a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!

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in our recent interview, jeff koons talks about his art as an extension of the democratic principle – that there are moral dividends to be gained from ‘participation’, and that ‘art is about what happens inside you’. yes, and that, as a logical extension of his practice, he will soon foray into NFTs.


designboom met the american artist during the launch of his new collaboration with BMW at munich’s pinakothek der moderne museum. here is a bit of good talk, please enjoy!




DESIGNBOOM (DB): many of your early works have comment on the fetishistic appeal of consumerism. do you think that people’s behaviour has changed since? has your perception of nowadays society changed?


JEFF KOONS (JK): my early works come out of the ‘duchampian’ kind of ready-made tradition. when I started working with reflective materials, I would put inflatable flowers and just propped with them on mirrors and they were up against the wall. I was really in a tradition of robert smithson’s work, but eventually when I started casting objects, I see jim beam JB turner train. a train that it’s made out of liquor, and I thought, when I looked at it, this would be really a duchampian piece, …

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
combined ready-mades in which inflatable figures are placed on and in front of mirrors
‘inflatable flowers’, vinyl and mirror, 1979
artwork © jeff koons, images courtesy the artist



editor’s note: jim beam — J.B. turner train was the centrepiece of jeff koons’s gallery debut of the ‘luxury and degradation’ series. the works focus on the discord between the marketing of alcohol as a luxury product associated with leisure, sex, and sophistication, and the often destructive, ugly, and unintended effects of drinking to excess. the outside appearance and promise of something are in opposition to its interior life and meaning. cast in stainless steel, each of the seven train cars holds a fifth of bourbon.

koons takes jim beam’s collectible decanter train set and turns what the company promoted as a rare collectible object into a truly rare luxury object: an artwork. inside, however, is the same common spirit available at every liquor store. image courtesy the broad.



JK (continues): and then right away, I thought stainless steel brought to a mirror finish. the alcohol inside that decanter is really kind of the soul of the piece. ‘how can I do this and preserve that?’ I thought well, I’ll go back to jim beam, and have them refill the bottle.


it was for that intoxicating, visually intoxicating experience of looking at that piece, and having the desire and understanding the degradation – the desire that an alcoholic could have – and the degradation that takes place in the pursuit of luxury.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘jim beam – J.B. turner train’, 1986, stainless steel and bourbon, 27.9 x 289.6 x 16.5 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image courtesy the artist



JK (continues): my dialogue about reflection, was always a philosophical dialogue. the material was a proletarian material, I did not work with sterling silver, I didn’t work with platinum. it was a material that you can make pots and pans out of, as well as spoons and forks. I wanted to have a dialogue about experience, and reflectivity.


I have an exhibition that will be opening soon in florence called ‘shine’, which comes out of german philosophy because I realized, I’m always coming across reflection, ‘shine’, about the whole experience of really transcending, becoming, … through this idea of light and reflection.


editor’s note: works that have entered our collective imagination due to their ability to merge the academic with popular culture through their references to art history and allusions to the world of consumer society. jeff koons has found a key principle in the idea of ‘shine’, which set out to question our relationship with reality but also the very concept of a work of art. the artist’s works place the observer before a mirror in which they can at once see themselves within their environment and thus experience affirmation.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
bear and policeman, 1988 polychromed wood 215,9 x 109,2 x 94 cm, kunstmuseum wolfsburg
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



JK (continues): the job of the artist is to make a gesture and really show people what their potential is. it’s not about the object, and it’s not about the image; it’s about the viewer. that’s where the art happens. so that’s what I’m involved with.


I’ve worked with materials to incite the desire and visceral experience. but it was never about the luxury. people enjoy sometimes trying to take like a triangular peg and making it you know, fit into a circular hole. and because of my background – that I worked at the MoMA (museum of modern art) in sales, and I enjoyed interacting with people, so I ended up doubling the membership, and then I worked on wall street as a broker, to fund my art practice – that kind of pegged me into this thing about consumerism.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘new! new too!’, 1983, lithograph mounted on cotton
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom


JK (continues): I definitely work with the dialogue of objects and our experience and our confrontation with the external world and these type of metaphors. what I’m interested in is the absolute luxury of an object quality of becoming ‘a better human being’ and taking advantage of the opportunities. we have to experience transcendence and enlightenment. that’s the material that I really am playing with.


I’m playing with trying to become myself, to become vaster and to continue to the best of my understanding to communicate to people ways of opening themselves up to the world, to trust in themselves and open themselves up to a greater experience with the world.

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!

‘new hoover quick broom, new hoover celebrityIV’, 1980, and ‘new hoover deluxe shampoo polishers’, 1980. vacuum cleaners, perspex and fluorescent lights

artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom


DB: another question about your early career – you said once that in your youth you experienced moments where you had to go back home to live again with your parents because of economic difficulties. did this initial struggle play a role in your later art?


