October 30th, 2014, in Paris. On an oddly sunny day the city welcomes the American anti-star Jeff Koons in the prestigious centre of the Collège de France.

Claudine Tiercelin , who holds the chair of Metaphysics and Philosophy of the Knowledge, introduces Koons as one of the jewels of a crown in a series of lectures on the theme “La Fabrique de la Peinture”. The great auditorium of Place de Marcelin Berthelot is crowded.
The room is studded with agents, ready to tap on the shoulder of the first person who dares take out a camera: “No photo please”.
An impeccable Jeff Koons, in a black satin suit gets on stage and, as a good seller of his own person, he immediately knows how to attract the public’s attention. He begins with an anecdote of his infancy.
His sister Karen is the prototype of the perfect daughter: good academic results, kind and polite, better than him in everything. One day the little Jeff was drawing, his father leans and with a hand on his shoulder he exclaims: “We have finally found something that you know how to do!”. Therefore, painting became a path to accept himself and find his own role towards both his family and society. Born in Pennsylvania in 1955, Koons moved to New York when he was 21 and started a dazzling career. With a wry smile on his lips and sure attitude he affirms: “I have always been a painter. Also in front of a sculpture I am a painter and I think as a painter”.

Jeff Koons, Ercole Farnese   2013

Jeff Koons, Ercole Farnese 2013

His first sources of inspiration were the surrealism and the Dada, under the aegis of Dali and Duchamp, but also the powerful and transcendent music of Led Zeppelin, that transmitted to him a “crazy sensual energy”.
In 1986 with “I could Go for Something Gordon’s” he exposes himself to the readymade and mechanical production. The machines fascinate Koons because they can create and re-create in series, going over the limits of man. However, the product undergoes a manipulation or a finishing touch, especially with colour. For Koons polychromy is very important. It is the case of “Ushering in Banality” (1988), an impertinent sculpture in polychrome wood in which Koons sees some references to the sacred medieval statuary. During his career he has experimented with various techniques until he has reached to the idea of the application of color to sculpture through stencils. This is how he realized “Lobster” in 2008, a sparkling lobster worth between six and eight million dollars. The shellfish of the series “Popeye” faces the omnipresent theme of sexuality, about which Koons seems to be obsessed. The fan tail recalls a Flamenco dancer, while the antennas recall Dali’s moustaches and the claws are masculine attributes.

Jeff Koons, Antiquity (Farnese Bull) 2009–12

Jeff Koons, Antiquity (Farnese Bull) 2009–12

The celebration of sex is the leitmotiv of the series “Antiques”. The archaeological statues, as the Venus and Faun, allow Koons to walk through a sort of “phallus narration”. The whole series is elaborated with Photoshop. Each photo is overlapped by a stylized sketch of a boat, that has very little in marine appearance considering that the “clouds and the gulls are pubic hair”. In “Antiquity 3”, Aphroditis is a modern Pin Up that rides a dolphin accompanied by a little inflatable monkey: “The monkey is the representation of Eros”.
After this enthusiastic affirmation, the artist shows a slide of a Roman sculpture with the representation of Venus with the Dolphin and the winged Cupid, and he tells us how he discovered it when his own work was already completed. Like a little Warburg of modern times, Koons throws himself in a speech on art’s continuity and the persistence of iconographies.
On the background of “Antiquity 3” it is possible to see three Venuses. They are copies of Roman marbles, among which there is the famous Aphrodite untying her sandal. Koons pulls a little note out of his pocket: “before coming here I asked my secretary to give me some information on these Venuses, and listen to that!”. At this point he starts to read a made-in-google report on the statues history and he rattles on a series of interesting data. The fearful fact is that Koons did not know anything at all about them, at the moment he realized the montage.
The worse, however, comes with “Farnese Bull” (2009-2012): he quotes more than once the author like “The Farnese”, as if Pope Paul III, decided to dedicate a sculpture to himself.
In the montage’s inferior part it is possible to see, explicitly, an archaeological piece, perhaps a pre-Columbian artefact. It is a sort of phallic-vaginal votive object, on which the artist is clearly unable to tell us anything, except to underline its sexual character, that is already very clear itself.

Jeff Koons, Baloon Venus 2008

Jeff Koons, Baloon Venus 2008

Thereafter Koons starts to talk about “Balloon Venus” (2008), noticing the importance of the reflecting surface. That allows the spectator to be a fundamental part of the sculpture. Thus, the public has the possibility to modify the work by moving and observing the changing reflected images. Once more “the Venus is a reference to fertility, but her breasts and her swollen abdomen can also be seen like a penis and two testicles”. The word “fertility” is a sweet version of the word sex, that, with his numerous synonyms allows Koons not to be repetitive (at least verbally).
The enthusiasm on archaeological quotations reappears in the series “Gazing Balls” (2013). The reflecting blue spheres, diffused in many overseas gardens are combined with the gypsum status mold, as the Ercole Farnese. The artist is fascinated by chalk thanks to its plastic properties. Once more the smooth surface celebrates sensuality and carnal strength. Instead, the spheres bring us towards a stellar and metaphysical world, where the Centre Pompidou’s retrospective, starting on November 26th, 2014, will perhaps allow us to enter.
After the customary handshakes, the College de France thanks the artist and leaves him among the claws of an apparently galvanized public that does not seem to be critically dangerous. A brief series of questions, of which we report a transcript, allows the artist to tell us about his modus operandi. Koons works in an enormous studio, that counts dozens of assistants. Every work requires around two years, during which every detail is studied with great numerical and graphic tables on Adobe. The Studio usually realizes contemporarily six paintings, working with big scaffoldings and hyper-technological laboratories.

9. Jeff Koons in his studio, 2009

Jeff Koons in his studio, 2009

Q: Mr Koons, have you ever refused a picture because of an assistant’s error?
J.K.: Yes, that happened to me a few times, but as time passes that happens less and less. My assistants have worked for me more or less since nine years, someone even since twenty-four years. We have set a system that allows me to check and to plan every gesture and every detail.

Q: Do you have, sometime, work in progress doubts or afterthoughts?
J.K.: Doubts belong to human nature, but in general I love my personal iconography. When I was young in my head there was only Duchamp Duchamp Duchamp! Then I understood that art is a circle and so I do not have doubts. As humans we can only follow our levels of interest. This brings us toward an archetype that never disappoints. Follow your interests.

Q: Do you ever think what they will say about your work in a few years?
J.K.: I am more occupied by the present perception than the future one. When I read some magazine critiques or when I receive some compliments I am happy to be appreciated, but over all what I want is to create. My worry is the present.

Q. We know that you also are an art collector. What do you love? What do you collect?
J.K.: I love everything. I try to abdicate the judgment and to open myself to acceptance. Art upsets life. Obviously there are some moments when I prefer a certain kind of work over some others, but this never creates a hierarchy. I have some works by Picasso, Fragonard…Several Egyptian archaeological artefacts. I really love primitive art and Monet.

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