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Modern Juxtaposition

A major exhibition of the work of Jeff Koons (b. 1955) is running at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is curated by Koons himself, together with guest curator Sir Norman Rosenthal.

The show will feature 17 important works, 14 of which have never been exhibited in the UK before. They span the artist's entire career and his most well-known series including Equilibrium, Statuary, Banality, Antiquity and his recent Gazing Ball sculptures and paintings.

Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, says: "In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, the world's oldest public museum where the collections range from pre-history to the present, this exhibition will provoke a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages. I am sure it will also provoke conversations among those who see it."

Jeff Koons is described by superlatives. Since he burst onto the contemporary art scene in the 1980s he has been described as the most famous, important, subversive, controversial and expensive artist in the world.

From his earliest works Koons has explored the 'ready made' and appropriated image using unadulterated found objects, and creating painstaking replicas of ancient sculptures and old master paintings which almost defy belief in their craftsmanship and precision. Throughout his career he has pushed at the boundaries of contemporary art practice, stretching the limits of what is possible.

Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania in 1955 and he now lives and works from New York. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1976.

He is widely known for his iconic sculptures Rabbit and Balloon Dog as well as the monumental floral sculpture Puppy(1992), shown at Rockefeller Center and permanently installed at the Guggenheim, Bilbao.

The Ashmolean exhibition will include important works from the 1980s with which Koons made his name through the novel use of the ready made and the appropriation of popular imagery.

Among the highlights will be the spectacular Balloon Venus (Magenta) (2008–12). While evoking the tiny Ice Age 'Venus of Willendorf', one of the world's oldest works of art, Balloon Venus (Magenta) is made with Koons's signature motifs: monumental scale; the inflated balloon with its intimations of transience and mortality and the flawless mirror-polished surface which positions the viewer in the work.

In his Antiquity paintings (2009 onwards) Koons creates thrilling, layered collages. Photo-realist reproductions of classical sculptures (of Venus, Pan and Priapus) are set against broken collages of other artworks or dazzling abstract backgrounds, overlaid with graffiti-like marks. In more recent works, Koons has explored what he calls his 'cultural DNA', using sculptures and paintings from world-famous collections, which have personal meaning for him.

Shown in the UK for the first time will be seven works from the series including Gazing Ball (Belvedere Torso)(2013), Gazing Ball (Gericault Raft of the Medusa)(2014–15), and Gazing Ball (Titian Diana and Actaeon)(2014–15).

Koons has received numerous awards and honours in recognition of his cultural achievements. He has also been a board member of The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) since 2002, and co-founded the Koons Family International Law and Policy Institute with ICMEC for the purpose of combating global issues of child abduction and exploitation and to protect the world's children.

Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean runs until June 9. Visit www.ashmolean.org for more information.

This Month's Issue

Henley Life May 2019