Jeff Koons is an American artist known for his reproductions of banal objects—such as balloon animals produced in stainless steel with mirror-finish surfaces. He lives and works in both New York City and his hometown of York, Pennsylvania.
Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania. As a teenager he revered Salvador Dalí so much that he visited him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. Koons studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art. While a visiting student at the Art Institute, Koons met the artist Ed Paschke, who became a major influence and for whom he worked as a studio assistant in the late 1970s. After college, Koons moved to New York in 1977 and worked at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art while establishing himself as an artist.
Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era. He gained recognition in the 1980s and subsequently set up a factory-like studio in a SoHo loft in New York. It was staffed with over 30 assistants, each assigned to a different aspect of producing his work—in a similar mode as Andy Warhol's Factory. Today, he has a 1,500 m2 (16,000 sq ft) factory near the old Hudson rail yards in Chelsea, working with 90 to 120 regular assistants. Koons developed a color-by-numbers system, so that each of his assistants could execute his canvases and sculptures as if they had been done "by a single hand".
Since 1979 Koons has produced work within series. Sculptures using inflatable toys were started in the 1970s. Taking a readymade inflatable rabbit Koons cast the object in highly polished stainless steel, resulting in Rabbit (1986), one of his most famous artworks. Another example for Koon's early work is The Equilibrium Series (1985), consisting of one to three basketballs floating in distilled water, a project the artist had researched with the help of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. Koons also worked on to the Banality series. For this project he engaged workshops in Germany and Italy that had a long tradition of working in ceramic, porcelain, and wood.
In 1989 the Whitney Museum asked Koons to make an artwork about the media. Koons employed his then wife Ilona Staller ("La Cicciolina") as a model in the shoot that formed, Made in Heaven. Including works with such titles as Dirty Ejaculation and Ilonaʼs Asshole, the series of enormous grainy photographs printed on canvas, glassworks, and sculptures portrayed Koons and Staller in highly-explicit sexual positions and created considerable controversy.
Commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim in 1999, Koons began a new series, Easyfun, comprising paintings and wall-mounted sculptures. In 2001, Koons undertook a series of paintings, Easyfun-Ethereal, using a collage approach that combined bikinis, food, and landscapes painted under his supervision by assistants. In September 2014, the bi-annual arts and culture publication GARAGE Magazine published Jeff Koons' first ever digital artwork for the front of its print edition. An augmented reality sculpture can only be viewed on mobile devices through a GARAGE Magazine app, which allows viewers to explore the piece from a variety of angles as if standing on top of it.
His works have sold for substantial sums of money, including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. On November 12, 2013, Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie's in New York City for $58.4 million, above its high $55 million estimate, becoming the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction. Critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising. Koons has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques.