Jeff Koons launched his career in the early eighties working with objects and images of mass media as a critical approach to commodity culture. He has since become one of the most provocative and important artists of our time. Despite working in discrete series and across a variety of media, Koons' work is readily recognizable in its meticulous craftsmanship and use of seductive imagery. His paintings and sculptures mine the signifiers of taste, class, and status, in the face of the commodity fetish. Throughout his oeuvre, he has consistently sought a productive tension between the banal and the precious, the ubiquitous and the rare, and the exuberance of childhood with the sober reflection of the connoisseur.
This childlike glee is fully evident in Koons' latest series of silkscreened stainless steel wall reliefs. In the present lot, Balloon Monkey Wall Relief (Pink), 2011, Koons has silkscreened a photograph onto a flat, stainless steel surface measuring over eight feet high and nine feet wide. As the title suggests, Koons has transferred a photographic image of a monkey-in a bright, festive pink- -made from inflated and twisted rubber balloons. Koons has traced this quality of euphoric innocence in his work to his personal life:
"I have a son, and art is such a wonderful experience to be able to watch occur in young children. My work has continued to go in this direction. It's about being able to create a work that helps liberate people from judgment. First of all, the art has to make them feel that it isn't making any judgment on them. Then, it has to free them to have the confidence to understand that judgment being placed on them in life is irrelevant; there's no place for it,"
(J. Koons, in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London: Pimlico, 2002, pp. 334-35).
The balloon animals of birthday parties, street fairs, and holidays have long been a crucial part of the artist's repertoire, beginning with his first series Inflatables, in 1979. In his series
Celebration, 1994--present, Koons borrows the trinkets of birthdays, as in the balloon toys, and holidays, as in the hanging heart; he enlarges them to gargantuan scale, forges them in steel, and realizes them in bold colors. In his Easyfun series, 1999-2000, Koons introduced the flattened animal shape, presenting cartoon cutout forms in highly reflective stainless steel and glass mirrors. Building on the playfulness and seductive finishes of the Celebration sculptures, and the optical play of the animal mirrors in the Easyfun series, Koons embarked on the balloon wall reliefs. This utilization of the figure of a monkey can be traced back through the canon of art history to the work of the great Dada master Francis Picabia who in his Nature Morte: Portrait of Czanne/Portrait of Renoir/Portrait of Rembrandt, 1920, once tacked a stuffed monkey to a board and called it a portrait in his absurdist challenge to the very nature of art and to the delineations that define the tradition of painting.
In Balloon Monkey Wall Relief (Pink) Koons flattens the bulbous forms of the Celebration animals; but due to his seamless execution and finish, Koons still manages to suggest volume, as if the figure levitates before the wall. The reflective plane literally incorporates its surroundings, thereby incorporating both the viewer and our projected desires. As Koons has summarized it: "I am trying to capture the individual's desire in the object, and to fix his or her aspirations in the surface, in a condition of immortality" (J. Koons as quoted in The Jeff Koons Handbook London, Thames & Hudson, 1992, p. 34). The piece brilliantly merges Pop and Conceptual art: Koons has silkscreened a photographic image onto a sheet of metal thereby marrying printmaking, photography, and sculptural practices.