Popeye: ♪ I’m Popeye the sailor man. I’m Popeye the sailor man. I am what I am and that’s all what I am. I’m Popeye the sailor man. ♪ Koons: Popeye’s very similar to these medieval sculptures. You have a sense of transcendence taking place here. With Popeye its transcendence of male energy. He eats that spinach and he transcends into this strength. That’s the art, the spinach is art. Art can change your life and expand your parameters. It can give this vastness to life. Interviewer: He’s the first ordinary superhero. Koons: You know, ‘I am what I am’. That’s one of the things that my art tries to communicate to people that you’re perfect. In life we have to first learn to accept ourselves. Then we can have this transcendence into the acceptance of others. Rosenthal: There’s something of the evangelist and Billy Graham in him. There’s nobody like him in the world now. He’s invented a language. That’s the most fantastic achievement any artist can aspire to. Willian Feaver: He’s very bright and clued up. In a way the brightness and the ‘cluedup – ness’ are what I most dislike about his work. These medieval pieces were really embedded with spiritual powers. I look at something like this as being embedded with the power of Led Zepplin. I learned how to feel in this world through situations like that. A band like Zepplin. You know… how to feel. Woman: I would buy that in a heartbeat if I could afford it. I feel alive. It’s just fantastic. You can see by my smile how much I love it. Woman 2: I think he’s a great marketing guy Wainright: I think a lot of feminists have a hard time with his work. Sex and death really describes Koons, frankly. If it gets everybody cranky that’s a good thing. Byrne: There were five girls on stage. Man 1: It just reminds me of kids holidaying on the beach. The fact its inflated but probably made of metal that’s the real mystery. I want to touch it but I’m allowed to. If he painted that I’ll be really impressed. But I don’t think he did. Man 2: It’s a good opportunity for us young artists to find inspiration. Man 3: I quite like this one. Woman: What does it make you feel like?
What does it remind you of? Man 2: Childhood and cartoons I watched on TV when young. Hirst: I couldn’t believe that art was that simple. And to be that effective. I just wanted to make a Jeff Koons. Boone: He was always telling me, ‘Mary you always have to talk about things being new.’ People didn’t talk like that. Even Andy didn’t talk like that. There are so many ways in which Jeff was so advanced to what ended up happening. (Indistinct chatter) Interviewer: Jeff Koons first major retrospective is now traveling Europe, but it started here in New York. It’s the first time the Whitney has given over the whole museum to a single artist. It’s rare for an artist to be so honored, yet so controversial. Koons: I’m enjoying every moment of this. I’m enjoying it because I really believe in art. It’s taught me how to become a better human being. I’m 59 but really feel that it’s about the future. I believe that I have at least another three decades to create art and I’m so grateful to the Whitney for the opportunity to do it up to this moment. So thank you very much. (Applause) Picasso is such a fantastic example of, late in life, making a body of work . ♪ Music ♪ I really want to exercise the freedom I have as an artist to make things that I want to and to get as close to enlightenment as possible Interviewer: Jeff Koons sometimes talks like a new age guru. He’s often dismissed as cynical and superficial; the bankers darling. But there’s something unsettling in the work that makes it far more interesting than that. Koons has eight children himself. Six with his second wife, Justine, who was a sculptor at his studio. His own childhood reverberates through his work. ♪ Guitar music ♪ Koons: When I was 8 years old, I’d go door to door selling gift wrapping paper and chocolates. I never knew who was going to open that door. I didn’t know what odours were going to come out of the home; if they were cooking and what those odours may be. If they invited me into the home I didn’t know what the furnishings were going to be; if they’re were going to have plastic on everything. But that form of acceptance and meeting needs; of me trying to meet the needs of the person who answered the door and of them trying to meet my needs – This form of communication is something that I’ve been very involved with my whole life. Interviewer: You’ve brought your two worlds together haven’t you? Koons: It’s really full circle for me.This is the latest book. The ‘gazing ball’ is very important to me; this aspect of reflectivity. When I was growing up people in Pennsylvania would put these gazing balls in the yard. For me it’s really about feeling. So this is about this utilitarian object, the mailbox. It’s irrelevant today, it’s email today. Even the bucket which is holding up the mailbox at one time maybe had paint (?) in it, it had a function. All these things are making reference to our own mortality and how everything turns to dust. Interviewer: I hear that your gazing balls really intrigued the Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel. Eric’s a neuro-scientist and studies the mind and the brain and he loves art. So what we spoke about was Professor Reigl at the end of the 19th century. He developed this phrase the ‘beholders share’ and He was the first to really speak about art being finished inside the viewer. ♪ Guitar music ♪ Kandel: Alois Reigl was the first art historian to say, Art history is going to die unless it becomes more scientific. The science it should relate itself to is psychology and the problem it should focus on is the beholder. How you the viewer respond to a work of art. During the Renaissance, people bought art because they were interested in what was being depicted. That all changed when Velazquez did ‘Les Meninas.’ Probably one of most important paintings in western art. He stands there he says, ‘I am the reason you buy this because I am the genius who creates the art.’ Schiele carried this further. In his paintings you see all these unbelievable postures. In a two-year period he did 100 self-portraits. The only reason the art is interesting is because ‘It’s about me; I can express everything’. Interviewer: Schiele used to look in the mirror all the time and see himself. Kandel: Absolutely right. What does Jeff Koons do? He creates a mirror. So when you look at the work of art you see yourself in it. This is the first time a systematic attempt is made to incorporate the beholder into the work of art. You actually visualize yourself. I’ve never seen that before and I’ve looked at art for much of my life. Koons: Everything is dependent on you. When you move the abstraction happens. If you’re not here it’s not happening. Everything’s happening inside you. This is just some form of transponder. Cartoon Character: Concentrate, concentrate! I will now bare the naked truth of your baby days. Koons: The only thing you really have in life are your interests. When you focus on your interests and really dwell on that it takes you to a connecting place where time really kind of bends and you can be in contact with the ancients.You can also get your foot into the future. Interviewer: The first works in the show, from 1978, are very simple, almost childlike. Koons: This is my first rabbit. I had to go drink some beer. It was such an intense experience. Interviewer: You were painting flowers as a young child weren’t you? Koons: I started taking art lessons at the age of seven. Yes, I would draw vases of flowers and with pastel and charcoal. My father is an interior decorator and had a furniture store so I was brought up with things displaying themselves. A light would just display itself; an ashtray it would just be there. Interviewer: This is where his father’s furniture store was. And there’s his father filming it. Deitch: His father, Henry Koons, was the leading interior decorator in York. Jeff had a lot of insight into how the people who aspired to be wealthy decorated their homes; how middle-class people decorate their homes. He saw the aesthetic connected with more modest people. He took that all in. Interviewer: Jeff Koons vast New York studio down by the river in Chelsea is a step on from his father store. It employs over a hundred people who work according to his very precise instructions. My father taught me aesthetics And he taught me feelings. If you put two different colors together; if you put gold and turquoise together you’re going to have a different feeling than if you put red and black together. My dad really showed me how you create a vision and a type of control and commitment that’s necessary. Growing up in in York wasn’t too vast a lifestyle. There was enough time to absorb things. My grandfather used to have carriages. Being in our local parade, we would have horses pull the carriages and would be dressed in colonial outfits. These memories of of things affect your feeling. Foster: I know nothing about his childhood per se. I know what he says about it and I’m almost exactly the same age so we experienced the same American culture through television and what it was like to be a kid in the late 50s and early 60s. I think what is extraordinary about Koons is his complete celebration of that experience. He talks about cereal boxes and what it was like to be taken by the almost pop images on those boxes. Every morning, to be excited to come down to the kitchen and dive into a bowl of cereal. He sexualizes the experience, but he says often that he wants to recreate that delight in things. He puts into play desire, even as a child. At least his memories of his childhood. But that desire is always a consumerist one. That’s the best desire. It’s almost beyond sexual. Products give you what you really want. He wants to embody that Post-War american being made by consumer culture. Koons: My grandfather used to have an ashtray. It was in his television room beside his chair; a woman lying down on her back on a couch. If you touched it her legs would swing back and forth. She also had a fan here in her one breast. As a child I would go and play with this piece all the time. I was so amazed. It brought so much awe and wonder to me. Interviewer: It’s kitsch. It’s sexist and it’s like a ‘ready made’; something already existing in the world that becomes a work of art. You can see where Jeff Koons was heading. Mary Boone, his first dealer remembers, what Koons was like in his early days in New York? Boone: Jeff is no different than when I met him when he was 22 years old in 1978. I came into his studio. It was about the size of this little space we’re in. I got the feeling that he lived there. He had bought plastic mirrors at the five-and-dime store, and he had lined the walls, floors and ceiling with these plexiglas mirrors tiled together and then velcroed onto this these inflatable toys. I’d never seen anything like it. Jeff had his own voice from very early on. Koons: During the time of making this work I’m at the museum of Modern Art . absorbing the collection; looking at the architecture design Department, watching films on Duchamp. I’m really getting involved with concepts of the ready.. Rosenthal: It’s the eye of the artist who makes the art, and then gives it to others. But why is the urinal on the pedestal a work of art? Why does it suddenly become this amazingly, sexually pregnant object? It’s because suddenly you see the functional form become something else. It appeals to the imagination and that’s the beauty of it. We can laugh about gnomes in the garden or whatever, but if put in the right situation they become something else. Koons: When I started off as a young artist at a certain point Marcel Duchamp was everything to me. And I thought everything was based on Marcel. I always have loved the idea of the Avant-Garde from the time of Corbett, the father of the Avant-Garde, and people like Dali and Duchamp, Picasso, Picabia It was the belief that we’re going somewhere together; a social movement together. And so I started to work with ready-made objects. I would walk down the street, and if something moved me I would respond to that. I would acquire inflatable flowers or vacuum cleaners Boone: When I showed him I basically sold two pieces; one for $700 and one for $1,200 in the course of two years. I think the first piece I sold was a rug shampooer with a neon light. It buzzed. The only other piece I sold in two years was to Charles Saatchi, the double-decker vacuum cleaner. Interviewer: Koons was now embarking on a major new project which was to make his name, ‘The New’. But vacuum cleaners were expensive Deitch: Jeff needed to make as much money as possible, as fast as possible. So he used his communications abilities to sell commodities on Wall Street. So by day he was raising funds and by night he was making his work. That’s right. He got his vacuum cleaners. Jeff understands seduction. Sales is inherent to making a work of art. Why would somebody want to look at an object, eventually buy and possess it? What kind of inherent seduction is there? He’s read Kierkegaard’s ‘Diary of a Seducer’ and that’s his Mantra. “Caution my beautiful unknown! Caution! Interviewer: These are objects of desire, desirable objects. You call it, ‘The New’ but you’re actually being quite literal. They are very very new aren’t they? Koons: They’re brand new. These are they’re kind of eternal virgins. For us to have integrity we have to participate in life and for an object it has its greatest integrity when it’s born. It’s Brand-new. It can display its integrity forever. It doesn’t have to participate. This is almost like an egyptian tomb. The rug shampooers are like sarcophagus. Deitch: Think of a toddler crawling on the floor, his suburban house, while his mother is vacuuming. And there is this monstrous machine connected to his mother that has this explosive sound, the sucking. It’s identified with things that Jeff loves, the clean, the new but it is also an extension of his mother. The vacuum cleaner becomes this symbol for the human life. Koons: On the side of the vacuum cleaner is a wet/dry. That’s like Kierkegaard’s ‘either or’. So your interest in language, and what you call things, it’s clearly important to you. Koons: If I look here we have ‘The New’, ‘New Too’. ‘Too’ has the double ‘o’. ‘Koons’ has a double ‘o’ in the center. Over here we have ‘Rooomy’. Again you had the o’s like Koons. The multiple o’s. I wanted people to look at a vacuum cleaner and think of my work. The BBC has been following Jeff Koons since he was new. BBC Reporter: Accusing him of hype is like rebuking a fish for being wet. Koons: No. When I was a child I did some modelling. BBC Reporter: With plasticine? Koons: That’s correct. Interviewer: This is the first encounter with the art critic William Feaver. Feaver depicted Koons as the latest disaster in Saatchi’s patronage of New York art. Feaver: The show includes works by Jeff Koons. Here he is polishing his plexiglas. He’s a former commodity broker who evidently took to art for its ‘value-added’ attractions. Jeff Koons let’s talk advertising. You’ve got a product here. What are you selling? Koons: This piece I’m standing by? I displayed vacuum cleaners so that the viewer would have a gestalt of being a mortal and confronting an object that’s in a position of being immortal. Interviewer: Is there something about these particular vacuum cleaners as opposed to any other model? Koons: Well, I like Hoover. I