Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, before moving to New York in 1977. Koons came to prominence in the 1980s with his series Pre-New, The New and Equilibrium. Extending the legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, these works presented everyday items as seductive, surreal impossibilities. His basketballs suspended in tanks of water became icons of this period, anticipating the extraordinary feats of precision engineering that would come to define his practice.
In 1986, Koons produced Rabbit: an inflatable rabbit toy cast in mirror-polished stainless steel. It became one of his most famous sculptures, selling for $91,075,000 at Christie’s in 2019. At the time it not only set a new world record for the artist, but also became the most expensive artwork by a living artist ever sold at auction.
The dynamics of desire would become a central theme in Koons’ practice, played out not only in his choice of subject matter but also in the seemingly perfect facture of his creations. His Luxury and Degradation and Banality series explored these ideas through the lens of consumer culture, engaging with the legacy of Pop Art. Works such as Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train (1986), Pink Panther (1988) and Michael Jackson and "Bubbles" (1988) are emblematic of this approach.
Koons’ work also plays with the iconography of childhood innocence and wonder. His gigantic Puppy (1992), covered in living flowers, is permanently installed at the Guggenheim Bilbao. His colourful Celebration series, meanwhile, reimagines objects associated with calendar milestones such as birthday parties, Easter and Valentine’s Day. These giant reflective creations, seemingly weightless in spite of their vast size, account for some of the artist’s top prices at auction. Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994–2000), Tulips (1995–2004), Balloon Monkey (Orange) (2006–13), Balloon Flower (Magenta) (1995–2000) and Play-Doh (1994–2014) have all achieved strong results at Christie’s.
From his collaborations with BMW and Louis Vuitton to his recent exploration of NFTs, Koons continues to challenge the limits of art. His works reflect our dreams and our downfalls, holding a mirror up to society in the 21st century.
Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor)