breuer building, the Whitney Museum is planning to present a Koons retrospective in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.[68]
In July 2009, Koons had his first major solo show in London, at the Serpentine Gallery. Entitled Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, the exhibit included cast aluminum models of children’s pool toys and "dense, realist paintings of Popeye holding his can of spinach or smoking his pipe, a red lobster looming over his head."

In May 2012, Koons had his first major solo show in Switzerland, at the Beyeler Museum in Basel, entitled Jeff Koons. Shown are works from three series: The New,Banality and Celebration as well as the flowered sculpture Split-Rocker.
Also in 2012, Jeff Koons. The Painter at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt focussed primarily on the artist’s development as a painter, while in the show Jeff Koons. The Sculptor at the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, the sculptures by Jeff Koons entered enter into dialogues with the historical building and a sculpture collection spanning five millennia. Together, both shows form the largest showing of Koons’s work to date.

Many of Koons's works have been sold at auctions and privately. His auction records have primarily been achieved by his sculptures (especially those from his Celebration series), whereas his paintings are less popular. In 2001, one of his three Michael Jackson and Bubbles porcelain sculptures sold for $5.6 million. On November 14, 2007, Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold) from the collection of Adam Lindemann, one of five in different colors, sold at Sotheby's New York for $23.6 million becoming, at the time, the most expensive piece by a living artist ever auctioned.[50] It was bought by the Gagosian Gallery in New York, which the previous day had purchased another Koons sculpture, "Diamond (Blue)", for $11.8 million from Christie's London.[73] Gagosian appears to have bought both Celebration series works on behalf of Ukrainian steel oligarch Victor Pinchuk.[74] In July 2008, his 11-foot (3.3 meter) Balloon Flower (Magenta) (1995–2000) from the collection of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky also sold at Christie's London for an auction record of $25.7 million. In total, Koons was the top-selling artist at auction with €81.3 million ($117.2 million) of sales in the year to June 2008.

During the late 2000s recession, however, art prices plummeted and auction sales of high-value works by Koons dropped 50 percent in 2009.[75] A violet Hanging Heart sold for $11 million in a private sale.[76] However prices for the artist's earlier Luxury and Degradation series appear to be holding up. The Economist reported that Thomas H. Lee, a private-equity investor, sold Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train (1986) in a package deal brokered by Giraud Pissarro Segalot for more than $15 million.

Koons has been represented by dealers such as Mary Boone (1979–1980), Sonnabend Gallery (since 1986), Max Hetzler in Berlin and Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris. The exclusive right to the primary sale of the “Celebration” series is held by Gagosian Gallery, his dominant dealer. The artist is widely collected in America and Europe, where some collectors acquire his work in depth. Eli Broad has 24 pieces, and Dakis Joannou owns some 38 works from all stages of the artist’s career.


1976 Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, B.F.A.

1975-76 School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

1972-75 Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland


2012 Honoree at the Annual Spring Benefit, Friends of the High Line, New York, New York

2011 Lotus Award of Distinction, The Lotus Club, New York, New York

Recognized with the Icon of Artistic Excellence Award from The Black Alumni of Pratt at the
Celebration of the Creative Spirit Benefit Dinner

Voice of Art Award, FEGS, New York, New York

Artist Icon Award in the Arts, The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut

2010 Koons was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy

Unveiling of RxArt Jeff Koons CT Scanner installation at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital

2009 Received the award in the best "Exhibition Outside the United States" category for Jeff Koons
Versailles, Rob Pruitt's First Annual Arts Awards at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum,
New York, New York, October 29, 2009

The John Singleton Copley Award, The American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust,
New York, New York

National Arts Club Medal of Honor

Maryland Institute College of Art Alumni Medal of Honor

Governor's Awards for the Arts Distinguished Arts Award, York, Pennsylvania

2008 Honorary Doctorate, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Wollaston Award, Royal Academy of Arts, London, U.K

2007 The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, along with The International Centre for
Missing & Exploited Children, have developed the Koons Family International Law and
Policy Institute; for the purpose of combating global issues of child abduction and exploitation

Promoted by President Jacques Chirac from Chevalier to Officier of the French Legion of
Honor for his ongoing strengthening of relations between France and the United States

Artist of the Year, American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art & Architecture

2006 Artistic Achievement Award, Americans For The Arts, Washington, D.C.

2005 Creative Patronage Award, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Elected to the American Academy for Arts and Sciences

Honored by the Edwin Gould Services for Children and Families

2003 Museum of Fine Arts School Medal Award, Boston, Massachusetts

2002 Appointed to the Board of Directors, International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children

Inducted to the Signet Society for Arts and Letters at Harvard University

Received a Doctorate of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa, from The Corcoran, Washington D.C.

