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Jeff Koons (b. 1955)

Wishing Well

Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Wishing Well
dated and numbered '1988 3/3' (on the reverse)
gilded wood and mirror
87 x 56 x 6 in. (221 x 142.2 x 15.2 cm.)
Executed in 1988. This work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne
Private collection, Cologne, 1988
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991
"Jeff Koons," ArtForum, February 1989, vol. 10, pp. 176 and 187 (illustrated).
R. Block, "The Readymade Boomerang," Art is Easy, 7 April 1990, p. 423, no. 234 (illustrated in color).
J. Koons, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 160.
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 113, pl. 16 (illustrated in color).
"Sales Preview," Art+Auction, November 2005, p. 212 (edition one of three illustrated in color).
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, pp. 282, 300 (another example illustrated in color).
L. Camhi, "The Seer-Ileana Sonnabend," New York Times Style Magazine, 2 December 2007, p. 209 (another example illustrated in color).
R. Pincus-Witten, "Passages: The Eyes Had It," ArtForum, January 2008, p. 70 (another example illustrated in color).
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, pp. 278, 290 (another example illustrated in color).
Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Banality, November 1988, p. 121 (another example illustrated in color).
New York, Sonnabend Gallery, Banality, November-December 1988 (another example exhibited).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospektiv, November 1992-April 1993, p. 7 (Amsterdam), p. 58, pl. 43 (Aarhus) and p. 58, no. 43 (Stuttgart), (another example illustrated in color).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-October 1993, no. 49, pl. 41 (another example illustrated in color).
London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Jeff Koons: A Survey 1981-1994, June-July 1994 (another example exhibited).
London, Institute of Contemporary Art, Belladona, January-April 1997 (another example exhibited).
Paris, Galerie Jerome de Noirmont, Jeff Koons, September-November 1997, n.p. (another example illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Center for Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons: A Millennium Celebration, December 1999-May 2000, p. 7 (another example illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Monument to Now, June-December 2004, pp. 211, 425 (another example illustrated in color).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, October 2004-January 2005, pp. 132-133 (illustrated in color).


Robert Manley
Robert Manley


Executed in 1988, Wishing Well forms part of one of Jeff Koons' best-known series, Banality. It was with that group of works that he not only consolidated his own artistic manifesto, but also that he launched himself onto the world art stage. Looking at the large, Rococo Wishing Well, its place within the Banality series makes perfect sense: Koons saw those works as comprising a sort of contemporary, alternative Garden of Eden, complete with cartoon serpents and infant Adam and Eve. The wishing well can be some sort of centrepiece of such a skewed scene, combining fairytale, make-believe, wish-fulfilment and, in its style of presentation, church ornamentation. Its scale and incredible craftsmanship allow Wishing Well to lay claim to a sort of art-historical authority that is at deliberate odds with its children's illustration content.

Koons had already been exploring the boundaries of taste and shame in previous series, not least Luxury and Degradation, and these themes have clearly come to the fore in Wishing Well and its sister pieces. This is an assault on received notions of taste and culture, which Koons sees as a form of imposed snobbery, a means of dividing the populace.

This was a radical break from Koons' previously-preferred use of appropriated objects, of readymades: now he was creating three-dimensional collage-like objects, merging the visual language of one artistic reference point with motifs plundered from the popular culture around us all. In a break with their tradition, the fabricants were asked to create works such as Wishing Well, which were designed to celebrate life, to celebrate innocence, to remove the taint of indoctrinated taste against which Koons was railing. By presenting his wishing well in the form of a mirror in which the viewer sees him or herself, dripping with gilt, Koons combines a sense of pseudo-religious aspiration, of yearning for a better place, with these notions of social mobility in order to help us feel at one with ourselves, to shed some self-consciousness. "When you go to church and you see the gold and the Rococo, it's there, they say, for the glory of God," Koons has said in words that relate to Wishing Well. "But I believe that it's there just to soothe the masses for the moment; to make them feel economically secure; to let something else-- a spiritual experience, a manipulation-- come into their lives" (J. Koons quoted in S. Coles & R. Violette, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 110).