always like the idea the door-to-door salesman. It’s a very open, warm object. And I always liked the idea of the vacuum of art, the emptiness of art. Feaver: His trajectory since then has gone with the money, management and product placement. And the product burnishing. It’s so calculated, so pre-pitched so almost pre-sold, pre placed that It’s so calculated, so pre pitched so almost pre-sold, pre placed that it lacks all the give and the breath of fresh art. Interviewer: But the Saatchi show made a huge impression on Young British artists. Hirst: When I was an art student I went to the Saatchi Gallery and saw, ‘New York Art Now’. That completely blew me away. My tutors at Goldsmiths they didn’t like it. They said it wasn’t good art. Interviewer: Do you see a dark side to his work? Hirst: I see a dark side to it. Yeah. I think all art is about fear of death. It has to be. There’s no way out of that. Even if you offer immortality or hope. I see a lot of hope in Jeff’s work, but I can also see a lot of death, too. Then it makes me think about my own death, absolutely. Interviewer: Koons now suspended basketballs in equilibrium, balanced in the center of tanks of water. It’s a thing of wonder Koons: It’s like the embryo in the world. This is a pre birth and after death. A state where all pressures are equal. I wanted permanent equilibrium, but it’s only temporary. Under the best conditions this could only last for about six months, and then you have to reinstall it. He surrounded the basketball tank with adverts. The sport stars tempt you to follow them like the sirens of classical myth. Who lured sailors to the rocks? The tools for the equilibrium are the snorkel, the lifeboat or the aqualung. This would take you under but it would drown you because it’s made out of Bronze. Somehow. if you could get this off your back and resurface you’d see the lifeboat and hope that was your salvation, but it would take you right back down. ♪ Music ♪ Artists are presenting themselves like the sirens; they’ve achieved something, are and playing like stars. But it’s really about going for it. The ads lure you to your death, the life-saving devices drag you down. These are themes which have become a life’s work for Jeff Koons. Teacher: What are these things? Woman: What are these things? Child: They’re basketballs. It’s filled in there. Is it almost like water? Teacher: You’re an unbelievable detective. The artist who made this piece is standing right in this room today. Woman: You’re an unbelievable detective. The artist who made this piece is standing right in this room today. So we can ask him how he created this. Do you remember what his name is? This is Jeff Koons. Teacher: Let’s ask him. Go ahead ask him your questions. Let’s ask him. Go ahead ask him your questions. Koons: I’m sorry? Well, no because everything must go by the laws of Physics. to go to the top of the tank, but too light NOT to go to the bottom. The water at the bottom of the tank is heavy. What’s taking place is the water at the bottom of the tank is heavy. It’s heavy water. It weighs 1.3 and the water at the top is regular distilled water, it weighs 1. So that difference, those balls are sitting on top of that heavy water. I can remember around the age of 4 after making a drawing, my parents coming up behind me and saying that’s really great. That’s fantastic. All of a sudden I had this feeling that I could do something. I had a sense of myself, and I finally could do something better than my sister. So I found my place in the family and I think that’s why I’m here today. because all the information is going to be in play for the rest of your life. Teacher: Thank you so much. Woman: Thank you so much. Outside of my kindergarten classroom there was a little wooden shed. It was a painted green. And you would ask them for art supplies, and they would give you popsicle sticks or paper and some crayons. I spent a lot of time at this shed. I could draw a vase of flowers, make ellipses just correct and shading, but I have to say in my younger years until I really came into contact with what art could be and the power of art, art was something that basically probably created anxiety. Interviewer: He was waiting for praise, fearful of failure. This is Jeff just before he went off to art school. Koons: I always felt like an outsider to the art world. Art was this privileged vocabulary. My first day of art school I knew Picasso, but I didn’t know Matisse’s work. I didn’t know Brock. I didn’t know Cezanne. In life, in so many areas, people don’t survive moments where they’re dis-empowered. In life in so many areas people don’t survive moments where they’re dis-empowered. I remember when I was nine years old I wanted to play football. When I went to try out for the team everybody already knew how to play. I could have experienced that same thing at art school. I survived that moment, but most people don’t. Interviewer: When he was 18 he tracked down his hero, the surrealist, Salvador Dali. Koons: My mother had read that Dali spent half his year at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. He told me he would be in the lobby at 12 o’clock on Saturday