Jeff Koons - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Donald Young Gallery, Chicago
    Private Collection
    L&M Arts, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Banality, November, 1988 (current example exhibited)
    New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Banality, November, 1988 (another example exhibited)
    Chicago, Donald Young Gallery, Banality, December, 1988
    Newport Harbor, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Objectives: the New Sculpture, April - June, 1990 (another example exhibited)
    Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Metropolis, April - July, 1991 (another example exhibited)
    San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jeff Koons, December 10, 1992 - February 7, 1993, then traveled to Minneapolis, Walker Art Center (July 10 - October 3, 1993) (another example exhibited)
    London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Jeff Koons: A Survey 1981 - 1994, June 11 - July 30, 1994 (another example exhibited)
    Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Family Values: American Art in the Eighties and Nineties: the Scharpff Collection at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, 1996 (another example exhibited)
    Basel, Foundation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, May 13 - October 2, 2012 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    P. Carlsen, “Jeff Koons,” Contemporanea, Vol. I, no. 3, September/October, 1988, p. 40 (source original Popples toy illustrated)
    A. Jones, “Thriller,” Contemporanea, Vol. I, no. 3, September/October, 1988, p. 45 (illustrated)
    “Big Fun: Four Reactions to the new Jeff Koons: Stuart Morgan, Jutta Koether, David Salle and Sherrie Levine,” Artscribe International. March/April, 1989, p. 49 (illustrated)
    K. Kertess, “Bad,” Packett 19, Zurich, 1989, p. 41 (illustrated)
    D. Pinchbeck, “Jeff Koons,” Splash, April 1989, n.p. (illustrated)
    Objectives: the New Sculpture, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Harbor, 1990, p. 84 (illustrated)
    Metropolis, exh. cat., Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 1991, p. 175 (illustrated)
    B. Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, “Who’s Bad? Accounting for Taste,” ArtForum, vol.30, no.3 (November 1991) p. 123 (illustrated)
    R. Rosenblum, Jeff Koons Handbook, New York: Rizzoli, 1992, p. 99 (illustrated)
    A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne: Taschen, 1992, pl. no. 10, p. 108 (illustrated)
    J. Avgikos, “All That Heaven Allows,” Flash Art, September 1993, p. 83 (illustrated)
    Jeff Koons, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1993, p. 70 (illustrated)
    Jeff Koons: A Survey 1981 – 1994, exh. cat., Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London, 1994, n.p. (illustrated)
    Family Values: American Art in the Eighties and Nineties: the Scharpff Collection at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, exh. cat., Hamburg Kunsthalle, Hamburg, 1996, p. 49 (illustrated), pp.50-51 (illustrated)
    E. Smith, Visual Arts in the Twentieth Century, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997, p. 355
    H. Foster, “Violence: Representations of Violence – Return of Shock and Trauma,” Trans, vol, 1-2, issue 3-4, 1997, p. 43 (illustrated)
    “The World’s Top 200 Collectors,” Art News, Vol. 100, no. 7, Summer 2001, p. 146 (illustrated)
    H.W. Holzwarth, Jeff Koons, Cologne: Taschen, 2007, p. 251 (illustrated)
    J. Marter, The Grove Encyclopedia of America Art, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 p. 50 (illustrated)
    Jeff Koons, exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2012, p. 93 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Sexuality is the principal object of art. It’s about the preservation of the species. Procreation is a priority.”

    JEFF KOONS, 2005

    Though the name of Jeff Koons has been synonymous with controversy during the past three decades, his critics have been slow to recognize the inherent honesty in his body of work- a diverse oeuvre ranging from sculpture to photography and painting, molded to both critique and complement the ideologies of a changing world. It would be easy to dismiss much of Koons’s work as mere kitsch, crafted to assuage the public with its oversimplified portrayal of pop culture innocence. Yet this interpretation would fall far short of Koons’s intended effect—one that is as rare for an artist as it is brave: to be perfectly forthcoming in his work and to harbor no illusions of deeply-set metaphor. Koons’s early work first introduced him as the foremost successor to the revolutionary work of Marcel Duchamp, and, as he scaled the peak of his exploration of “ready-mades,” Koons delivered us art as profound as it was commonplace. In the midst of his Banality series, Koons sculpted Popples, 1988, a sculpture ingenious in its disarming nature yet embodying the movement of the world toward an honest representation of reality.

    Koons efforts in the 1980s produced five major series, of which three reflect a linear progression of the artist’s style. The Pre-New and The New utilized found domestic objects, an homage to the work of Duchamp and his thesis that art was conceptual, contained within the intent of the artist rather than in the final product displayed. Following this, his eminently recognizable Statuary series took his work outside the bounds of found objecthood, employing sculpture as a means of both illusion and pleasure. Koons mutated his source material (inflatable toys and balloons) into sculpted objects of permanence, replacing their vinyl skins with sleek steel. With this gesture, Koons gave the art world cause to celebrate, for he succeeded in elevating everyday objects to the realm of the high art.

    Continuing his experimentation in steel, his 1986 series entitled Luxury and Degradation revealed a step in the direction of societal critique. This series, centered on alcohol, combined the elements of seductive advertising with the willing acquiescence of the consumer, with Koons employing both advertisements and liquor-related accoutrements as his source material. Herein, as Koons explores the intersection between consumer desire and advertising savvy, we find the origin of his landmark Banality series, in which Koons references the most primal memories of the consumer rather than their primal urges. In doing so, he brought forth a body of work as emotionally resonant as traditionally revered masterpieces.

    During research for the series Luxury and Degradation, Koons exposed himself to a variety of advertisements , that utilized both word and image in an effort to overcome the rational impulses of consumers: “I would go from one economic area, from Harlem, to the other, Grand Central Station. I got the whole spectrum of advertising. You deal with the lowest economic base to the highest level…the more money came into play, the more abstract. It was like they were using abstraction to debase you, because they always want to debase you.”(Die Bilder Jeff Koons, 1980-2002, exh. cat., Thomas Kellein (ed.), New York, 2003, p. 21)

    Debasing the customer was liquor companies’ key method of tapping into subconscious desires. However, the malicious intent of advertising was not what interested Koons; rather, it was the possibility that the same tactics could be used in a positive light, through empowerment as opposed to debasement. Koons began drawing from pop culture, employing our most ingrained cultural imagery in order to generate a vision of complete integrity. The present lot, as part of the Banality series, is an appeal toward our most innocent impulses - those we cast off long ago in favor of adulthood.

    Here, Koons engenders his Banality series with an atmosphere of social history, representing a part of oneself and a mirror for one’s own identity. This tremendous undertaking in crafting the series expressed itself in a variety of images and surfaces, from the omni-present visual tropes of the 1980s embodied in Michael Jackson and Bubbles to the Pink Panther, to the allegorical Ushering in Banality. The series allowed the viewer to embrace the madness of this shared cultural history, devoid of any personal shame.

    The present lot, Popples, 1988, speaks to the innocent impulses of the viewer’s childhood which Koons has said is innocent, yet open to experience. Koons’s sculpture is that of a children’s toy—a brand made famous in the late 1980s. Its roots in the American Greetings Company, the Popples brand grew out of a compulsive consumer need for early childhood relatability, as many of the cartoons and children’s toys of the ‘80s had adopted the tone of their source material in mass culture, which could be needlessly violent or graphic. The Popples were a return to primary innocence; the adorable plush toys folded in upon themselves, garnering not only favor the eyes of young children, but also an element of humor, “popping” out in their full form without aat a moment’s notice. The Popples were so popular as a toy that they gained their own cartoon, following the adventures of a witless band of ne’er-do-well creatures.

    Koons employed a number of materials in his sculpture during the series, incorporating porcelain and polychromed wood. While some figurines that Koons used as inspiration were carved from wood, his utilization of porcelain is telling in a decade of excess. Drawing from his earlier Statuary series, Koons employs permanent and ,tactile, yet fragile, materials in favor of the plush cotton and polyester that would normally compose the figure. This choice of medium is a visual playground for the viewer, as the cognitive dissonance inherent elicits a fascinating intellectual experience as he contemplates the surface of the sculpture. Koons has said he worked with porcelain to exploit the masses as he was using this aristocratic material of porcelain to empower people. He brought in the spiritual aspect of wood and the sexuality of porcelain.

