Jeff Koons Tells us the Stories Behind 4 of His Most Famous Works

On the eve of his retrospective at New York's Whitney Museum, the artist walks us through what he was thinking when he made some of his most iconic pieces of art.

Since the late 1970s, Koons has all but erased the line between art and spectacle with his kitschy porcelain figurines, sexually explicit portraits, and giant mirrored balloon animals. Now, at 59, as he readies the biggest show of his career—"Jeff Koons: A Retrospective," opening June 27 at New York City's Whitney Museum—the art world's captain of industry reflects on four of his most iconic pieces.

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1. New Hoover Celebrity III's (1980)
"In [the series] 'The New,' I wanted to have a more direct dialogue with [Marcel] Duchamp's ready-mades. I have fond memories of when this piece was installed in the window of [New York's] New Museum. The guards complained that people were coming in to buy vacuum cleaners."

• • •

2. Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)
"It's in the form of a Renaissance sculpture, like the Pietà, and has the same pyramid-type structure. [In the 'Banality' series,] I wanted a Christ-like figure, because I felt I was asking people to trust themselves—to not fight the things they like. When you watch a performer today, you feel like they're connected to a higher being."

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3. Made in Heaven (1989)
"I was asked by the Whitney Museum to make a billboard for a group exhibition called 'Image World.' I had seen images of my [now] ex-wife, Ilona [Staller, nicknamed Cicciolina, a star of Italian adult films], so I thought, 'I'll invite that woman to pose with me, and it'll be as if we made a film, and I'll call it Made in Heaven, starring Jeff Koons and Cicciolina.' At the photo shoot, we ended up flirting and fell in love. The 'Made in Heaven' series was a rich body of work. The painting Ilona's Asshole is like my Courbet's The Origin of the World. I destroyed some of it because I was in a custody dispute for my son. My ex-wife was trying to equate my artworks to pornography, so I wanted to remove that as an issue."

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4. Puppy (1992)
"I created it for a site-specific exhibition in Bad Arolsen, Germany. There was a huge schloss in the center of town. I envisioned Louis XIV visiting it and thought, 'If Louis lived there, what would he want to see?' Maybe he'd wake up in the morning and want to see a sculpture, about 40 feet tall, all made of live flowers, in the shape of a dog. It was that intuitive."

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Also on
The Life and Times of Dan Colen
Oscar Murillo Is the Art World's Next Big Star (But Can He Live Up to the Hype?)
The Long-Lost Digital Art of Andy Warhol Is Finally Going on Display

Photographs: From top: Corbis. Collection of Jeffrey Deitch. © Jeff Koons/Courtesy of Whitney Museum Of American Art. Getty Images (2). Artist Rooms Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The D'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Art Fund 2008. © Jeff Koons/Courtesy of Whitney Museum Of American Art.

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