Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most controversial artists of the postwar era. Throughout his career, he has pioneered new approaches to the readymade, tested the boundaries between art and mass culture and challenged the limits of industrial fabrication. He has also transformed the relationship of artists to the cult of celebrity and the global market. Yet despite these achievements, Koons has never been the subject of a major US retrospective surveying the full scope of his career. Comprising 120 objects dating from 1979 to the present, the Whitney Museum exhibition will present the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the artist’s work. By displaying many of his most best known works and significant series in a chronological narrative, the retrospective will allow visitors to evaluate Koons’s diverse output as a multifaceted artist.
This exhibition will be the artist’s first major museum presentation in New York, and the first to fill nearly the entire Marcel Breuer building with a single artist’s work. It will also be the final exhibition to take place there before the Museum opens its new building in the Meatpacking District in 2015.
Organised by curator and Associate Director of Programs Scott Rothkopf, the exhibition surveys more than three decades of Koons’s art and includes approximately 120 works across a variety of mediums. On view from June 27 through October 19, 2014, this landmark retrospective will be the Whitney’s grand finale in its uptown Breuer building before the Museum opens its new facility downtown in spring 2015. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective will travel to the Centre Pompidou in Paris from November 26, 2014 to April 27, 2015, and following its presentation in Paris to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in summer 2015.
As the first complete chronological narrative of Koons’s art in more than two decades, this exhibition will situate each of these sculptures within the context of the diverse series in which they originated, while also revealing the trajectory of these bodies of work across the arc of Koons’s career. In addition, the Whitney will premiere several new pieces by Koons, including the monumental Play-Doh, which the artist has been working on for more than twenty years.
Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney’s Alice Pratt Brown Director notes: “Jeff Koons is one of the most significant artists of our era, and this retrospective will allow us for the first time to take the full measure of his art. Never before have so many of his works been on view together, nor has the Whitney ever devoted so much space to a single artist. We felt it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the closing of our uptown building with an exhibition of great scholarly rigor that also promises to be a major international cultural event.” Rothkopf remarks: “Koons is widely known as the maker of a handful of iconic objects, but this retrospective will for the first time demonstrate how they fit together as part of a compelling and multifaceted story that will surprise even those familiar with his work. The incredible range of his materials, subjects, scales, formal approaches, and techniques is virtually unparalleled and will make for a dramatic narrative full of plot twists and discoveries. It’s hard to think of another living artist who has pushed as many aesthetic and cultural limits as Koons has.” The Museum will devote its lobby, second, third, and fourth floors, as well as its outdoor sculpture court (approximately 27,000 square feet) to the exhibition, displaying a range of pieces from each stage of the artist’s career and representing the following series: Inflatables (1979), Pre-New (1979–80), The New(1980–87), Equilibrium (1985), Luxury & Degradation (1986), Statuary (1986), Banality (1988), Made in Heaven (1989–91), Easyfun (1999–2003), Celebration (1994–2007), Popeye (2003), Hulk Elvis (2004–2007), Antiquity (2009–2012), and Gazing Ball (2013). Throughout this diverse body of work, Koons has achieved remarkable consistency in his overarching themes and technical rigor. He has elevated familiar objects—inflatable toys, basketballs, vacuum cleaners—from the mundane to the exceptional, shining a hard light on the culture in which we live and art’s place within that culture.
Jeff Koons was born in 1955 in York, Pennsylvania. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City in 1976. In 1980, the New Museum of Contemporary Art mounted Koons’s first solo exhibition The New: Jeff Koons, an installation that comprised wall-mounted vacuum cleaners with fluorescent lights and a lightbox, as a part of their Windows on Broadway exhibition series. His first solo gallery show followed in 1985 at International With Monument in New York’s East Village, showcasing the Equilibrium series, a group of works including basketballs suspended in tanks, framed Nike posters, and cast bronze objects. In the late 1980s, Koons had solo gallery shows in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cologne that presented stainless steel works from the series Statuary, the paintings of liquor advertisements and stainless steel sculptures of Luxury and Degradation, and the polychrome wood and porcelain sculptures from the Banality series.
In 1990, works from the Made in Heaven series depicting nude images of Koons and his future wife, Ilona Staller, were exhibited at the Venice Biennale. The event sparked controversy, which continued into the following year when the entire series was unveiled in Cologne and New York. However, Koons’s ensuing project, the first topiary Puppy , a forty-foot sculpture made of soil and plants, proved to be one of his most popular works when it was unveiled in Germany in 1992. The sculpture has subsequently been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney, 1995) and Rockefeller Center (New York, 2000), and since 1997 has been on view at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The first retrospective of Koons’s work in the United States was organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1992 and subsequently traveled to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Since 2000, Koons’s work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at museums including the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2003); the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo, 2004); the Helsinki City Art Museum (2005); the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, 2008 and 2009); the Château de Versailles (France, 2008–09); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2008); the Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, 2008); the Serpentine Gallery (London, 2009); and the Beyeler Foundation (Riehen, Switzerland, 2012). In 2012, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt mounted concurrent shows of his paintings and sculptures, respectively.
He was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of the Arts in London in 2010, an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French government in 2010 and Hillary Clinton presented him with the U.S. State Department’s Medal of Arts in 2012.
Jeff Koons: A Retrospective June 27-October 19, 2014 Whitney Museum Of American Art New York