and exactly at 12 o’clock he appeared. He told me he would be in the lobby at 12 o’clock on Saturday and exactly at 12 o’clock he appeared. He posed for some photographs. I was just this kid from Pennsylvania, and he took the time and the generosity to be there. Interviewer: At his first art school, he started painting from his dreams on an inward journey. Interviewer: But his first art school, he started painting from his dreams on an inward journey. Koons then signed on at the Art Institute in Chicago He was drawn here by a group of artists called the Chicago Imagists. and fell under the spell of one in particular Ed Paschke. Paschke was relatively unknown, but was Jeff koons inspiration and his mentor. Sharon Paschke: They formed a rapport, back and forth friendship. The experience is maybe what Jeff was looking for. And meeting my dad, getting to know the person and what he’s about and how he interacts with the world around him… My dad probably had some inkling there that there’s a little something different with this guy. And he was right on the money in that one. (Laughs) I remember a couple times where we went to see a Saturday Night Fever. ♪ Saturday Night Fever Theme ♪ Come on. You gotta see this movie. We love this movie. ♪ You can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk. ♪ Music loud, women walk. I’ve been kicked around since i was born ♪ Sharon: Jeff is a regular person, really nice guy and interested in everybody. So when he got into this fame it blew my mind. I thought, what? This is just Jeff. I couldn’t figure it out. What’s going on here? Interviewer: Ed Paschke revealed a whole new world to Jeff. Lisa Wainwright: Pop on acid that’s what I think Chicago was. Very hepped up, very hepped up color Warhol and Lichtenstein – way too straight. Jim not Paschke. Out of control. Hepped up. Warhol and Lichtenstein – way too straight. Jim not Paschke. Out of control. Pepped up. Pop on acid. Koons: I used to be Ed’s assistant. But after work he would take me and he would show me where he gets his source material. But after work he would take me and he would show me where he gets his source of material. ♪ Music ♪ He used to take Koons to midget bars to wrestling matches to strip clubs, Tattoo parlours; that was the underbelly that the images dug that Koons Tattoo parlours that was the underbelly that the images dug that Koons was certainly drawn to like moths to a flame? There’s a form of visual slumming and that is something that Koons surely got invested in. He’s doing a lot of visual slumming turned high art. Koons: Ed taught me that everything’s here. In the universe everything’s already here. You just have to look for it. Wainwright: Paschke was very interested in sexy magazines, pin-up girls. The eroticism in Koons certainly would have been kindled while he was in Chicago. Koons: I remember laying in bed one night when I was in Chicago and hearing Patti Smith come on the radio. They played her horses album. It was fantastic. I thought this is where I’d really like to be. I’d like to be in New York. I got up and I hitchhiked the next day to the city. ♪ Horses, horses ♪ My first night here I had dinner with David Byrne. I’ve really stayed on since then. ♪ …..like Boney Moroney ♪ Interviewer: He found himself living next door to David Byrne of the newly formed Talking Heads. He talked on video to his new friend about his background in Pennsylvania. Interviewer: He was distancing himself from the world he’d grown up in. But he would always return to it in his art once his career in New York took off. The local toy shop is still there. Maybe it was this train that took root in his imagination. Koons made his train in steel in 1986. It’s a replica of a marketing curio made by a whiskey distiller and fueled by alcohol. Jeff had his train filled with alcohol, too. It was part of a series he called luxury and degradation. This is what he said about it at the time. Koons: It’s a very seductive object and even though it’s made in a proletarian material like stainless steel I feel like I’m being uplifted. I feel that it’s talking to me about wealth and social mobility. The train is a symbol of mobility. It opened up the West. It’s opened up continents and it makes me feel that I can achieve my desires for luxury and enlightenment. And that’s seven fifths of bourbon there. I could drink a fifth of bourbon, and I’m sure that I would feel the physical intoxication the same way I’m perceiving the visual intoxication. ♪ Train sounds and whistle ♪ Donna De Salvo: When you see them in stainless steel they’re harsh. They become something else. Over the years that follow things become larger than life. To the point where there’s almost a level of of absurdity and fear. Interviewer: It was as if Koons saw Duchamps’s ready-mades everywhere. And the surrealism that he loved. But another huge influence was the seductive power of advertising. It brings to mind another American artist. De Salvo: If Warhol ever had a son it would have been Jeff Koons. If you look at the time period of which Jeff emerges It shows a sophisticated understanding of media and advertising. Warhol’s the forerunner to that. But where Warhol