Unveiled on the Champs Elysées
On 4 October 2019 a Jeff Koons sculpture, “Bouquet of Tulips”, was unveiled in Paris on the Champs Elysées behind the Petit Palais museum, having been conceived by the artist in 2016 to honour the victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
The painted bronze artwork, resting on a stone plinth, stands 12.6 metres tall and alone weighs 33.7 tonnes. The shape of the hand holding the bouquet is a nod to the hand of the Statue of Liberty made by Bartoldi in 1865, as an offering from the French people to the American people.
The sculpture has been the subject of numerous controversies, firstly in relation to its initial location, which was meant to be between the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Koons expresses himself clearly in this video on the misunderstandings surrounding his gesture and the fact that he didn’t choose the first site himself.
Another of the controversies concerning “Bouquet of Tulips” relates to the manufacturing costs, which were largely covered by American and French donors and apparently came to a total of 3.5 million dollars.
“I was asked to make a work and I was told that donors would contribute to its production. It’s actually a very traditional way of making a public sculpture. Picasso offered the design for one of his sculptures to the city of Chicago and the city paid for its production. For the Statue of Liberty, Americans paid for the base of the sculpture and others paid for its production. I gave my time to this project, three years of my life. I’ve never touched any money, any reimbursement for the production costs involved in the preparation at my studio. I gave 80% of the royalties from the works to the families of the victims of the attacks and 20% to the city for the upkeep of the artwork. I was very surprised by the controversy.”
Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont
Former gallerist Jérôme de Noirmont, together with his wife Emmanuelle, were the real key players behind the operation that has provoked so many reactions. He no longer wants to comment on it.
In her inaugural speech, the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo also referred to the controversies, describing them as a “rite of initiation. Because Paris passionately loves controversy. That’s what we Parisians, we the French people, are like.” She also compared these controversies to the debates caused by the Eiffel Tower when it was first erected, the installation of the Colonnes de Buren (Buren’s Columns) at the Palais Royal, or I.M Pei’s Pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre before declaring: “I didn’t want to turn down Jeff Koons’s gift.”
Jamie D. McCourt
The United States ambassador in France, Jamie D. McCourt, who was present at the inauguration, is herself a contemporary art collector. She emphasizes the Franco-American friendship within a context, the day before the inauguration, of an increase in taxes on French wine and cheese.
It’s clear that for some years now – especially with his widely covered auction record in May 2019 of 91 million dollars – Jeff Koons has, in the eyes of the public, come to embody what is called art business. But he himself hasn’t seen any of that 91 million dollars. Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that he is enjoying professional and financial success, contrary to other star artists like Damien Hirst, for example, his sculptural output is particularly limited, since the pieces require an extensive period of production.
Lastly, it must be highlighted that the “Bouquet of Tulips” is an innovative work. It’s the first time that Koons has created a metal artwork featuring a hyperrealist detail like that of the hand.
David Zwirner , Chris Dercon
Following the inauguration, one of his dealers, David Zwirner, commented: “I like it in Jeff’s work when there’s a little twist that makes you feel a bit uneasy”. See David Zwirner’s comments here in the company of Chris Dercon, the new director of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux in France.
A lot of courage
I believe that it took a lot of courage for the artist who always says he wants to bring beauty to the largest number of people to persevere with a project where the wider public was so aggressive.
I’ve never seen such an avalanche of criticisms and insults, from art specialists as the wider public particularly on social media, as those aimed at Jeff Koons. All the same, he is a great artist. Listen to his explanations of the work’s symbolism. You can see other symbols as well. His commercial success seems to be erasing his critical success. People may want to see his art as simple, but the fact is that it’s not.
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