Standing nearly seven-feet tall, Jeff Koons’s Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) dazzles the viewer with its shiny, mirrored surface and the technical virtuosity of its undulating forms. Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) belongs to the artist’s longest-running, critically acclaimed Celebration series and the ground-breaking complexity of its fabrication is staggering to behold. It replicates a giant pink Easter egg topped with a lavish purple bow, and it paradoxically conveys the illusion of joyous weightlessness despite the substantial heft of its construction. As an archetypal symbol, Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) represents the promise of Spring and the corresponding overtures of fertility and reproduction that are embodied therein, not to mention the religious symbolism of resurrection and new life. On a more basic, carnal level, it evokes the sensorial pleasures that are unleashed when a shiny chocolate egg is unwrapped and devoured, as well as the ritualized moment of surprise embodied by a beautifully wrapped gift. It’s the joyful visual embodiment of Koons’s longstanding concerns, in which “innocence, religious contemplation, sexuality, and humanity all coalesce into a single moment of aesthetic perfection” (A. Hochdörfer, “The Gift of Art,” Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2014, p. 235).
Koons’s fascination with childhood has long influenced his work, and he labors to create universal objects that are firmly embedded in life’s celebrations and milestones. In the ensemble of paintings and sculptures that make up the Celebration series, Koons creates lavish recreations of the ephemeral emblems of childhood nostalgia—easter eggs, valentine hearts, balloon animals, party hats and children’s toys. The curator Scott Rothkopf describes: “the subjects of the series were meant to evoke the cycle of a year or even a life. They invoke birth, love, religious observances, and procreation, whether in the form of a cracked egg, an engagement ring, the paraphernalia of a birthday party, or the sexually suggestive curves and protuberances lurking within a balloon animal or flower” (S. Rothkopf, “No Limits,” ibid., p. 30). As a powerful visual metaphor, the egg recurs in several works in the Celebration series, making it an important leitmotif.
Following the birth of his son, the artist began to contemplate the colorful objects and toys that make up a child’s sense of the world, taking delight in the immediate visual pleasure of their colorful packaging and tactile appearance. He recalled, “My son was born in October 1992. Immediately I became interested in a lot of images I came across, the packaging of toys, a playful rabbit—things that I enjoyed again. I had used a lot of these images in the past. I started the Celebration series without a title. My son used to come into the studio while I was working on Hanging Heart. ... So the work fell into an area where I felt that I wanted my son to feel how much I was thinking of him” (J. Koons, quoted in T. Kellein, ed., Die Bilder Jeff Koons 1980-2002 (Jeff Koons: Pictures 1980-2002), exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2003, p. 21).
The epic scope of the project and the technical precision that Koons demanded meant that the Celebration series would consume the artist for more than a decade, with many objects not realized until the turn of the new millennium, when the technology of their fabrication was advanced enough to replicate Koons’s vision. Indeed, the luxurious sheen of Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) and its reflective pink-and-purple surface is the result of a technically-complex process that took years to develop. It’s incredibly even-mirrored surface has been achieved by applying layer upon layer of lacquer in which infinitesimal particles of pigment are suspended. This meticulous and time-consuming process results in the highly reflective surface that has become a hallmark of Koons’s work. The gleaming quality of Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) is breathtaking, otherworldly—as if shimmering pools of brightly-colored liquid have been inexplicably molded into the object it represents, while its mirrored surface reflects the viewer’s own image along with its surroundings.
It is impossible to see Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) and not, actually, see yourself. In this way, Koons invokes the viewer both figuratively and literally. He has said: “I am very conscious of the viewer because that’s where the art takes place. My work really strives to put the viewer in a certain kind of emotional state” (J. Koons, quoted in C. Swanson, “Jeff Koons Is the Most Successful American Artist Since Warhol. So What’s the Art World Got Against Him?” New York Magazine, May 13, 2013, via http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/age-of-jeff-koons.html [accessed April 10, 2016]). Indeed, as the curator of Koons’s recent retrospective has remarked, “Wherever Koons’ works are, they wondrously refocus their surroundings. They channel and provoke our vanities and desires, our sense of discovery and mortality, and sometimes our moral pique and joy. They take as much as they can from the world in which we live and offer in return a powerful picture of it. We could ask for more from art, but I doubt that we will find it” (S. Rothkopf, op. cit., p. 33).
Indeed, Koons’s Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) transcends mere representation to become a powerful visual archetype. The particular formal characteristics that Koons bestows upon the work, from the otherworldly sheen of its impeccable surface to the overwhelming scale of its sheer size, gives the sense that the sculpture doesn’t necessarily represent any specific, particular egg, but rather suggests a universal idea of an egg, as if embedded in some distant memory or dream. According to Koons, “Archetypes are really things that help everyone survive in the world. So they are bigger than everybody. That is the reason for their scale” (J. Koons, quoted in T. Goodeve, “Euphoric Enthusiasm: Jeff Koon’s Celebration,” Parkett, No. 50-51, December 1997, p. 90). With its heroic scale, gleaming surface and dazzling Crayola colors, Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) captures the very essence of egg-ness, making it the very embodiment of all the conflated ideas that are contained within its shiny foil wrapper.
Throughout his career, Koons has explored the theme of sex in his work, and the undercurrents of desire and sexual procreation are present in the Celebration series as well. Perhaps no more so than in the symbolic evocation of the egg, with its potential to carry human life, is the life-giving symbolism of sex invoked. Like in work of Brâncusi who also explored the ovoid form of the egg with its aesthetically pleasing curves and potent symbolism, the egg becomes a symbol of hope, an optimistic opportunity and a powerful visual reminder of the power of sexual procreation to bring new life into the world. Koons presents the perfect embodiment of that egg with all its potential, wrapped in shimmering foil paper and crowned with a bow in Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet).
In his over a decade-long quest for excellence, Koons never compromised the integrity of his vision in the Celebration series, and Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) is a gleaming example of the power of the artist’s commitment to his craft. Curator Scott Rothkopf described: “Settling, for Koons, is never an option. Corners cannot be cut. Though his standards continue to escalate, this dedication to perfection has been present from the very beginning of his career. ...his sedulous craftsmanship and increasing technological innovation have broken new ground for art and enmeshed it more forcefully within the visual logic of the contemporary world. … It evinces an insanity bound by reason. … We are gripped by the exactness of their minute details but also by the absurdity of anyone laboring so long and hard… Koons’s sculptures and paintings embody the maniacal dream of the perfect object” (S. Rothkopf, op. cit., p. 31). Indeed, Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet) is a spectacular embodiment of this, the artist’s endless, all-consuming obsession with creating the perfect object. A gleaming symbol of the artist’s long-running themes, it is a powerful recurring motif which Koons transforms the delicate egg into a potent visual icon.