was a working-class, immigrant kid whose parents were from Czechoslovakia? Koons is a next generation. He’s more of a middle class guy. Hal Foster: And the most obvious thing he picks up from Warhol is this posture of liking everything. Woman: You like everybody? Warhol: Yeah, I really do. Woman: Marilyn, Garbo? Warhol: I just like everybody. Foster: Like Warhol Koons says that he wants to relieve us of our alienation. So that’s a whole posture, not just the found image or object that Koons picks up from from Warhol. But an openness to the world. How sincere that is? That’s another question. Interviewer: One of Koons’ mantras is that after art school he moved from making subjective to objective art. Taking himself out of the picture. He was invested in the subjective. He claims to have moved to the objective but I don’t believe him. Those objects harken back to inner feelings and emotions that he’s making large. Interviewer: Now Koons moved way out into the realms of the fantastic. These bizarre baroque pieces he calls banality. They’re made by craftsmen all over the world. They combine a weird and disturbing assortment of images copied from cartoons, churches and gift shops. So what was he up to? Koons: For me this was a little bit like a Garden of Eden. I was trying to communicate to people that everything about them is perfect. I remember seeing the Masaccio painting, ‘Expulsion” in Florence and Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden; killed in shame. I wanted to help remove that guilt and shame. Interviewer: So you felt these works had a social purpose? Koons: We’re coming out of minimalism, conceptualism, and if you tell artists I want to make work that manipulates or seduces to try to communicate, people say, ‘What? You don’t manipulate! You don’t seduce!’ But if you don’t you’re going to become disempowered and not be able to help people in life. Interviewer: Why did you call the collection of work, ‘Banality’? It was a provocation to call it, ‘Banality’. Wasn’t it? Koons: It’s about the things that you experience. This was Michael Jackson, bubbles. This was my Pieta. It’s using renaissance form. This triangular form the Christ-like figure to let people know it’s okay to embrace oneself, to have acceptance of the self. Interviewer: But then again, why call it ‘Banality’ if it’s meant to be so reassuring? Is it a joke? Kenny Schachter: Why Michael and his monkey rendered in gold? It was just absolutely perplexing in a certain respect. It was beguiling, it’s seductive. There was something very attractive but also unknowable. Interviewer: Unknowable sounds rather good. Schachter: Yeah, even to this day. You always want to see what has he done now. whether you like it or not. Wainwright: Decapitated woman with her massive breasts in the tub, beautifully coloured. Problematic for some of us feminists. Very problematic. Cheeky, so cheeky. And that’s sort of his point. How far can he go? And then it’s corny, and then it is pop and it is surreal. There’s a whole host of decapitated women in the surrealist canon.It makes me nuts. This is another surrealist strategy. Make sure the breasts are evident, but cut off their heads. The Pink Panther embracing this beautiful naked blonde. The culling from comic book cultural, culling from Disney. Highly sexualized and absurd. Foster: There’s a fabulous piece, ‘Naked’ it shows two little kids. They almost seem weirdly twinned. They gaze into a flower and it seems to be a scene of innocence, but what do they see in that flower? There’s always a moment in which that innocence darkens somehow or it’s shot through with its opposite. And that’s actually what makes him a real interest. For every song of innocence, there’s a song of experience, cut right into his work. That goes against his rhetoric but it’s there in the work. So the work is actually better than the rhetoric I think. Michael Craig-Martin: When he’s dealing with that kind banal bourgeois taste that’s exactly the taste of the world that he grew up. That’s the world he came from. It doesn’t make sense to think of Jeff as just making a critique about kitsch. He is in a sense, but there’s also a love of it. The two things need to be married in order to turn it into something that’s significant in art. Foster: “Bear and Policeman”, when you first see it you think it’s just a big Curio, a big souvenir, no, souvenir blown up but he makes it so weird. The Bobby is made boyish. The Bear is made paternal. There’s a sexual exchange there. And there’s also an allegory about Big Papa Bear American Culture and not so big, English popular culture. It’s not literal. It’s not Direct. It’s weird and and subtle, and that’s where where Koons is good. Interviewer: Some of the pieces though made more sexual and sinister are so close to their originals that they have, perhaps not surprisingly, prompted copyright cases. Koons had to pay off the photographer of puppies other cases are still ongoing to this day Koons: The American artist doesn’t feel as though they need permission. They’re like this young little kid that will just grab and do anything at once. Because it’s really kind of seeking a spiritual salvation. It doesn’t feel like it has to perform in a good manner, and that’s the strength. That’s the heroicness of American art in the 20th Century. Woman: Isn’t it about monstrous confidence? Interviewer: ‘Monstrous confidence’ is one way to put it. Jeff Koons next move was to put himself centre stage. He spared no one’s blushes. Made in Heaven is as provocative now as it ever was His co-star was the Italian porn star and politician, Ilona Staller known as Cicciolina. Koons: I just had a tremendous success with the banality show and I felt a little bit like what it’s like to be an art star. I felt that you really don’t participate in American culture Unless you’re involved in film or music, so I thought I would make it like I’m going to be in a movie. I’ll call it ‘Made in Heaven’ and I’ll be starring Jeff Koons and Cicciolina. And I thought I’ll hire her. I used her same photographer, sets, costumes, so her situation was really a ready-made. and I just put myself inside there. Interviewer: Literally. The project caused a storm and while they were making it Koons married Cicciolina. Koons: My newest body of work, ‘Made in Heaven’ tries to communicate to people that it’s enough to be clever in life. If you embrace your history you embrace your past. You have a foundation and can be effective in the world. If myself and my wife, Ilona Staller or Cicciolina, if we’ve reached the bourgeois class, anybody can. Wainwright: I’ll never forget. Koons came to give a very big talk. And he showed ALL of the ‘Made in Heaven’ images one after another and you could have heard a pin drop. He would say, ‘Now notice as I penetrate her from behind the small pimple on her right cheek.’ And we were all like, ‘Oh my God!’. He just went on like that, like a scientist describing these unbelievably erotic images. Woman: They’re staged, and they’re not especially erotic to me. These poses are the stock of images that one would find in men’s magazines. Interviewer: When you meet Jeff he’s quite a private person. He’s not an exhibitionist in any sense and yet in his work there is a sort of exhibitionism about it. Woman: The more you look at the work the more it starts to unravel. As you see the facade of sexuality of a certain pose. It’s like one of those hollywood sets. What’s behind it? What’s beyond that? Foster: Today we are asked to be packaged to be presentations. It’s not just that we desire commodities. We are commodities too and he wants us to be more at ease with that status. And you get the sense that he was all along. He encourages us to accept it, but we can’t accept it. If that’s what it is to be human then… oh my God! That’s where I see the dark side of Koons. Man: He paints himself with this pornography specialist whom he married. Interviewer: What do you make of that? Man: It’s not my favorite work of art. (Laughing) Craig-Martin: Some of them are quite straightforwardly pornographic But he’s married to the person he’s having sex with. Are these intimate marriage pictures, pornography, family pictures? Self portraits? Koons: Ilona, what type of life do we lead? Ilona: (Indistinct) Koons: We lead a life of the Rococo. Ilona: Ah we live life Rococo. ♪ Every thing is fine ♪ When the BBC made this film with Koons he and Cicciolina had just had a son, Ludwig. He was flying high. Koons: This is our ticket to enlightenment. Elevators have a very spiritual function in this building. They offer a moment of contemplation. And they can shoot you up to heaven. A hundred floors in 50 purgatorial seconds. ♪ Mozart’s Requiem ♪ But it was pride before a fall, and what a fall. Just after making the film Cicciolina left him and took Ludwig with her. Jeff embarked on a two decades long struggle to produce these vast ten tonne toys. He called them, ‘Celebrations’. ♪ Requiem continues ♪ Koons: I think all art evolves out of some autobiographical aspect. It was a period where I was kind of losing trust in humanity. I felt that everything that was right was kind of made wrong. But I held on through my work and this is kind of a reflection of that. But in a way I guess I don’t want to go too much there. Feaver: Jeff’s ambition for ‘Celebration’ was beyond our capacity to realise it. At one point I had commitments of 11 million dollars into celebration and not a single work realized. Several foundries went bankrupt trying to achieve what Jeff demanded. The financial demands on me, Jeff’s demands on the work and then in the middle of this the custody battle. His son with Cicciolina – the whole thing imploded. Craig-Martin: People would forget that there’s a period in Jeff’s career in the 90s, I think he had one show in New York. In the whole of the 90’s. It seems amazing. He’s not the most fashionable person. He comes back in this very big way with these extraordinary, very large-scale things. He kind of reinvents himself. Hirst: I remember hearing he put thirty five thousand man-hours of polishing into a cracked egg. And then decided didn’t like it and scrapped it. I’d probably try and paint it with a roller and sell it as it was as, an early work, before I went on to make the other ones. He’s completely phenomenon like that. Interviewer: The gamble, the