More is always more for Jeff Koons.
Now 67 years old, he has been a famous artist for almost 40 years, and has never been shy about his desire to make his art more impressive and spectacular, and to reach more and more people without losing his prestige in the world of art, a strategy. personified by the exuberant sculptures of him “Rabbit”, “Balloon Dog” and “Puppy”.
Artist Ai Weiwei summed it up in an email: “Jeff Koons is not just an artist. He is a phenomenon. He is unique”.
This summer, Mr. Koons has set his artistic course in two very different directions.
The first is to go back to antiquity, to the roots of Western art. Mr. Koons has been giving classical Greek and Roman statuary his own distinctive twist for a decade and a half, and a show to this effect, “Jeff Koons: Apollo,” opened on the Greek island of Hydra on June 21. , in the Space Slaughterhouse Project, by the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art.
On view through October 31, the show is anchored by a large, colorfully painted sculpture of the god Apollo playing an instrument called a zither, an antecedent of the guitar; an animatronic python slithers around him. He was inspired by a sculpture from the Hellenistic period that Mr. Koons saw in the British Museum. (Mr. Koons was a featured guest at last week’s Art for Tomorrow conference in association with The New York Times in Athens, and delegates had a chance to see his Hydra installation.)
The second artistic trajectory points out of this world, literally, to the moon itself, where a lunar lander, transported by a rocket made by SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, will place a box with Koons’s small sculptures, turning them into in the first authorized works of art on the moon. The launch is tentatively scheduled for late fall, a spokesman said.
The release is part of a three-part project, “Jeff Koons: Moon Phases,” which will also include sculptures for collectors to keep at home and their first non-expendable token, or NFT, the digital medium that has obsessed the art world for the last couple of years.
In May, at his main studio on Manhattan’s West Side, Mr. Koons discussed both projects.
“Every piece of art that I create is actually conceived and somehow executed through digital technology, and has been that way for decades,” he said, explaining his comfort with NFTs. “But I wanted to give it meaning.”
Mr. Koons made it clear that he sees his mission as making sense on a grand scale, and that being picky about the conception and production of his artworks is his artistic love language.
“I always try to do my best because I feel a moral obligation,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do it. And works of art can be treated as metaphors for the kind of care you’re putting into it. It’s really to show people that you care about them.”
Mr. Ai highlighted his meticulousness, saying, “The thoroughness of his artwork can only be surpassed by very few artists.”
Mr. Koons said that “Apollo” finds him “metaphysically trying to play with time.” He added that the installation “celebrates the freedom we have in the arts.”
That freedom is granted by collector Dakis Joannou, an early patron and close friend of Koons, who founded the Athens-based Deste in 1983. Before the show opened, details of the installation were kept secret from the public. everyone, even for Mr. Joannou himself.
Visitors are greeted outside the site by “a huge pinwheel, which has two sides, with a reflective gold surface,” Mr Koons said. An actor and some live animals are stationed outside the building (which, as the name suggests, is a former slaughterhouse), as are some sculptures (including a bicycle wheel and a urinal) that are nods to one of the guide lights of the artist, the artist Marcel Duchamp.
Inside, in the middle of piped music, is the figure of Apollo. Although Apollo had various divine functions, for Mr. Koons it is his gift of prophecy that seems to resonate the most. “He can be very, very gentle or he can be extremely violent” — in the word violentMr. Koons widened his bright blue eyes.
Surrounding Apollo and the slithering python are walls that appear to be frescoed, but are actually covered in vinyl. They are intended to reproduce the wall paintings of a Roman villa in Boscoreale, near Pompeii, from the 1st century BC. C., some of which now reside in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A small porch features an object that has become a recurring motif in Mr. Koon’s art over the past few years, the gazing ball. They are part of his fascination with mirrors, and he also likes that balls are a common suburban garden decoration. (One of Mr. Koon’s early series was called “Banality.”)
As for his continuing interest in antiquity, he said it was related to his search for “connections and resurrecting shared meaning.” He added: “I love looking at old pieces because we really feel the same things, we have similar kinds of thoughts.”
Scott Rothkopf, senior deputy director and chief curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, organized a retrospective in 2014 and chose to open the Whitney show with some of Mr. Koons’s classically-themed works, rather than a famous work like the sculpture. 1988’s “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” to make a point.
“As much as this series may seem like a breakout, the seeds were there from the beginning,” Rothkopf said in an interview. “Jeff has always dealt with the most universal themes of the human condition. And he has always been involved in the long arc of art history.”
Rothkopf noted that the “special and rare” relationship between Koons and Joannou was particularly important in the long run, given that Koons does expensive and elaborate work.
“Making a ‘Balloon Dog’ requires a lot of people; he is not an artist with his brush and canvas,” Rothkopf said. “You need people to believe in you even before the job exists.”
Although it is highly unusual for the founder of a private museum to be unaware of the contents of his own exhibition space until the last minute, Mr. Joannou has established trust with Mr. Koons and likes surprises.
Mr Joannou said he wanted “that magical moment of experiencing something for the first time. He first met Mr. Koons in 1985 and has since collected dozens of his works, adding to a total trove of thousands of pieces of contemporary art.
Mr. Joannou warned viewers not to stop at the eye-catching visual hook of Mr. Koon’s creations.
“They have layers,” he said. “The surface can attract, but you have to go beyond.”
Mr. Koons lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his wife, Justine Wheeler Koons, also an artist. He has eight children. During the pandemic, the family spent much of their time on a Pennsylvania farm near their hometown of York, where they normally spend weekends and summers, raising cattle as a group activity.
As part of “Moon Phases”, Mr. Koons considered leaving his family on a long journey, to the moon itself. “But I realized that it was really going to take a year of commitment of my time. And with everything going on in the studio and with my work, I couldn’t really do that.”
The three-part project was announced this spring by PaceVerso, the NFT-focused arm of Pace Gallery, which represents Mr. Koons. It’s ambitious enough that people are wondering: can it really pull it off? Most artist projects do not require coordination with NASA.
The project will have several parts, not all of which are complete yet, starting with 125 miniature moon sculptures. Each one is about an inch in diameter and will represent a phase of the moon, half as seen from Earth, half from different vantage points in space, plus a lunar eclipse. They will be named after a person the artist admires, those who have “achieved achievements that are aspirational for our society,” Koons said.
Although the list is not finalized, some of the proposed names are: Duchamp, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo da Vinci, Sacagawea, Sojourner Truth, the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles and Ileana Sonnabend, a dealer who once represented Koons.
All of the miniature lunar sculptures are scheduled to launch later this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on an autonomous mission along with a NASA payload, and will remain on the moon, although no details have yet been set. know the exact landing spot. be determined.
Two other components of each artwork will remain on Earth: a large spherical stainless steel sculpture encased in glass that a collector may keep at home, plus a corresponding NFT.
The Earth-bound sculptures will feature a reflective surface that mimics the colors of the moon’s surface and a small gemstone, either a ruby, emerald, sapphire, or diamond, that will indicate where the sculptures were left on. miniature on the moon
The complex project was initiated by digital arts and technology company NFMoon and space exploration company 4Space, and the Nova-C Lunar Lander was designed and manufactured by Intuitive Machines.
For Mr. Koons, the myriad complexities of an actual space launch is another reason to care about the details. “NASA had to approve all the materials,” he said, showing a clear plastic box that is filled with little moon-shaped spheres, similar to the one that will live on the moon. He recognized that his projects, never simple, are increasingly complex.
In addition to the desire to spread his art far and wide, the core of Mr. Koon’s interest in the moon is its function as a reflecting body for the sun. “The entire lunar surface, that’s reflective light,” he said. “And reflection through philosophy has always attracted me.”
In Mr. Koons’ mind, “Moon Phases” is a continuation of his themes and aesthetics; In their form and presentation in a transparent container, the stainless steel moon sculptures are reminiscent of the basketballs he floated in tanks of water in his “Equilibrium” series from the 1980s.
Reflection, brilliance and reflectivity in particular will continue to occupy his mind and his art, and for him they have opposite cultural connotations to those of the Narcissus myth.
“A reflective surface affirms,” he said. “That is why today I work with reflective materials. My work is about aspiration, transcendence, becoming, and self-acceptance.”