Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
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Jeff Koons (b. 1955)

Cherubs

Details
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Cherubs
incised with signature, number and date '3/3 91 Jeff Koons J FUX' (on the underside of her left wing)
polychromed wood
overall: 48 x 43½ x 19 in. (121.9 x 110.5 x 48.3 cm.)
Executed in 1991. This work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.
Provenance
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Wolfgang Joop, Berlin
His sale; Christie's, New York, 15 November 2006, lot 80
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Literature
J. Koons and R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, pp. 128-129 and 161 (another example illustrated in color).
A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 159 (another example illustrated in color).
H.Z. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, pp. 305 and 587 (another example illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Lausanne, Galerie Lehmann, Made In Heaven, May-June 1991 (another example exhibited).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Aarhus, Kunstmuseum and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Jeff Koons, January 1992-April 1993, p.64 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-February 1993, p. 132, no. 55, pl. 60 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Jeff Koons Andy Warhol: Flowers, November-December 2002, pp. 5, 29, 36-37 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Art, Artist Rooms: Jeff Koons, March-July 2011 (another example exhibited).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Lot Essay

"I use the Baroque to show the public that we are in the realm of the spiritual, the eternal. The church uses the Baroque to manipulate and seduce, but in return it does give the public a spiritual experience. My work deals in the vocabulary of the Baroque' (J. Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 158).


Jeff Koons' Cherubs were created in 1991 and form a part of his famous, indeed notorious, series of works first exhibited in their entirety that year, Made in Heaven. Looking at Cherubs, the continuation of Koons' investigation of the aesthetics of kitsch are clear to see, and these sculptures, revelling in a deliberately cloying sentimentality which is the artistic equivalent of a sheer sugar rush, recall his previous series, Banality. However, here he has pushed his interest in Baroque craftsmanship to a new level, blending it with subject matter fit for the age of the Counter-Reformation and reminiscent of church interiors, allowing Koons to invite us into his own utopia, his own hallowed yet sensuous contemporary realm. In creating his Cherubs, Koons has taken the legacy of so many artists of yore and created a pair of little putti in the Old Master tradition. But these adoring, angelic figures have been updated for our consumer era: one of them sports a bandana and is holding a teddybear in its leaf-like wings, showing the distance between them and their more staid progenitors in the church interiors of the Baroque period. Meanwhile, both characters are covered in flowers; their wings recall both butterfly wings and, more importantly, gilded petals. In this way, these Cherubs can be seen to relate to Koons' recurring theme of flowers.

The theme of the flower, present in Cherubs and in other works dedicated specifically to the theme, was crucial for Koons' Made in Heaven series. The blooms celebrated in art and by romantics throughout the ages are considered beautiful and somehow innocent, yet their reproductive organs are on display. It was for this reason that Koons included sculptures specifically showing flowers in his Made in Heaven installations, alongside the cherubs and the highly-publicised images of the artist himself engaged in a variety of sexual acts with Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina, the Hungarian porn star who would become an Italian politician and also Koons' wife.This sculpture is an apt portrayal of Ilona and Jeff as cherubs. The overall effect was that of a sensual sensory overload, with vast tableaux and pristine glass sculptures of the couple shown in explicit positions alongside sculptures of flowers, of dogs and of the Cherubs.

Koons had used images of La Cicciolina sourced from magazines as research material for some of his works in the Banality series, but had then approached her with an eye to collaborating on Made in Heaven. This collaboration blossomed into something extreme, in part as a reaction to her status as a media creature. A natural performer, the pair had a series of photographs taken of themselves celebrating the sexual act, their union. Sex, after all, is the basis of procreation and therefore of the survival of our species; the presence of the child-like Cherubs in the Made in Heaven pantheon emphasises the importance and indeed virtue of continuing the cycle of life.

In his photographs and some of his sculptures, Koons was equating the sexual acts that he performed with La Cicciolina with those carried out by flowers and animals without their ever gaining our opprobrium or any other unfavourable reaction. "To me, Cicciolina is the Eternal Virgin,' Koons explained, putting his act into almost religious terms. 'She's been able to remove guilt and shame from her life, and because of this she is a great liberator" (J. Koons, quoted in Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco, 1992, p. 103). For Koons, the acts that he celebrated in Made in Heaven were aimed at encouraging his viewers to set aside any notions of shame regarding sex or, crucially, taste. The old hegemonies were being dismantled, be it through images of himself with his lover or through the contemporary Rococo of his cherubs. The presence of these benevolent angels was itself a form of confirmation of the validity of Koons' acts and the path that he had chosen.

Cherubs is one of the works from the Made in Heaven series that was made from expertly-carved wood, as opposed to glass, marble or any other material; this was a deliberate reference to the church carvings of the Baroque age which so fascinated Koons during this period. He had spent a great amount of time in Bavaria, and now had his ideas executed by the traditional craftsmen still working in Oberammergau in Germany and Ortisei in Italy. "Wood is a material that churches have used a lot, therefore it is associated with spirituality," Koons explained of his decision to co-opt the visual vocabulary of the Church. "It is considered a living material. I enjoyed works from the Counter-Reformation. I love the Baroque and the Rococo" (J. Koons, quoted in M. Codognato & E. Geuna (ed.), Jeff Koons, exh.cat., Naples, 2003, p. 151).

In Cherubs, the subject matter manages to combine the religious with the sensual: these characters appear angelic and could perhaps grace some Rococo church interior. At the same time, they appear like the figures of Eros and Cupid that feature in many of the pictures of the period, often involving cavorting abandon also involving Venus. The Cherubs recall the paintings of both Fragonard and Boucher, who were touchstones for Koons during this period. Koons himself expanded upon this, saying:

"Made in Heaven was really about coming to appreciate the Baroque and the Rococo. I love Fragonard and Boucher... I just wanted to make a body of work that was extremely romantic and in the Baroque and Rococo traditions. I never planned to make work that was going to be shocking. Masaccio's Expulsion from Eden was a very special painting to me as a basis for my Made in Heaven work, I believe very strongly that what I was doing was desexualising the sexual aspect, which was explicit, and sexualising things that are normally not sexualised, like the flowers and the animals" (J. Koons, 2000, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 341).

In this way, by carrying out this balancing act, presenting the Cherubs as part of this grand smorgasbord of sexualisation, Koons in fact encourages his viewers to set aside shame and guilt, allowing them back into the Paradise from which Masaccio's Adam and Eve were expelled.
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