persistence, paid off. ‘Celebrations’ are now probably Koons most popular works.They sell for multi millions. Damien Hirst is a big collector. Many, take pride of place in his office; the elephant on his desk. Hirst: The oldest Bronze sculpture is six thousand years old. When Jeff’s making these things that look like you could pop them with a pin. But they’re actually going to last potentially thousands and thousands of years. Ethreality but solidity at the same time. And I just bought that piece ‘Play-Dough it’s just phenomenal. That’s about possibilities in the future Play Dough is the first sort of material you try to mould into something that comes out of your own mind. Interviewer: If this started 20 years ago? Rothkopf: This piece was conceived in 1994 and finished days before we brought it to the museum in June. Interviewer: Why? It’s a good story. When Jeff began working on it he imagined that he would make it out of polyethylene which is the plastic you see here in, ‘Cat on a Clothesline’. He was unable to get the level of detail that he wanted and eventually Jeff had to change the material to cast aluminum. Which is what you see here. Jeff always talked about wanting to make reflective works that capture the viewer, you, me the world. He was imagining the joy that a child might have or the sense of wonder in a balloon dog or Play-dough. How could you give an adult viewer that feeling? So that we might not be that excited by a little balloon animal, but then this makes people’s eyes widen. Hirst: A great reaction to any art is, ‘Wow!’. And Jeff’s work is full of that. It makes me think about America. All the shit about America and all the great things at the same time. America’s very Jaded, but Jeff’s not. A lot of people think artists have to give answers, but they don’t they raise questions. They raise questions that enable you to find answers as a viewer. But the responsibilities on the viewer really not on the artists. I think Jeff does that time and time again. Relentlessly. Making you feel like a child, making you feel hopeful. I suppose as an artist I should be competitive with Jeff, but when you walk into a Jeff Koons exhibition you forget about all that. You inhabit it like a child. It is unbelievable. Interviewer: From York to New York Jeff Koons conquered the world. Even if he didn’t take all the critics with him. And the wonder, the undertow
and the menace, come from the world of his childhood. Koons: I would go out swimming in the ocean with my dad and sometimes I’d wear a type of styrofoam that helped keep me afloat. And so I think that there’s something about sharing some moment with my father. What I like about these pool toys is their anthropomorphic of what it means to be a human. They’re like us, they’re filled with air and we’re inflatables. We inhale and it’s a symbol of life, and our last breath as a symbol of death. Interviewer: This is Koons with his father who died in 1994 at the lowest point in Jeff’s career. 20 years on Jeff Koons has become the most commercially successful artist alive. Jeff was never interested in making money. He was interested in having money to fabricate his works. It was about creating this notion of what was in his mind. Now they’re like overblown hyper consumer toys, baubles for the rich and famous. When I see that he’s now done hundreds of these shiny things They’re getting bigger. I just think enough. Stop filling up the space. Try to hark back to the day where you just breathed into a little toy of vinyl. Try to do something intimate. We know we’re being reflected. We know what they represent. You’ve done it for 20 years so do something else maybe. ♪ Guitar Music ♪ Interviewer: Some people do say he’s just repeating himself and it’s all just about money. Rosenthal: It’s unbelievably expensive to produce. He has his limited group of collectors who enable him to carry on. I don’t know what one can say about them. But that’s always been the case. Rubens had his kings and Benini had his cardinals. He’s supported by the cardinals and kings of his time. Thank God for that because if it weren’t for those people, we wouldn’t be able to have him in quite the same way. Interviewer: ‘Puppy’, Jeff Koons collusion with nature. Koons: These are live plants and that brings in biology. The animate and the inanimate. Art always wants to become life’s energy, and it always fails, but it always tries to do that. These plants also put you in contact with your own mortality. There’s a funerary aspect to it also. Craig-Martin: I think it’s one of the great works of our time. The scale of the object, the image of the puppy and then to make it out of flowers. You could describe it as having a painted surface. It’s textured, it’s full of different colors, and it changes in the time of day, in the season. It is really very, very extraordinary. An extraordinary thing. Very, very magical. (Applause) The reputation may be fought over, but the works keep coming and growing. After five months of the Pompidou in Paris the retrospective continues at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Koons: Brum, bah bum. BRUUM, bah bah bah bum. That’s the sound of the Hulk.