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JEFF KOONS IS ON A POWER TRIP. “I believe in power. I believe in the former wife Ilona Staller – of Made in Heaven (1991) and the shiny steel
exercise of power,” is the mantra he’s chanting down the phone from dogs and eggs of Celebration (1994–). Not to mention his ongoing epic,
his New York studio. And why not? His is one of the most recognisable Train (2003–), a 161-foot industrial crane supporting a 70-foot working
(and enduring) brands in art, and forms the mainstay of many of the replica of a steam locomotive that (so the plan goes) will eventually be
biggest contemporary collections, from that of François Pinault to Eli dangling, nose to the ground, outside LACMA, where it will huff and
Broad. Greece’s supercollector, Dakis Joannou, even credits Koons puff out steam three times a day. “What’s important to me is that it’s
with starting his passion for collecting contemporary art. And last year’s a real, authentic experience,” he says of this last work, sounding not a
auction turnover for Koons’s work was a whopping $16,903,063. Of little like a Las Vegas casino designer unveiling the city’s latest Pirate’s
course, being good at marketing (he’s famously a former stockbroker) Cove. “You know – that if an engineer who’d been working on trains all
and, more precisely, the translation of 1980s excess into art market his life walked underneath, he’d think, ‘Gosh, how’d they do that?’” he
success, is one of the things Koons’s detractors hold against him, but continues. And perhaps it’s telling that Koons imagines a viewer asking
the artist sees it in more pragmatic terms. “I’ve always been involved how rather than why.
in trying to support my work and trying to have a market that helps Koons specialises in taking the used packaging of late-twentieth-
protect the work, and hopefully that enhances its possibilities to survive century consumerism, from advertisements to gift wrapping, and
as an object,” he explains. “Because it’s hard for things to survive in this recycling it as apparently purposeful art – which then, of course, forces
world, and usually if there is a monetary value associated with it, its viewers to make a conscious choice to admire it as surface or to find
chances of survival are greater.” something more than surface while knowing that it probably isn’t there.
Over the last few months he’s been doing the magazine circuit Looking at this stuff is both a Sisyphean torture and a festival of fun
to promote his latest exhibition, which opens at the Britannia Street (who couldn’t like an expertly crafted steel balloon puppy). Koons
branch of Gagosian Gallery in London. Titled Hulk Elvis, it features 24 comes across a bit like Willy Wonka, but a Willy Wonka who produces
paintings and is the first new display of his output in this medium in wrappings without the sweets. And his fascination with inflatables sums
almost four years. So, flip open a Tatler or a W, and there he is, grinning, this up more than anything else.
gurning and posing like one of the Incredible Hulk pool toys that “One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about inflatables is that
constitute a signature motif of the new show. In many ways he looks they’re anthropomorphic in that they relate to people, but at the same
more comic than powerful, but then again, so does a lot of his art. time everything is kind of turned inside out. When you are an individual,
There’s the homage to sterility – vacuum cleaners in Plexiglas the density is on the interior – your interior life is dense, your interior
cases – of The New (1980), the tanks of suspended basketballs of of your body is more compacted than what you experience externally
Equilibrium (1985), the bourbon-filled trains of Luxury and Degradation – there’s distance, there’s air, there’s space externally. And with an
(1986), the ceramic and porcelain Michael Jacksons and Pink Panthers inflatable it’s the opposite – the inside is empty and there’s more density
of Banality (1988), the homage to fertility – Koons having sex with his on the outside.” Perhaps his work really is like a Las Vegas theme casino >
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