Jeff Koons is one of the world’s most successful and controversial artists. He was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955. His mother was a seamstress while his father owned a furniture shop and worked as an interior designer and decorator. When he was just eight years old, Koons began to draw copies of Old Master paintings, that he signed Jeffrey Koons and sold in his father’s shop.
In high school, Koons became fascinated with the work of Salvador Dali. He actually called Dali when he heard that the artist was staying at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Koons was put through and was invited to attend a gallery show with Dali…an offer he gladly accepted.
After finishing high school, Koons attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for a year. He then transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study with Surrealist artist, Jim Nutt. After a year in Chicago, Koons returned to Maryland, and graduated from the Institute with a BFA in 1976.
Career and Personal Life
Koons moved to New York in 1977 to pursue his art career. His first job was working at the membership desk at the Museum on Modern Art (MoMA). He showed up for work sporting a Dali-like mustache, dyed red hair, polka dot shirts, colorful vests and bow ties. During his time at the membership desk, Koons allegedly doubled memberships to the museum.
Koons became involved in the East Village art scene, with counter-culture artists which inspired him to create his first balloon sculptures.
In 1980, he left his job at MoMA and became a licensed broker, selling stocks and mutual funds at the First Investors Corporation and then for Smith-Barney. His work as a broker financed his early art work. In 1980, Koons garnered attention with an exhibit of his work at the New Museum on 14th Street in Lower Manhattan. He placed vacuum cleaners in plexiglass cases, lit by fluorescent lights from below, and placed them in the gallery as if in a showroom.
In 1990, Koons made a series of sculptures and photographs, called Made in Heaven, that portrayed Koons and Italian porn star, Ilona Staller, in sexually explicit poses. The criticism of the work was brutal, but the saying bad publicity is better than no publicity applied to Koons. He had a short marriage with Staller, who won a custody battle for their son, with whom she returned to Italy.
His Celebration series of balloon sculptures, begun in 1994, has become Koons most recognized work. The reflective surface of the work makes the viewer a part of the work.
In 2019, Koons’ Rabbit sculpture sold for $91.1 million, making it the most expensive work sold by a living artist at auction.
Jeff Koons is married to artist Justine Wheeler. The couple has six children. Koons and Wheeler live and work in New York. His works are included in major museums throughout the world, including MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, Bilboa, Spain, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Tate, the Fondazione Prada in Milan, Italy and the Foundation Daniel Templon in Paris, France.