Jeff Koons is a renowned American contemporary artist best known for his transformations of everyday objects such as puppies and inflatable plastic toys to vacuum cleaners and delicate trinkets, turning them into fantastical, larger than life masterpieces, including, most iconically, balloon animals in vibrant, garish colours, produced in stainless steel with mirror-finish surfaces.
Born in York, Pennsylvania, on January 21, 1955, the celebrated artist is something of a living legend. After finishing high school he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art. During his time in Maryland, a school trip to the Whitney Museum in New York to see a Jim Nutt exhibition would prove a major turning point as he was so infatuated with the Chicago artist’s work that he up and left Maryland, leaving to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the very establishment that would afford him an honorary doctorate some 30 years later.
Swiftly making a beeline for New York in 1977, Koons took a job at MoMA in an administrative role. His presence was always noticed due to his brightly coloured and outlandish attire and hair, sometimes he would adorn himself with an inflatable plastic flower and large brash bow-ties - the first signs of his now infamous sculptures. In 1980, he jumped ship and got a job working on Wall Street, selling mutual funds and stocks at First Investors Corporation. This job was a strategic move however as it allowed the young artist fund his creations which would eventually appear in his first solo show, The New series (1980–83) in which he had vacuum cleaners and shampoo polishers displayed in clear Plexigas vitrines.
In the years since his first solo show in 1980 his work has been shown at all the world’s major museums and galleries, in cities around the world, from Berlin to Sydney, New York to Los Angeles, London and Paris, Oslo, Venice, Zurich, Shanghai and beyond. His most recognisable pieces are of course his larger-than-life balloon animals but beyond his Neo-kitsch materialisations is his artistic love of a variety of other art forms including human sculptures and paintings, all born of his eclectic portrayal of his misunderstood vision.
Astute and media-savvy, the self-proclaimed crowd-pleaser is not one to shy away from applause or acclaim. In 2014, the self-assured and extrovert artist posed naked in his gym for a major Vanity Fair profile, shot by Annie Leibovitz, which was published to welcome one of the most crucial points in his career, a retrospective of his entire body of work shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. This is one of many solo exhibitions the artist has enjoyed internationally. Not only is his work enjoyed by millions, the world over, he has influenced many other artists over the past few decades, most notably perhaps, Damien Hirst, another of the 21st century’s most prolific contemporaries. Of his hero’s work, Hirst has said “The first time I saw his work, in the late 1980s, it just blew me away”.
Commanding a team of over 100 in his New York City studio, in the Chelsea neighbourhood, Jeff Koons continues to test the boundaries between high-brow art and the pull of mass culture, not to mention the potential as an artist found in the mass market following he has cultivated. In his long standing career to date, he has created something very unique: the combining of the art world and celebrity, his status as both artist and celebrity firmly rooted in our innate interest in both his art and him as a person. Koons has noted that there are no hidden meanings in his art and he leaves the world deeply divided, some think his work is innovative and holds a major place in art-history, while others feel it is vacuous, tacky and full of self-importance, some even referring to him as the “king of kitsch”. However despite the critical divide, Koons continues to have the last laugh - as do those who invest in his work; he is the most lucrative living artist, his famous Rabbit fetched the highest price ever for a piece by a living artist in May 2019, selling for $91 million. The epitome of Neo-Pop, investing in a Jeff Koons is definitely worth the hype whether you’re after high art or something more culturally popular.