Q. & A. | Jeff Koons on His New Champagne-Filled Balloon Sculpture and the DNA of Art History
This fall, an incredibly rare, highly valuable object created by Jeff Koons will become available for purchase. Two, actually. It’s up to you to decide whether to spend tens of millions on “Balloon Dog (Orange),” the massive sculpture being sold by the collector Peter Brant in November at a Christie’s auction (where it is expected to fetch between $35 million and $55 million), or the somewhat more reasonable figure of $20,000 on “Balloon Venus for Dom Pérignon,” the artist’s limited-edition Champagne-filled collectible made for the luxury brand. T spoke with Koons about the project and his forthcoming 2014 career retrospective at the Whitney, which will be the museum’s final exhibition in the iconic Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue.
How did the collaboration come about?
I very rarely do anything with brands. I worked with BMW to do an art car, and the reason I did that was because of the artists who had participated before, so I would have a dialogue with their work. With Dom Pérignon, other artists had been involved in their program. I wanted to participate in that dialogue. Also, they stand for quality — the same kind of quality that I like to attribute to my work.
How did you go about interpreting Dom Pérignon as a physical object? They asked me if I would make something to contain the bottle, but with a special serving ritual. So I thought that I’d like to place it inside the Venus. It represents, for me, the continuum of life energy. I think of Titian’s “Bacchanal” paintings with the satyrs and the nymphs. All of the celebrations and the ritual of celebrating life energy.
What has led you to be so interested in this Venus figure? It’s been recurring in your work for a couple of years now. It plays with scale. And its ability to be both masculine and feminine. It’s a feminine object, but its density, and maybe the patina of it, has a masculine quality. … I have been interested in narrative. If we look at human history, the only narrative of human history that we have is our genes and our DNA. Every other narrative is developed by political motivations. So the true human history is our genes and DNA. There’s an aspect of consciousness — consciousness is making connections. The way art works is connections. The more connections something makes, the more it imitates life itself. So if I am making a reference to Manet and Manet is referencing Velazquez and Velazquez is making a reference to Ariadne, the whole way back through this type of linkage is really like a replication of the way genes and DNA connect. I like to believe you can manipulate and form your own genes. These connections and ties that we make, the sense of family and the warmth that we take from that, I don’t think it goes without effect biologically.
What chromosome have you contributed to the DNA of art history? It’s more an aspect of affecting consciousness in a way, rather than any specific physical traits. I am really very interested in the exercising of freedom. The freedom of an artist to absolutely experience enlightenment and total consciousness. Absolute freedom. That is the desire. How close we allow ourselves to participate in freedom, that’s another matter. …
Last spring you presented exhibitions at two competing galleries simultaneously. Was that a statement of freedom or of power? Pretty good that you picked up on that. I have always had the freedom to show with any gallery that I’ve wanted to. We hear about these galleries, and they’ve become so big and so global in their identities, so everybody starts to focus on the galleries instead of the art. I wanted to do a show that felt very much on a street level, that a young artist could interact with. Before galleries were so global, artists used to have relationships with different gallerists. You would have somebody represent you in London and you would have somebody represent you in Berlin. Another friend in Spain and another one in Chicago. When galleries became global, these types of friendships disappeared. Because the galleries have a competing commercial interest. So, you might as well show at multiple galleries in your hometown. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.
You are about to have the last exhibition at the Whitney Museum’s original home on Madison Avenue. Obviously, that is quite momentous, but there are two sides to it. One is that it feels significantly overdue for you to have a solo exhibition at a New York museum. But it also feels like a remarkable tribute that you are having the final exhibition at that space. At first I was kind of mixed. When I was invited to be the closing show, I was like, “Do I really want to be the last show, or do I want to be the first show at the new museum?” Then I realized all of the incredible exhibitions that I had experienced at the Whitney and how it had changed my life. And the Breuer building is an incredible building, and I was absolutely thrilled they were able to make the whole building available for the exhibition. So I’m absolutely thrilled. It could not be in a more meaningful space.
By Ken Miller, NY Times
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