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  • Provenance

    Donated by the artist
    Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Kids for Kids Art Auction, Benefiting Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, September 19, 2008
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Puzzled, yet undeniably charmed – one of the most common reactions upon viewing the larger-than-life, flirtatious, and sexy sculptures by artist Jeff Koons. Not since masters Duchamp and Warhol has an artist so spectacularly polarized critical opinion and provoked controversy. From his come-hither oil paintings, to his inflatable toys, Koons has emerged as an formidable idol of both playfulness and sex. Bikini (Jungle), 2001-2006, a cheeky silhouette of a string bikini bottom silkscreened on stainless steel, is an extension of the artist’s series Easyfun- Ethereal, which began in the early 2000s with large oil paintings. The paintings are rendered in a layered, collage-like technique that creates dynamic and multifaceted compositions in a crisp and photorealist style. The shape of the present lot is derived from the painting Desert, 2001 in which the silhouettes of swimsuits hover bodiless over a lush and abundant landscape. Bikini (Jungle) offers the sliver of the landscape that is blocked by the painted form, showing the inverse of the painting in three-dimensional form.

    Ever since the late 1980s, Koons has used bikinis and bikini-clad girls as a motif in his work; to publicize “The Banality” opening he designed an art magazine ad in which he posed like a starry-eyed teenage heart-throb in an overgrown garden, flanked by two salacious girls, one in a red string bikini, the other in blue. Here, Koons, like many artists of his generation, resurrects the spirit of 1960s Pop, enthusiastically embracing the commercial aesthetic of the time with popular media and sexualized imagery. From toys to inflatables to household items to luxury goods, Koons has triumphed in communicating his artistic ideas to a global audience through the language of advertising and entertainment. The present lot, however, does not only continue the tradition, but it offers the artist’s own retrospective on his work, by reusing the shapes and forms from his earlier paintings.

    All of the imagery in Easyfun-Ethereal is drawn from a pool of commercial advertising and design products, and when scrambled together within each oil painting, yields kaleidoscopic compositions of Cheerios, canned peas, bikini tops and bottoms, fishnet stockings, glittering nail polish, thongs and body jewelry. This layering of graphic images conveys a radical conflation of the quotidian and the sexual and captures Koons’ ever insistent mission to take his art into the next century. The images are taken from men’s magazines as well as from editorials for women’s designer clothing and make up. The barelythere silhouette of the present lot offers perspective from the conventional male “gaze” associated with the bikini babes in spreads of Sports Illustrated, and magazines like it. The absence of the figure in the present lot allows us to extrapolate and imagine, perhaps even fantasize, about the hips upon which the bikini would sit. While minimal in its form, the sloping strings indicate the hips of a voluptuous form. The truncated bottom of the bikini hints at the forbidden area into which it recedes. “I’m for the return of the objective, and for the artist to regain the responsibility for manipulation and seduction” (Jeff Koons quoted in Anthony d’Offay Gallery, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 33).

    The oil paintings from the series Easyfun-Ethereal deny any traditional rules of foreground and background, blurring and scrambling everything together at the forefront of the picture. The images become surreal as they defy gravity and lack any identifiable boundaries. By removing the bikini from the two dimensional painting and reimagining it as a three-dimensional form, as seen in the present lot, the image transcends its state and enters that of a metaphysical reality. Not only do we have the inverse of the bikini, showing what was once concealed in the painting, we are granted an entirely new landscape.

    The present lot’s inverse relationship to the painting Desert, 2001 reinforces the collage nature of Koons’ work. The minimalist form and crisp outline of the sculpture, as well as the technique of cutting the shape from a larger image, recalls the cutouts of Pop artist Tom Wesselman. He shapes his cut-out three dimensional images to resemble painted gestural brushstrokes; Wesselmann’s Seascape with Cumulus Clouds (3-D), 1991/94 shows a horizontal landscape in ocean blues and greens. The reductiveness and monochromatic palette reveal a similar abstract complexity to Koons’ Bikini (Jungle), 2001-2006. But it is Wesselmann’s famous Great American Nude series that offers a clear view of what lies beneath the bikini on a reclining nude. While the imagery in Koons’ Bikini (Jungle) is far from provocative in comparison to Wesselmann’s exposed views, Koons succeeds in creating an even more titillating sculpture by only hinting at what lies beneath the form. While we cannot see her hips, legs, and navel, the skimpy bikini reveals more than enough of the invisible body.

    The present lot, Bikini (Jungle), 2001-2006, while inspired by the overly voluptuous bodies depicted in contemporary men’s magazines, also suggests something classically feminine. The lush jungle out of which the bikini is formed alludes to forbidden forests and the overflowing abundance of Mother Nature, as we see in images from biblical stories and Greek mythology. The depictions of Eve throughout the history of art conceal her femininity with a branch or a leaf. Venus, in one of her most famous renderings, conceals herself with her long flowing hair. Koons, in his forever whimsical and playful way, offers a new portrait. Instead of the concealing leaf, he has formed a covering rendered from nature herself. A maelstrom of stimulation—nature, fertility, love, and beauty—is celebrated at the forefront of the present lot. By offering the silhouette instead of the solid, Koons allows the viewer his own imaginative experience, one perhaps even more compelling than that of bare flesh.

PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION

Ο37

Bikini (Jungle)

2001-2006
silkscreen on stainless steel with mirror polished edges
56 x 90 x 1 3/4 in. (142.2 x 228.6 x 4.4 cm)
Signed and dated “Jeff Koons ‘01” on the reverse.
This work is one of five unique versions.

Estimate
$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $578,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York