JK: I was just wanting to participate. and just like I spoke about, very happy to be part of the BMW art car family, to be in dialogue with andy (warhol) and roy (lichtenstein) and robert (rauschenberg), jenny (holzer) and (alexander) calder… (laughs).
I’ve always just wanted to participate. I wanted to be a dialogue with dali and duchamp, picabia… that’s what I find meaning in. I’ve never thought about money. I’d wanted to participate. when I think, well, why have I had the success that I’ve had? I think that I was all in.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
new hoover convertibles (1981-87) vacuum cleaners, acrylic, and fluorescent lights
whitney museum of american art
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



editor’s note: a series of vacuum cleaners suspended in perspex boxes are a commentary on the fetishistic appeal of consumer culture.



JK (continues): I mean, this is what I wanted to do and to the best of my ability. I was it. I mean, that was just okay, here it is and you can’t give more than that. and I think that if you make something that the community finds beneficial, they support you so that you can continue that endeavour. and so I’ve been fortunate that I was able to have people that were supportive to the work. and if the way I’ve lived my life has been for the work – it’s what I find value in. I don’t think you see any jewellery other than my wedding ring, because that’s the values that I place. there are things that I believe in, in the development of, but it’s not believing in kind of superficial excess.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘the new jeff koons’, 1980, duratrans and fluorescent light box
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



DB: what would be your advice to young artists?


JK: first of all, to trust in yourself. when I first had my ‘banality’ show, which was a huge show in new york, and I remember having this big success, and a journalist asked me, aren’t you afraid it’s gonna leave you? I thought I just had this big success, and I already have to start thinking about it leaving me?0021



editor’s note: the word ‘banal’ describes things that are unoriginal, obvious and boring. ‘banality’ works were unveiled in 1988, in which jeff koons used the type of fine materials and crafts that appeal to middle class tastes. as part of his ‘banality’ series he also created art magazine ads, and like the exhibition itself, these were deliberately provocative, questioning the value of ‘high art’.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘woman in tub’, 1988 porcelain 60,3 x 91,4 x 68,6 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



JK (continues): I thought, what is it that you do? how were you able to make these things? the only thing that we can do in life is, first of all, you have to trust in yourself, and you have to learn how to trust i yourself. 



jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘cat on a clothesline’, 1994-2001, polyethylene 312,4 x 279,4 x 127 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



JK (continues): and once you trust in yourself, the last place you want to be is just in here, inside yourself, and you want to go. so, once you trust in yourself, you follow your interests…


what could be more joyful than the things that you’re interested in and you’re curious about? nothing could be more joyful than focusing on those interests. I mean ‘really’ focus on that. and if you do, it always connects you to this metaphysical time-bending place where you connect with an universal vocabulary.


maybe the most famous of his sculptures is michael jackson and bubbles

‘michael jackson and bubbles’, 1988 porcelain 106,7 x 179,1 x 82,6 cm
courtesy the broad art foundation
artwork© jeff koons, image by designboom



JK (continues): everybody does that. when I say everybody does (I intend) that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a mathematician, whether you’re, you know, a poet, whether you’re a visual artist, or you’re an engineer. that’s the only thing you can do. again, there can’t be anything more joyful. it’s just the focus on those interests, and then you realise the abundance of that information around you.

jeff koons interview - the world’s most expensive living artist reveals he is getting into NFTs
‘balloon dog (red)’, 1994-2000, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating 307,3 x 363,2 x 114,3 cm and ‘ribbon’, 1995-1997 / 2010, oil on canvas, 259.1 x 363.2 cm

artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



editor’s note: ‘rabbit’ (1986) gave koons the highest auction price for a living artist, when christie’s sold it for $91.1 million in 2019. koons also held the distinction when his orange ‘balloon dog’ sold for $58.4 million in 2013.




DB: you’ve recently left gagosian and david zwirner and signed to pace, considering that they are also committed to digital work?


JK: all my work has been generated digitally for almost the last two decades. I constantly have been involved with the creation of everything (that I do) digitally. this whole car that I just created a special edition of, was completely done, and it could only be done through digital development. everything about the surface of it and the design of it.


I work completely digitally. and every work that I make is really from the inside out first starting with CAD scans, and then blue light scans and reverse engineering. I’m using photogrammetry for different aspects of capturing and then, you know, changing surfaces digitally…

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!
‘tulips’, 1995-2004, mirror-polished steel with transparent color coating 203,2 x 457,2 x 520,7 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



DB: are you moving into the digital realm, will you foray into NFTs?


JK: yes, I would imagine that within a year’s time that you would see an NFT from me. for now, I worked with the london-based virtual and augmented reality art producers acute art. I think a month ago we released the app for free download, which also lets you experience the BMW car in your own living room, if you want to. this makes them accessible, cost free, which is what we want to do. it’s up there only for limited time but we’re happy to be able to present that to a broader public.

the project 8 X jeff koons that we just finished is not an art car, although I referred to the previous from the very beginning. at that time, I actually wanted to create something else, but I ended up with the art car.


I really was thrilled with the opportunity to come back and start to focus on the ideas, and to be able to try to present that meaning, and to find this balance within a minimalist dialogue. and still just extremely visceral imagery. I’m very proud.



editor’s note: BMW – the 8 X jeff koons, see a teaser here.

