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Jeff Koons' 'Popeye Series' at Serpentine Gallery, London (2)

Or the Story of Jeff & Ilona

Jeff Koons: 'Olive Oyl' 2003, Oil on canvas, 274.3 x 213.4 cm, © 2009 Jeff Koons courtesy of Serpentine Gallery

Back to the first part of this review


I think Koons gained depth in his work after overcoming his personal and economic troubles following legal struggle with his first wife Ilona Staller (La Cicciolina) - a former porn movie star.



Koons is fascinated by sex. I can understand that. In an interview with Sir Norman Rosenthal during Art Basel he is asked what in his opinion would promise immortality – besides art. He shoots out: ‘Sex’.



At the early peak of his art career in the late 1980s Koons decided to cast himself as a porn movie star. It seems he added Kitsch to sex and made porn go art.


After noticing Ilona Staller in an adult magazine bought from an Italian gas station, he arranged a photo shooting with her: 'I hired her and I used her same photographer, the same costumes, the same backdrops - everything was ready-made.'


  She said in an interview 2007 about her view of sex: 'I was curious about, I enjoyed it, it made me powerful. I repeat, I regret nothing - but I believe that I was never loved.'   The series was titled 'Made in Heaven' and Koons says he referred to Massacio's 'Expulsion of the Garden of Eden' of 1423. He wanted to do something about Adam and Eve after the expulsion – but without the guilt shown there. I think this is his strongest series: Especially the photos and the glass sculptures.   From his personal view he seems to have started out as a (cool) porn actor, but ended up falling in love with her.   'When we started doing these sessions, she started flirting with me, and before I knew it we had developed a relationship.' They married in 1990

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. Two years later she gave birth to their son Ludwig.  
Jeff Koons (c) photo by Premier Art Scene

After all, real life is no porn movie - not even if you share it with a porn movie star. And Ilona was not just his ready-made object. When the desire was gone, they soon discovered that they had not much in common: She complained about him only watching his videos and that she had only the dog to talk to.


Recently, he told the critic Jonathan Jones: 'Inanimate objects are great but they are just inanimate objects and externalized images. What really matters is actual human interaction.'


They split up and Ilona took the baby back to Italy. They got divorced in 1994 but engaged in a very expensive and exhausting year long custody battle over Ludwig.


During this legal struggle he destroyed a lot of the 'Made in Heaven' series: 'Ilona kept trying to pull the work down to a level that it would be viewed not as artwork but as pornography, so I ended up destroying most of the works because of that.' - I don't think this was the only reason...


Jeff Koons: 'Party Hat', 1995-97, oil on canvas, 114 3/8 x 127 5/8 inches / 290.5 x 324.2 cm, (c)Jeff Koons


But things got worse: At that time he also worked on his new series 'Celebration'. It was technically demanding, as it had a lot to do with perfect surfaces. But his manufacturer could not do the sculptures up to his standards. The production cost rose and he had to sell some pieces below production cost. He also had to lay off a number of people from his large studio.


I think these times of suffering added the personal depth to his work: 'Party Hat' - That's my son's little birthday hat that he wore just one day before my ex-wife took him away.'


Finally he found the right manufacturer and started over in 2000 with his new show 'Easyfun-Ethereal' at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany. (Especially German collectors always have been very supportive to him.)


Jeff Koons: 'Hanging Heart (Red/Gold)', 1994–2006, high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating, 114.57 x 110.24 x 39.96 inches / 291 x 280 x 101.5 cm, (c) Jeff Koons


Also the 'Celebration' series turned out a big success: Mega collector Francois Pinlault put 'Hanging Heart (Red/Gold)' as a signature work in his museum Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy.


He also managed to take advantage of the huge art market boom until 2008. Frequently his works were sold for two digit million dollar numbers. 'Hanging Heart' hit a record price for Koons works of US $ 23,6 million in 2007.


This will certainly change in current times of economic crisis. But Koons survived already the major art market crisis of 1989 and for sure he will survive this one too.


by UGL.



Jeff Koons: 'Popeye Series' at Serpentine Gallery, London from 2 July - 13 September 2009


I also like the new book on Jeff Koons edited by Taschen Verlag.




Read more about the Damien Hirst exhibition in Kiev



Back to magazine overview




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