"When I make an artwork, I try to use craft as a way, hopefully, to give the viewer a sense of trust. I never want anyone to look at a painting, or to look at a sculpture, and to lose trust in it somewhere." (J. Koons, in: Easyfun-Ethereal, exh. cat. Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin 2000, pp. 22-24.).
Cracked Egg is one of Koons' Celebration series of paintings and sculptures which the artist began in 1994. Full of nostalgic images of the kind of festivities remembered from childhood, Koons' Celebration series paintings are immaculately crafted works whose painstaking detail and glossy and yet banal imagery attempts to provoke a childlike state of innocence and wonder in the viewer. Underlying the apparent simplicity of these works is the aim of using simple aesthetics along with the sincerity and innocence of childhood memory to undermine the often jaundiced attitudes of an art world audience, which Koons believed had become tired and blasé in the face of the over-sophistication of so much Post-Modernist art.
Executed over a number of years, the Celebration series initially became famous amongst Koons' work because of the inordinate amount of perfection the artist came to demand from his assistants. In the skill of a small army of assistants - at times there were up to seventy people working in Koons' studio - the series became his most costly production to date. Originally intended for an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Soho in 1996, the Celebration series took on a life of its own, growing larger than the Guggenheim could accommodate and did not reach completion until several years later. Indeed, the degree of perfection demanded by Koons meant that the Celebration works were not completed until 1999. During this five year period of production, during which Koons remained absent from the exhibition circuit, many of the works, along with sculptural models and original photographs, were featured in the pages of such magazines as Artforum and Parkett. Such publicity combined with the cancellation of the Guggenheim show and the continuing non-appearance of the series instigated the popular legend that Koons' near impossible fabrication standards and fastidiousness had gone beyond the point of absurdity.
Yet the contrast between the simplicity and banality of his imagery and the clarity and perfection of the means of production is what lies at the heart of much of Koons' work and is essential to the Celebration series. Their super-realist stylisation of the simplest of child-like still-lives reflects a basic dialogue between the sophistication and complexity of adulthood and the innocence and simplicity of childhood (the memories of which all adults share) which Koons hopes to awaken in his viewers. "With Play-Doh and the other Celebration paintings," he has said, "I started with photographs that I shot from little setups, almost like a form of still life, and then from that I made a projection onto the canvas and put the basic proportions there, and whatever else I could still pick up from the photograph. Then the paintings went through this process of being stylized into a kind of super-realism through a kind of paint-by-numbers method. It's not that we were laying numbers down there, but specific shapes, so that there was no blending, so that it was all hard edge against hard edge. But you have to continue to be able to create ways to make breakdowns - to have something to go from light to dark - so that it doesn't become Op Art in style, and so that it works in a kind of super-realistic way... That's my goal. But they still have a colouring-book type quality. They're bright, and they're very Pop. They maintain an innocence about them." (J. Koons, in: ibid., p. 24.)
With his much-publicised divorce from his wife Illona Staller (La Ciccolina) and the ensuing custody battles over his son Ludwig, Koons' choice in the Celebration works to depict objects specifically relating to festivities and holidays, can be seen to poignantly reflect his deep awareness of his own absence from these occasions in Ludwig's life. Indeed, Koons has declared that in painting a slice of birthday cake, a party hat, a mound of Play-Doh or as in this work, a cracked egg shell, he wanted "to communicate with my son (...) to tell him I was thinking about him all the time." (J. Koons, in: Jeff Koons, exh. cat Kunsthaus Bregenz 2001, p. 81.)
While for the wider audience, the Celebration works are intended to work on a personal level, they also exist as a dialogue between the artist and his son. At the same time, the nature of this dialogue remains the same on both personal and public levels. In depicting the world of the child with all the sophistication and technical craftsmanship available to the adult, Koons hopes to appeal to and awaken the child that exists inside all of humanity. It is in this way that, as Koons has pointed out, the Celebration works are highly idealistic and "deal with hope, the future and with respect for humanity". (J. Koons, in: ibid., p. 25.)