American artist. Born 1955.
Jeff Koon’s father ran a furniture store in Pennsylvania, where Jeff exhibited his pastel sketches. He later worked as a commodities trader on Wall Street. His meteoric rise as an artist began in New York’s East Village in the 1980s. Kitschy images of himself and his then wife Ilona („La Cicciolina“) Staller – a porn star, parodied America’s celebrity cult and rampant consumerism. Jeff’s works include soft toys which he mimics in porcelain and metal, paintings that require 40 assistants to produce and extravagances like the gigantic stage billboard for the Rolling Stones’ 2001 world tour.
JEFF KOONS: I’m constantly surprised how much vehicle technology I get for my money. I know the kind of effort that has gone into cars, as I also produce complex objects that devour enormous sums of money. For the cost of developing one of my sculptures, I could buy two or three cars. But when I see the sheer engineering virtuosity under the hood of my X5, it takes my breath away.
RH: That’s why you park your X5 right next to your desk?
JK: Oh, there’s a few yards between them. But I do drive right into my studio here on 29th Street.
RH: You’re known for your “ready-mades” – everyday objects which you transform into art. Do you ever use car parts?
JK: A lot of my ideas arise from doodles. Like this one her – I’m trying to blend a chair and a car door into a sculpture. The car component is a kind of Pop art citation in the tradition of John Chamberlain and Robert Rauschenberg.
RH: As a celebrity artist you’ve traveled the world. Are there any dream routes you still want to drive along?
JK: Long journeys tend to interrupt my work. I feel comfortable with my routine – driving to the studio in the morning in my jeans and sneakers and returning to my family in the evening, every day. At the moment my life is like a dream. I’m grateful for that, because it wasn’t always that way. When my former wife, Ilona, went off to Italy with our son Ludwig, I wasn’t able to see him an more. That triggered incredible fears in me and had a deep effect on my work.
RH: Is that the time you created the giant dog sculpture “Puppy”?
JK: Yes. That sculpture demonstrates the equanimity with which one can endure one’s fate, as I endured the separation from my son Ludwig. “Puppy” consists of plants arranged in the shape of a dog. Afterwards, the twigs and leaves began sprouting wildly in all directions, breaking out of my design concept. But it’s similar in life, isn’t it? Sometimes you reach a point where you’re no longer in control and have to let things take their course.