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Details
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Serpents
signed with the artist's initials, numbered and dated 'JK A.P. 88' (on the underside of the large serpent)
porcelain, in two parts
small serpent: 17 ¾ x 18 ¼ x 5 ½ in. (45.1 x 46.4 x 14 cm.)
large serpent: 23 ¼ x 32 x 10 in. (59.1 x 81.3 x 25.4 cm.)
Executed in 1988. This work is the artist’s proof aside from an edition of three.
Provenance
Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
L. Palmer, "Jeff Koons Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago," Artforum, October 1988, p. 153.
P. Carlson, "Jeff Koons," Contemporanea, vol. 1, no. 3, September/October 1988, pp. 39 and 42-43 (illustrated and illustrated on the cover).
A. Jones, "Thriller," Contemporanea International Art Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3, September-October 1988, pp. 42-43 (another example illustrated on the cover).
M. Brenson, "Review/Art: Shifting Image and Scale," New York Times, 2 December 1988.
P. Schjeldahl, "Looney Koons," 7 Days, 14 December 1988, vol. 1, no. 37, p. 66 (illustrated).
D. Daniel, "Jeff Koons," Arts & Antiques, March 1989, p. 38.
S. Tillim, "Ideology and Difference. Reflections on Olitski and Koons," Arts, March 1989, pp. 49-51.
D. Pinchbeck, "Jeff Koons," Splash, April 1989, pp. 70-77.
K. Kertess, "Bad," Parkett, no. 19, 1989, p. 34.
A. Renton, "Super Star," Blitz Magazine, January 1990, pp. 54-55 (another example illustrated).
“Focus on the arts: The galleries become the new museum,” AlumNews, Wright State University, Winter 1991, p. 1 (another example illustrated on the cover).
S. Coles and R. Violette, eds., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 160.
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, pp. 107 and 167, no. 9 (illustrated).
K. Swenson, “Louise Lawler Looks Back,” Art in America, December 2006, p. 119 (another example illustrated).
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, pp. 256 and 263 (another example illustrated).
Jeff Koons, exh. cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008, p. 27 (another example illustrated).
H. W. Holzwarth, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, pp. 48 and 50 (illustrated).
Auswertung der Flugdaten : Kunst der 80er : einde Düsseldorfer Perspektive, exh. cat., Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, September 2010-January 2011, p. 148 (another example illustrated).
K. Siegel, Since '45: America and the Making of Contemporary Art, London, 2011, p. 161 (another example illustrated).
L. Marsova, “AO Onsite: Basel, Artist Talk with Jeff Koons at Fondation Beyeler”, Art Observed, 14 June 2012 (another example illustrated).
A. Chin, “Jeff Koons at the Beyeler Foundation Part 2,” Designboom, 29 June 2012 (another example illustrated).
L. Tansini, "Basel: Jeff Koons, Beyeler Foundation," Sculpture, April 2013, p. 46.
I. Sischy, “L’Art Gonflé,” Vanity Fair, Paris, October 2014, p. 134 (another example illustrated).
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou and Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, 2014, pp. 22, 117 and 290, pl. 56 (New York, another example illustrated); pp. 27, 112, 123, 125 and 299, pl. 56 (Paris, another example illustrated) and pp. 20, 104, 117 and 298, pl. 56 (Bilbao, another example illustrated).
Remember Everything--40 Years Galerie Max Hetzler, exh. cat., Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, 2014, p. 14 (illustrated).
Sculpture After Sculpture, exh. cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Hatje Cantz Verlang, 2014.
L. Blissett, “La jouissance du retour en enfance,” Beaux Arts editions, December 2014, p. 48.
H. W. Holzwarth, Koons, Cologne, 2015, p. 48 (another example illustrated).
Exhibited
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, July-August 1988, pp. 35 and 39 (work in progress illustrated and exhibited).
Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Jeff Koons: Banality, November 1988.
New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Jeff Koons, December 1988 (another example exhibited).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, What's Modern?, November-December 2004, pp. 34-35 and 119 (another example illustrated and exhibited).
Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Jeff Koons, October-December 2008, p. 35 (illustrated).
Miami, Rubell Family Collection Contemporary Arts Foundation; Palm Springs Art Museum and Roanoke, Taubman Museum of Art, Beg Borrow and Steal, December 2009-January 2015.
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, May-September 2012, pp. 89, 96-97 and 204 (another example illustrated and exhibited).

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing

Lot Essay

Known for his meticulous depictions of nostalgic dollar-store treasures and everyday objects, Jeff Koons is regarded as one of the most important and provocative artists living and working today. In Serpents, conceived in 1988 and rendered in porcelain, Jeff Koons conflates themes of saccharine charisma, Christian symbolism and middle class consumerism all at once. By melding a traditionally decorative and precious material with his knowledge of art history, Koons creates a satirical representation of innocence and playfulness. A loose allegory for the Garden of Eden, the pair of cross-eyed, foolhardy snakes stand in as kitschy symbols of bourgeois sin and guilt.
Part of his Banality series, the present work references contemporary pop culture, history and the bible. “In the Banality work, I started to be really specific about what my interests were. Everything here is a metaphor for the viewer’s cultural guilt and shame. Art can be a horrible discriminator. It can be used either to be uplifting and to give self-empowerment, or to debase people and disempower them. And on the tightrope in between, there is one’s cultural history. These images are aspects from my own, but everybody’s cultural history is perfect, it can’t be anything other than what it is – it is absolute perfection. Banality was the embracement of that” (J. Koons, quoted in H. Werner Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 252). The contradiction between the intellectual art world and the ordinary, everyday subjects from which Koons borrows results in a perturbed tension between mass culture and the instilled high value of art objects. Koons uses the staggeringly exquisite craftsmanship of the European manufacturers who executed Serpents as a platform for his sardonic commentary on the late 1980s society, one which was obsessed with the image, that still resonates today.
In the late 1970s, Koons’s early fascination with the readymade manifested itself in his New York City apartment, where he installed found objects he collected downtown, including various tchotchkes and chintzy toys and decorations. The result was a rowdy and ridiculous mockery, a strange and subversive examination of high versus low art. Serpents loosely recalls his Inflatables from the previous decade because it employs themes such as the ephemerality of the visual products of pop culture and the endurance of cultural connotations of taste and class, while also representing the abandonment of the hand from art. “Mr. Koons’s reaction against touch is crucial. His friendly bears, smiling snakes and provocative women have a lot to do with the physical release and emotional support. The objects are invested with the kind of desire the artist believes consumers feel for the objects they covet and acquire” (M. Brenson, “Review/Art: Shifting Image and Scale,” New York Times, 2 December 1988).
In 1988, in a society where anything could be bought and exchanged, Koons, with bravado and conviction, made art that unabashedly advertised itself as a commodity. Originally shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1988, Serpents has been included in several exhibitions internationally over the course of two decades. The subjects of the Banality series were so poignant because they represented genres that the highbrow, upper-class hegemony regarded with disdain and disgust. By placing these subjects within the white-walled galleries, Koons triggered an enthralling yet excruciating emotional reaction. “Koons’s accurate blend of aesthetic perfect pitch and blazing sociological significance gives critical sensibility the equivalent of a new freeway system that will take you anywhere fast” (P. Schjeldahl, “Looney Koons,” 7 Days, 14 December 1988, vol. 1, no. 37, p. 66).

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