You know you’ve got a problem when you’re a famous artist whose works sell for millions, and you can’t give one away valued $3,5 million.
The U.S. Pop artist Jeff Koons donated a 39-foot-tall sculpture of a hand clutching a bouquet of tulips to Paris in sympathy for suffering a terrorist attack in 2015. But when the installation took place last week in the Petit Palais Museum garden, many Parisians balked that it blocked views of the Eiffel Tower. And that’s not all they said. (More about this in a moment).
“Saddened” by the complaint, Koons told Le Figaro, France’s morning newspaper, that objections stem from “misunderstandings and misinformation.” Touting the hand clasping the flowers, he said, it’s like the Statue of Liberty holding her torch – a sign of the esprit de cour between the U.S. and France.
I’m not French, but I can’t think that mimicking the torch-bearing statue with a fistful of tulips is all that respectful to the gallic.
After all, they gave Lady Liberty to the U.S. and one of their own, the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi designed it. And as an American, I’m not happy to see the torch of liberty likened to tulips.
The French have another reason to say no thanks to Bouquet of Tulips besides interfering with views of the Eiffel Tower. Last year the French newspaper Liberation published an open letter from noted French artists like Nicolas Bourriaud, director of the Montpellier Contemporain, saying the sculpture was “opportunistic,” and nothing more than “product placement,” (embedded marketing). The New York Times likewise noted how Koons’ work stands for “a type of “speculative art,” an advertisement for the artist.
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Such a complaint ties to Koons’ other sculptures of tulips like one of five versions selling at Christie’s in 2012 for $33,682 million. Koons also is associated with marketing when he reprinted Old Master-art on commercial products like Luis Vuitton handbags that sell for as much as $4,000.
But Koons doesn’t see himself as a marketer, telling the Journal of Contemporary Art that making art was a “humanitarian act” that makes the world a better place. One may wonder where the charitable act lies in lifting famous art to prettify pricey purses.
But Koons has an important devotee – the British art critic Jonathan Jones of The Guardian, who has said of the artist’s work on the Luis Vuitton handbags, “I can’t think of a simpler way to put great art at the forefront of modern minds.” Really, Jonathan?
Unaccountably, Jones went even further in his praise of Koons writing that the purses dolled up with a reproduction of famous paintings are “heartfelt homages” that are “bravely educating us.” I have no words.
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