    The open arms of the figure, spread wide apart as if to signal complete and utter embracement, are representative of the childlike soul of the sculpture. As Koons reminds us with his painstakingly rendered figure, however, the species of the Popple is not as readily definable—it is rather a creature with the express intent to give and receive joy. A stout white body supports what appears to be an amalgamate face, incorporating both humanoid and animal features. A button nose sits atop a short snout and rosy cheeks, punctuated by two wide eyes below a curious blonde mane. At the sides of the head, two floppy ears hang permanently drooped, their flaccid charm alluding to the universally recognizable cuteness of a new puppy.

    The defining feature of the Popple is its tail, which drags on the ground at her feet. Capped with a dichromatic fur ball, the tail would be completely useless in the grand scheme of the animal kingdom, yet it is an object as familiar and trustworthy as any other when appealing to the hearts of children. Atop the end of the tail, Koons has placed a curious addition, yet a frequent motif in his work. A singing bird, sits chirping, as if to enhance the playfulness of an already exuberant scene.

    Perhaps the most enthralling aspect of Koons’s sculpture is the length to which the variegated porcelain surface of the figure matches the cotton fabric of the correlative figure, the tiny pills of fiber bunching up just as in the actual children’s toy. The creamy coat of the animal evokes the soft white fabric of childhood sleep, an expression of both purity and peace—a perfect shade for a creature of such blamelessness. The soft grooves along the torso gives the impression of malleable touch, yet Koons’s porcelain structure will not withstand a child’s playful touch. Similarly, Koons’s attention to detail in creating such a complex surface on the figure’s hair arouses our senses, making us desire a tactile experience by virtue of the unexpected pattern of the porcelain. In evoking our desire to explore his work with our hands, Koons makes even the oldest observer a child.

    Even in the abundant joy of the figure, Koons still manages to imbue shades of sadness. Similar to another work in the Banality series, Buster Keaton, 1988, Koons paints a hint of tragedy behind the eyes of Puffball, a reminder that his work is intended to recall a lost, more primal understanding of his piece. Though the viewer likely carries with him years of acquired taste, Koons has determined to undermine this pretension in favor of a more innocent appreciation: “The artworld uses taste as a form of segregation…I was trying to make a body of work that anybody could enjoy.”(A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 30).

    This effort towards segregation has been a standard within the art world for over a century, since painting evolved from representational to the non-representational and, eventually, the abstract. The many pieces in Koons’s Banality series drive against the point that art should be relegated to the learned and elite. In a way, it is a populist form of high art, one that aims to speak to both the critics and the casual observer on the same plane: “I've tried to make work that any viewer, no matter where they came from, would have to respond to, would have to say that on some level 'Yes, I like it,'…[if] they couldn't do that, it would only be because they had been told they were not supposed to like it. Eventually they will be able to strip all that down and say ‘You know, it's silly, but I like that piece. It's great.'” (Jeff Koons Handbook, ed. S. Coles & R. Violette, London, 1992, p. 112).

    For this reason, the bird atop the tail gains a special significance of its own. The small creature, appearing in several different works by Koons, such as Buster Keaton, becomes a stand-in for both humor and meaning, almost functioning as a connection to a higher power. In Popples, 1988, Koons manages to dispel the notion of elitism, creating a piece that transcends class in its mission to be universally relatable. Though perhaps intellectually low-brow to consider a sculpture of a child’s toy, it is precisely that unintellectual joy from which Koons bestows his gift. Banality was to be a liberating show to people. For Koons, it was paralleling the Garden of Eden. Naked would have been a young Adam and Eve; Michael Jackson and Bubbles was there as a contemporary Christ-like figure; Serpents would have been the serpent from the Garden of Eden; and Popples would be the first creature you could meet upon entering the garden.

