Who is Jeff Koons, from 2 October the protagonist of a major exhibition in Florence
The life, works and curiosities of the most famous living American artist
We know about his enormous sculptures that look like inflatable balloons - including the famous dog that was sold at auction for a staggering sum - his ex-wife's name, the controversies linked to his career and the legal ones over the custody of his son... In short, Jeff Koons is known even to those who love gossip more than contemporary art. But this explosive mix of life and art makes him a figure who has been at the top of the market for years, and who continues to be talked about like a Hollywood star.
But who really is Jeff Koons and what are the works for which he will go down in art history?
Let's find out together on the eve of his exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi.
Jeffrey Koons, known as Jeff Koons was born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania. He studied art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. In 1976 he moved to New York, where he still lives and works today.
To understand his work, it is necessary to dig into his childhood . He was born into an upper middle class family, his parents were interior designers. As a child, he was drawn to the concepts of elegance and luxury, he loved to please others and interpret people's desires. An ephemeral world, devoted to consumerism, the same world he criticises in his artistic research but which has made him what he is today: it is the artist himself who dictates the rules of the game and this includes being ironic about the very people who celebrate and buy his art. Basically the same as him.
6 interesting facts and anecdotes from his life:
1. before becoming a listed artist, Jeff Koons worked as a stockbroker on Wall Street and for MoMa, where he was in charge of finding donors. He was distinguished by his savoir faire combined with eccentric clothing.
2. his career is divided into macro-cycles, including Inflatables (1970s) with inflatable flowers placed on mirrored panels; Equilibrium (1980s) with basketballs suspended in balance inside glass cases; Made in Heaven (1990s) in which he depicts sexual performances with his then wife, Ilona Staller. Celebration is a series developed in the 1990s depicting inflatable toys and typical birthday party objects (they are among his most famous works); the Popeye series from the early 2000s depicting everyday objects placed on pedestals and decontextualised; the Snapchat Art project of 2017, in collaboration with the social media company, which involves creating virtual works of art in different parts of the world, visible only through the smartphone; with Antiquity and Gazing Ball he celebrates great ancient Greek and Roman art, but also the Italian Renaissance
3. he was married to Ilona Staller, the porn star Cicciolina, with whom he created the series Made in Heaven, presented at the 1990 Venice Biennale. The photographic works depicted the two of them during sexual performances, causing quite a stir among viewers. He also had a son with Cicciolina, for whom he took legal action for custody;
4. Jeff Koons holds the record as the world's highest paid living artist and has achieved this record twice. The first time was in 2013 with his work Balloon Dog, which sold for 58 million dollars, beating Gerhard Richter, and the second time was in 2019 with his Rabbit, which fetched 91 million dollars at Christie's auction;
5. Jeff Koons' career has not always been stellar, in 2017 he went through a period of deep crisis and even significantly reduced the number of employees in his studio. In 2019, just when he had decided to retire, he again broke the record for the highest paid living artist in the world;
6. many critics describe Jeff Koons as more of a communicator and brand manager than an artist, but what is certain is that Koons has disrupted and redefined the contemporary art market, becoming one of the most influential POP artists since Andy Warhol. Described by Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker as "the most original, controversial, and expensive American artist of the last three and a half decades," Jeff Koons reigns as a master marketer with a "formidable aesthetic intelligence".
Where to see Jeff Koons' work in Italy
- At the Fondazione Prada in Milan, you can see the work Tulips.
- In Venice, at Palazzo Grassi, you can see Balloon Dog from the François Pinault Collection.
- In Naples, at the Madre Museum, you can see the work Untitled of 2005 from the Collection.
- Finally, from 2 October 2021 to 30 January 2022 Palazzo Strozzi hosts Shine, the Jeff Koons exhibition in Florence, at Palazzo Strozzi. Developed in close dialogue with the artist, the exhibition Jeff Koons. Shine will feature loans from major collections and museums around the world, offering an original interpretation of Jeff Koons' art in the form of the concept of "shine" as an ambiguous interplay between splendour and glow, being and appearing.