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!
detail of ‘tulips’, 1995-2004 
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



DB: please tell us more regarding your next moves, especially the two upcoming exhibitions in palo alto, california in 2022 and in new york in 2023.


JK: depending on what ends up being shown in palo alto, I believe it’s going to be the ‘balloon venus’ (hohlen fels). if that stays on track, that’s what would be shown there. you have a surface that very much is about the moment, and you view it, and it affirms you, and when you move, the abstraction changes. at the same time it draws you back around 35,000 years ago.


and in new york at the flagship pace will be my porcelain series. I’m working with different sculptures, porcelain figurines that I’ve transformed into stainless steel. the models that come from the 18th century to the 20th century, but they’re very transcending pieces. I find a lot of platonism in these works. everything about the way they were created, as far as the information that they are presenting, is very metaphysical. because it’s dealing with the past, the present and the future.


a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!
‘hanging heart’ (gold/magenta), 1994-2006, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating
291 x 280 x 101,5 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image courtesy the artist


DB: returning to the subject of cars, please tell us more about your relationship to vehicles – is it of a more functional or symbolic character?


JK: I enjoy cars, but in a much more intimate way. when I was younger, I worked at a racetrack at a drag strip. I was brought up around this kind of visceral experience of cars and and speed of power, but I really love the intimate aspect of cars.


you know, I have eight children. actually, most of the time, I’m driving a van that is customised with 11 seats in the back. and it’s one of my favorite things to do, because we’re together. one of the reasons that I enjoyed so much working with the BMW 850i, is that it’s really the most global car. it’s a grand coupe, so it’s not just for yourself or with a close partner, but you’re able to be inside with friends and family.

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!
‘titi’, 2004-09, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating 96,2 x 60,5 x 37,8 cm
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



DB: in your imagination (from the artworld), who would sit with you in this car on sunny streets?


JK: I would love to be behind the wheel myself driving, but if I could have somebody in the car it would be great to have picabia or duchamp. better both of them.



‘cracked egg (blue)’, 1994-2006, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, 165.1 x 159.1 x 159.1 cm (bottom), 100 x 159.1 x 159.1 cm (top)
artwork © jeff koons, image by designboom



DB : for you, is designing car more like a painting? or a sculpture?


JK: sculpture and painting are really all the metaphors for our own human development and for us becoming and having experience. and that’s really the relevant thing. the only thing of value is us being able to become and transcend. and we become vaster human beings.


when I think of the car, sitting in the car, for me it’s a little bit like the return to the womb. because all of a sudden, I’m in this inside. it’s like a biological memory. we carry so much information, what’s really relevant to us, is biological memory. it’s in our genes, it’s in our DNA, we can have little glimpses of it if we trust in ourselves to really focus on our interests we can touch this kind of universal vocabulary. everything is just surface other than this biological memory. and so the car tries to touch it.

a dialogue with artist jeff koons: trust in yourself!
designboom’s pietro mini in dialogue with jeff koons



we had the chance to speak to jeff koons, during the launch of his new collaboration with BMW – the 8 X jeff koons, at munich’s ‘pinakothek der moderne’ museum. the design of the 8 series gran coupé will remain undisclosed until its unveiling at frieze los angeles 2022.
see a teaser here.





artist jeff koons draws his inspiration from daily life, everyday familiar objects, often rooted in american culture. by reinterpreting marcel duchamp’s readymade concept, koons questions the very idea of the work of art. the range of subjects that interest him, the ever-present references to art history or to the advertising world, as well as the wide spectrum of techniques he employs, have contributed to making his work part of our collective imagination. marcel duchamp and jeff koons share a striking preoccupation with exploring the ways in which everyday objects can evoke desire and project, or reflect, sexuality.


jeff koons developed a talent for drawing and painting at a young age and attended maryland institute college of art, followed by the art institute of chicago. his father, an interior designer and decorator, exhibited his son’s work in the showroom of his decorating business.

after college, in 1977, koons moved from chicago to NY, where he supported himself as an artist by working on the membership desk of the MoMA and, in 1979 as a commodities broker on wall street. 1980 koons installs his first solo show in the display window of the new museum of contemporary art, NY. jeff koons lives and works in new york city.


his work was the subject of a major exhibition organized by the whitney museum of american art – jeff koons: a retrospective (june 27 – october 19, 2014), which traveled to the centre pompidou paris (november 26, 2014 – april 27, 2015) and the guggenheim bilbao (june 9 – september 27, 2015). recent exhibitions include ‘appearance stripped bare: desire and object in the work of marcel duchamp and jeff koons, even’ at museo jumex, mexico city (2019), and ‘jeff koons at the ashmolean‘ (2019), ‘jeff koons: absolute value. selected works from the collection of marie and jose mugrabi’ (2020/21) at the tel aviv museum of art,  ‘jeff koons: mucem’ , works from the pinault collection are currently on view in marseille, france, through october 18, 2021. upcoming is JEFF KOONS. SHINE at palazzo strozzi in florence, italy, october 2, 2021 – january 30, 2022.


all images featured here are shot inside the exhibition ‘jeff koons’ (by designboom)
at fondation beyerler, may 13 – september 2, 2012. see more here and here.

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