    This marvelous interaction with Pop imagery has its roots in the work of a variety of other artists working in similar motifs and mediums. The legendary collaboration of Dutch painters Rubens and Breughel eventually touched upon the fall of man in their mission to create artworks that were as viscerally powerful in their depiction of innocence. The Garden of Eden With the Fall of Man, c. 1615, is similarly effective in its depiction of man’s fallibility. While Koons presents us with a vision of innocence hand-crafted from pop culture imagery of the 1980s, Rubens and Breughel do the same for the Dutch Golden Age: they immortalize the scene of the fall of man through the lens of the greatest icon of the Seventeenth century—the Bible. Around the naïve Adam and Eve, all the creatures of the earth, placid in their innocence, gather to watch the most notorious scene in the history of Mankind. Working four hundred years apart, Koons, Breughel, and Rubens manage to beget the same stylized content with the same evocative mission.

    Yet Koons’s forbears are not limited to the practitioners of the Hague. The Twentieth century saw new innovations in the technology of sculpture, and, while Rubens and Breughel may have mastered the depiction of naïve innocence on canvas, Roy Lichtenstein brought the concept of visual paradox into the third dimension. With its many key features of Lichtenstein’s storied brush, Blonde, 1965 is a bust that functions as a perfect visual reference for the present lot. With a proliferation of Ben-day dots, Lichtenstein’s trademark black line, and cartoonish features, Lichtenstein gives his viewer an intriguing visual experience. While Koons highlights the material differences between his subject matter and his final product in order to evoke a tactile desire in his observer, Lichtenstein’s paradox is an intellectual one: his library of visual motifs—the Ben-day dot, the painter’s line, the chromatic variation—here find their home on a three-dimensional structure, baffling the observer with their unexpected surface.

    With every sculpture in the Banality series, Koons manages to put forth a test for his observer. Through his stunning visuals, he tests the ability of the viewer to observe each piece as a work stripped of art-historical association—a sculpture meant for this time and no other. However, once the observer chooses this path, Koons unleashes a wealth of pop culture imagery and religious reference, a veritable museum of mass media that does not discriminate based on medium. Inundated with this recognizable wealth of imagery, and seduced by Koons’s mesmerizing sculptural manipulations, the viewer temporarily abandons reason, and a sculpture as benign as Popples adopts an air of maliciousness, tapping into the possessive instincts of its observer.

    In this case, circumventing the viewer’s powers of reason is of a piece with the rest of the Banality series. In the piece that bears the eponymous name of the series, Ushering in Banality, 1988, Koons tricks us into thinking that we are only witnessing a scene of absurdity as two cherubs and a little boy, a reference the artist himself, usher in banality, the comedy inherent enough to engage the viewer in a visually comedic discourse. Elsewhere, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988 tempts us to simply gaze at its golden glaze. However, these two pieces, as well as Popples, 1988, also fiercely reference mythology, be it in Michael Jackson’s Byzantine coloring or the Biblically-fraught Ushering in Banality.

    It is in this dichotomous nature that Koons achieves his ultimate triumph. While appealing to the moment of the piece’s creation in its timely subject matter, he manages to cast our minds back into the inevitable burden of human existence, unable to disengage from present pleasures. It is here that Koons’s critics fall into the trap of considering him only superficially for his controversial content. In the present lot, Koons manages to engage all of our disparate parts: mind, body, and spirit.

    Indeed, Koons has always eschewed the praise of the art world in favor of his freedom to work within it as an uninhibited artist, one who chooses not to draw his inspiration from the dictates of academicians or critics. It was with Banality that Koons declared his freedom from the constraints of the ivory tower. In the variegated surfaces of Popples, 1988, he made us keenly aware of this power through his subtle use of popular form and content in order to fully engage the viewer.

    It is for this reason that Popples, 1988 represents such a turning point in Koons’s career, one where he realized his full potential in affecting and eliciting a response from his audience. Popples, 1988 is simultaneously honest in its depiction of innocence, beautifully crafted in its form, and true to Koons’s own standards of arousing the full attention of his viewers and creating a lasting impression upon them. Witnessing the tempting embrace of Popples, 1988, we have no choice but to reciprocate, giving in to a moment that is anything but banal.



29 3/8 x 23 x 12 in. (74.6 x 58.4 x 30.5 cm.)
This work is number 3 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof.

$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $4,645,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM