Selling candy to the masses
Last year Jeff Koons became the world’s most expensive living artist. He talks to Martin Gayford about sex, pleasure, the need for self-acceptance – and an astonishing installation destined for Los Angeles.
Martin Gayford, Thursday, 28th February 2008
Love it or hate it, Koons’s art is powerfully subversive of many cherished ideas: the artist as high-brow, the artist as rebel, the artist as outsider. Koons is more the artist as door-to-door salesman, a job he did as a child in York, Pennsylvania. ‘When I was young I was always brought up by my family to be very self-sufficient and self-reliant. I always went door to door after school, selling gift-wrapping paper and candy. I always enjoyed it because I felt that I was meeting people’s needs. I would also enjoy knocking on their doors, and when they would open it I would never know what was on the other side. I wouldn’t know what odour was going to come out of the house, what the furniture would look like or the person would be like.’
He’s still offering us the kind of item he used to sell: toys, flowers and shiny balloons. To see this sort of object as monumental and important – worthy of transformation into public sculpture – involves a bit of mental adjustment for the spectator. What Koons is doing, he explains, may not be the sort of flourish that Pollock or De Kooning made in paint. ‘But it’s still a gesture – not a physical gesture, but a psychological one. The artist is responsible for everything – our limitations as well as our successes. I really think everything comes down to the strength of the idea, and how much meaning it can have for people.’ That will be the test of Koons’s work: whether it lasts like Bernini or vanishes like a stock-market bubble.
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