Global Vision Award, Second Annual Hope Awards, National Center for Missing & Exploited
Children, Arlington, Virginia

Awarded the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, Skowhegan School of Arts

2001 Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, nominated by President Jacques Chirac and presented by
Jean-Jacques Aillagon, President of Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

2000 BZ Cultural Award from the City of Berlin, Germany

1999 Art Start for Children Award, Learning Through Art/The Guggenheim Museum Children’s


2012 Artist Talk at Metzler Saal - Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany [June 20]

Artist Talk at Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland [June 14]

"Zabar Visiting Artist Series: Jeff Koons with Katy Siegel & Joachim Pissarro, Hunter,
New York [May 15]

Fondation Beyeler Artist Talk, Basel, Switzerland [May 13]

Artist Talk at The Hewitt School, New York, New York [April 17]

Artist Talk at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland [February 24]

Artist Talk at Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria [January 10]

2011 "Abu Dhabi Art Conversations", Abu Dhabi [November 16]

Artist Talk at São Paulo Biennale, Sao Paulo, Brasil [September 27]

"Uncommon Threads Panel Discussion", Montclair State University - Montclair Museum of Art
Talks series, Montclair, New Jersey [February 23]

"modernARTization: Art and Philanthropy Changing Societies," 4th Davos
Philanthropic Roundtable, Morosani Schweizerhof Hotel, Davos, Switzerland [January 27]

2010 "Envelope Conversations Series (Faciality)," Princeton University School of Architecture,
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey [April 28]

"Conversations with Contemporary Artists: Jeff Koons High Museum of Art," Atlanta, Georgia
[October 5]

"Artists in Dialogue - Abu Dhabi Art Fair," Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates [November 5]

"The Marathon Marathon project," Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece [October 31]

"Art 21 Salon Series," Core Club, New York, New York [April 12]

"Jeff Koons and Brian Grazer in Conversation," LA Art House, Los Angeles, California

"Envelope Conversation Series," Princeton University School of Architecture, Princeton,
New Jersey

2009 "Jeff Koons Talk," Serpentine Gallery, London

"Jeff Koons and Glenn O’Brien," The Strand, New York

"Artist Talk: Jeff Koons," The Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow

"Artist Talk: Jeff Koons," The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Series, Abu Dhabi

"The Nasher Salon Lecture Series," Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

2008 "Jeff Koons on the Roof," Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Art Conversation with Alison M. Gingeras," University of Visual Arts, Venice, Italy

Interview by Carol Vogel, New York Times Arts & Leisure Week Series, Times Building, New York, New York.

"Jeff Koons – Culture Bites," Bloomberg Arts Club, New York, New York

"Jeff Koons," Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

"Jeff Koons in conversation with Katy Siegel," 92nd Street with Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, New York, New York

2007 “Artist as Collector: Jeff Koons in Conversation with Jeffrey Deitch," CORE Club in connection with Americans for the Arts, New York, New York [December 13]

“Director’s Series Conversations with Michael Govan: Jeff Koons,” LACMA, Los Angeles, California [February 7]

“Conversations with Contemporary Artists,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York [March 9]

Graduate School of Painting, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

2006 “Jeff Koons Talks,” University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA [April 7]

“Doug Aitken’s Broken Screen Happening," New York, New York

“Good, Better, Best," Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

“Jeff Koons Talks," University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

2005 “Artist Talk/ Jeff Koons and Scott Rothkopf,” Kub Arena at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York [November 18]

"International Association of Art Critics Symposium on Art," Democracy and Public Space, Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa

Helsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland

"Jeff Koons Lecture: In Honour of the Fingerman Memorial Lecture Series," Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa

2004 "Art Basel Conversations," Art Basel Miami, Miami, Florida

Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine

2002 Talk with Peter Jennings at Cooper Union Great Hall, New York, New York

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Basel Art Fair, Basel, Switzerland

Pasadena Art Center, Pasadena, California

2001 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Director’s Circle, San Francisco, California

Friends of the Israel Museum, New York, New York

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Pillow Talk with the Rubells, Miami, Florida

2000 Royal Academy of Arts, London, England

Public Art Fund, Cooper Union, New York, New York

Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain

School of Visual Arts, New York, New York, New York

1999 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

1998 The Museum of Modern Art, Junior Council, New York

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain

Sculpture Department, Graduate School, Columbia University, New York, New York

1997 Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

1996 Guggenheim Museum, International Council, New York, New York

Deste Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece

1995 Cocoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Columbia University, School of the Arts, New York, New York

Parsons School of Design, New York, New York

New School For Social Research, New York, New York

1994 School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

The American Academy in Rome, Metropolitan Club, New York, New York

1993 School of Visual Arts, New York, New York

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

1992 Hochschule Fur Angewandte Kunst in Wien, Vienna, Austria

Musee D’Art Contemporain, Lausanne, Switzerland

1991 New York University, Institute of Fine Arts, New York, New York

The Royal Academy of Arts, London, England

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

1990 DIA Center for the Arts, New York, New York

Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Pharmakon, Tokyo, Japan

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

1989 CAA Conference, San Francisco, California

Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York

1988 Chicago International Art Exposition, Chicago, Illinois

Society for Contemporary Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois

1987 The Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

1986 Fundacio Caixa De Pensions, Barcelona, Spain

1985 The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, New York

1983 Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

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