JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART
jeff koons


New York City, October 1986

Klaus Ottmann: What is the theme of your new work?

Jeff Koons: The basic story line is about art leaving the realm of the artist, when the artist loses control of the work. It’s defined basically by two ends. One would be Louis XIV — that if you put art in the hands of an aristocracy or monarch, art will become reflec-tive of ego and decorative — and on the other end of the scale would be Bob Hope — that if you give art to the masses, art will become reflective of mass ego and also decorative. The body of work is based around statuary representing different periods of Western European art. Each work in the show is coded to be more or less specific about art being used as a symbol or representation of a certain theme that takes place in art, such as Doctor’s Delight, a symbol of sexuality in art; Two Kids, of morality in art; Rabbit, of fantasy in art. Italian Woman would be a symbol of the artist going after beauty; Flowers would be art being used to show elegance and the strength of money; Louis XIV is power, a sym-bol of using art as an authoritarian means; Trolls, a symbol of mythology.

Ottmann: What is your main interest as an artist?

Koons: I’m interested in the morality of what it means to be an artist, with what art means to me, how it defines my life, etc. And my next concern is my actions, the responsibility of my own actions in art with regard to other artists, and then to a wider range of the art audience, such as critics, museum people, collectors, etc. Art to me is a humanitarian act, and I be-lieve that there is a responsibility that art should somehow be able to affect mankind, to make the word a better place (this is not a cliche!).

Ottmann: Where do you get the ideas for your work?

Koons: It’s a natural process. Generally I walk around and I see one object and it affects me. I can’t just choose any object or any theme to work with. I can be confronted by an object and be interested in a specific thing about it, and the context develops simultane-ously. I never try to create a context artificially. I think about my work every minute of the day.

Ottmann: How far are you involved in the actual production of your work?

Koons: I’m basically the idea person. I’m not physically involved in the production. I don’t have the neces-sary abilities, so I go to the top people, whether I’m working with my foundry — Tallix — or in physics. I’m always trying to maintain the integrity of the work. I recently worked with Nobel prize winner Richard P. Feynman. I also worked with Wasserman at Dupont and Green at MIT. I worked with many of the top physicists and chemists in the country.

Ottmann: Could you elaborate the term "integrity"?

Koons: To me, integrity means unaltered. When I’m working with an object I always have to give the great-est consideration not to alter the object physically or even psychologically. I try to reveal a certain as-pect of the object’s personality. To give you an example: if you place a shy person in a large crowd, his shyness will be revealed and enhanced. I work with the object in a very similar manner. I’m placing the object in a context or material that will enhance a specific personality trait within the object. The soul of the object must be maintained to have confidence in the arena.

Ottmann: How do you see the development of your work?

Koons: The early work is very important to my personal development, but I don’t feel that it has the same so-cial value as my work from the time of “The New.” I feel basically that the core of my work stays the same. I try to carry the best of my work with me through each body of work while enlarging its parameters.

Ottmann: What are the differences between your work and say someone like Richard Prince who rephotographs advertisement and media images?

Koons: Richard and I have been friends for many years. His work is more involved in the ap-propriation as-pect, the aspect of theft, while my work comes from the history of the ready-made, which for me is position of optimism. Whether I’m casting my Jim Beam de-canter or creating a painting from a liquor ad, I receive all the legal rights from everybody — a very optimistic situation.

Ottmann: How do you manage to get all the legal rights?

Koons: I come out of a background of, at one time, being the Senior Representative for the Mu-seum of Modern Art. I was also a commodity broker on Wall Street for six years, so I have experience in deal-ing with people on a professional level. I had only one company in my last project that turned me down. And in each company I have to deal first with them, then with their lawyers, and in some cas-es with their advertising firms and their printers.

Ottmann How do you see advertisement?

Koons: It’s basically the medium that defines people’s perceptions of the world, of life itself, how to interact with others. The media defines reality. Just yesterday we met some friends. We were celebrating and I said to them: “Here’s to good friends!” It was like living in an ad. It was wonderful, a wonderful moment. We were right there living in the reality of our media.

Ottmann: What do you think about the fact that the owner of one of the largest advertising firms in the world, Charles Saatchi, is buying your art?

Koons: It’s not negative toward advertisement. I believe in advertisement and media complete-ly. My art and my personal life are based in it. I think that the art world would probably be a tremendous reservoir for everybody involved in advertising.

Ottmann: What is the significance of the Nike ads?

Koons:The Nike ads were my great deceivers. The show was about equilibrium, and the ads defined person-al and social equilibrium. There is also the deception of people acting as if they have accomplished their goals and they haven’t: “Come on! Go for it! I have achieved equilibrium!” Equilibrium is unattainable, it can be sustained only for a mo-ment. And here are these people in the role of saying, “Come on! I’ve done it! I’m a star! I’m Moses!” It’s about artists using art for social mobility. Moses [Malone] is a symbol of the middle-class artist of our time who does the same act of deception, a front man: “I’ve done it! I’m a star!”

Ottmann: Would you be interested in doing an ad?

Koons: I would be extremely interested. I’m not interested in corporations having my work. Some corpora-tions collect my work, that’s fine. But let’s say I use a specific product, like a Spalding basketball. I don’t want Spalding to have my basketball. I don’t do it for that reason. But if Spalding came to me and asked if I would like to work on an ad cam-paign, I’d love to do that.

Ottmann: Do you get money from companies for using their products?

Koons: Absolutely not. I would never accept it. Now, somebody like Jim Beam who has been so gracious to work with, I’ve given them a work of art, but if they would want to buy one I may feel uncomfort-able because the work was not done for that reason. I’ve given them something out of apprecia-tion of their being so tremendous to work with.

Ottmann: Do you consider the gallery the ideal space for your work?

Koons: I love the gallery, the arena of representation. It’s a commercial world, and morality is based gener-ally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery. I like the tension of accessibility and inaccessibility, and the morality in the art gallery. I believe that my art gets across the point that I’m in this morality theater trying to help the under-dog, and I’m speaking socially here, showing concern and making psychological and philosophical statements for the underdog.


Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.