• Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice (Orange)

    • "When I view the world, I don't think of my own work. I think of my hope that, through art, people can get a sense of the type of invisible fabric that holds us all together, that holds the world together." —Jeff KoonsTowering at over nine feet, Jeff Koons’ Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice (Orange) transfixes our gaze and baffles the mind with its intense burnt-orange hue and mirror-polished reflective surface. A seemingly bewildering yet elegant lone totem, the work holds centuries of art-historical discourse and subtly evocates the female form. Yet, it is not that actual form of a woman but an archetype - much stylized and inspired through the artist’s ongoing exploration of human and art history through the ages.

      As part of the artist’s Antiquity series, Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice is the epitome of what art historian Norman Rosenthal described as “ … a series... in which slices of visual creativity stretching back through sands of years are overlaid and combined to achieve a striking sense of human history and human present.”The first work produced in this series was the Balloon Venus, in 2008, which was based on a miniature limestone figurine called the Venus of Willendorf. Estimated to have originated between 28,000 and 25,000 BCE, the Willendorf Venus presents a voluptuous female figure relating to ancient symbols of life and fertility. 


      Stylized female figure in bone, cm. 8.7 cm. From Dolni Vestonice. (Photo By DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / De Agostini via Getty Images)


      Balloon Venus Dolni was created by Koons several years later, in 2013. This work is one of five unique versions of differing colors based on vastly different interpretations of the venereal subject and the human cycle of life. Indeed, Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice was influenced by two separate and seemingly quite distinct objects. The first is a miniature figurine excavated in Moravia (present-day Czech Republic), belonging to the Upper Paleolithic era circa 50,000-10,000 BCE, and known as a Stylized female figure in bone. This highly abstract, rod-like figurine with appendages alluding to breasts, is as overtly sexual as it is abstract. The second is a 15th-century miniature titled Allegory of Transience or Vanitas, generally attributed to either German gothic sculptor Michel Erhart or Jörg Syrlin the Elder. This 15th-century Vanitas is a grouping of three figures that symbolize the three stages of the human’s life cycle. From the child-like androgynous figure to the elderly matron, the sculptor delineates the transience of time and beauty through the phases of a woman’s life as denoted most visibly by her breasts.


      Allegory of Transience, so-called "Vanitas Group", by Michel Erhart or Jörg Syrlin, circa 1470-1480, painted limewood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.


      Koons used elements from these inspirations and amalgamated them to create an awe-inspiring monument in stainless steel. He subtly and astutely echoes the cycles of life in Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice. Upon closer inspection, the balloon forms allude to youth, beauty, nature, and the biological narrative.. In Balloon Venus Dolni Vestonice, we can decidedly see the artist’s profound reflection on centuries of artistic expression."…There’s an aspect of art that, in communication with aesthetics, plays very much with the biological. And the biological is a very important medium that artists use in all forms of art… There is something like a continuum between an artist like myself making reference to Picasso… and the things Picasso connected to, you also feed to the whole lineage to the Paleolithic." —Jeff Koons

      Birth of Venus (Detail of Venus), 1485–1486, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florencez, Photo credit SCALA / Art Resource

      Though of relatively monumental proportions, Koons executed his Balloon Venus Dolni with exquisite care and attention to detail. Much like his earlier “balloon” sculptures executed as part of his Celebration series, Jeff Koons places a strong emphasis on the credibility of the objects he creates: "I believe in art morally. When I make an artwork, I try to use my craft as a way, hopefully, to give the viewer a sense of trust. I never want anybody to look at a painting, or to look at a sculpture, and to lose trust in it somewhere."ii Indeed, each puckering of knots in the “balloon’s” edges are carefully rendered in stainless steel, one can almost feel the imaginary air exude gentle pressure from within. For a split second, the viewer can feel a sense of worry that should the knot unravel, the work might deflate and vanish before their very eyes.  It is a feat of artistic prowess to achieve such delicacy and allusion of the ethereal in an otherwise heavily corporeal medium.

      Its grand scale, coupled with the mirror-like flawless surface, reflects and envelopes its environment and viewers. This overwhelming sensation grants Balloon Venus Dolni that allusive quality of an art historical masterpiece - “Like the great monuments of past civilizations, from Abu Simbel to Mount Rushmore, they ask questions concerning our potential for survival. How might their high-gloss shine and painterly perfection be regarded one hundred or even three thousand years from now?”iii


      i Jeff Koons New Paintings and Sculpture, exh. cat, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2013, p. 6.
      ii H. Werner Holzwarth (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 390.
      iii Ibid. p. 16.

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Mike Kelley


Sherrie Levine