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Jeff Koons, the king of controversy!

Every week, discover stories and secrets from the greatest artists in the history of art! Rise Art invites you on a tour of the exciting lives of our favourite painters and sculptors. Today, we look at the buzz surrounding controversial contemporary artist Jeff Koons, whose work still attracts its critics, despite its distinction...

By Cécile Martet | 18 Aug 2023

Jeff Koons, a "Pop" Artist

Despite being the most expensive living artist in the world, Jeff Koons is still a subject of controversy on a regular basis. It's perhaps the flip side of fame... Considered overrated, commercial, and provocative, Jeff Koons, who is also well-versed in art history, has crafted a highly commercial and quite unique body of work over the years.

His works, described as "kitsch" and "neo-pop," depict American icons and everyday objects - even those from childhood. While his work is highly prized by wealthy collectors, Koons claims to create art for the masses. Being widely recognized and active for many years, he has certainly faced numerous controversies...

Jeff Koons: The King of Controversy

Accusations of Plagiarism

Jeff Koons has been accused several times of plagiarism, of drawing heavy inspiration from the works of other artists without seeking rights. In 2014, just before the start of his retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou, he was accused of using a photograph by French artist Jean-François Bauret to create the sculpture "Naked," part of the "Banality" series begun in 1988. The deceased photographer's wife took legal action against Koons, a trial that began in January 2017...

Jeff Koons: The King of Controversy

Shortly before that, the artist had already encountered some issues with the creator of a 1985 Naf-Naf advertisement, from which he took both the visual and even the name, "Fait d'hiver" to create a sculpture. It's difficult to judge here whether it's an intellectual property theft, especially since it's an advertisement... isn't that the very essence of Pop Art, to borrow such subjects?

Jeff Koons: The King of Controversy
Jeff Koons, "Fait d'hiver," and the Naf-Naf campaign

Scandal at Versailles

In 2008, Jeff Koons was invited to exhibit 17 works in the salons of the Palace of Versailles. At the time, some were displeased to see royal salons adorned with overtly pop artworks. Moreover, the artist's own personality stirred debate, as he had a history of creating sexually suggestive pieces and had been married to a pornographic film star... quite daring for a sacred place like Versailles! The National Union of French Writers even wrote to the President of the Republic, asking him to "immediately put an end to the scandalous Jeff Koons Versailles exhibition that disrespects the symbols that legitimate the Republic and undermines France's vital interests"...

Jeff Koons: The King of Controversy
Jeff Koons at Versailles, "Balloon Dog (Magenta)" and "Lobster"

In 2016, Jeff Koons sparked controversy once again by gifting the city of Paris with a monumental sculpture ("Bouquet of Tulips") as a tribute to the victims of the November 13, 2015 attacks. The US Ambassador suggested placing it in the square between the National Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Palais de Tokyo. The very location of the future artwork posed an issue: critics accused the artist of seeking self-promotion and glorification in such a prestigious location... entirely unrelated to the attack sites.

Overall, he's accused of exploiting tragic events and monopolizing public space. Not to mention, the Paris City Hall is responsible for finding the funds for the production and future installation of the artwork... A story to follow!

Jeff Koons: The King of Controversy
Jeff Koons, "Bouquet of Tulips"


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