Portraits of Artists 04

Conversation with Jeff Koons

Jérôme Sans: In the last five years you became the most mediatized artist and maybe the most controversed; "champion of the aesthetics of communication and efficacy". Your affiliation with Cicciolina made your work explode. What do you see as the frontier between art and life?

Jeff Koons: I've tried to make art and life one thing. I've tried to show people that it's enough to be clever in life.

JS: What is your relationship to Andy Warhol who was in that field?

JK: I have never really thought of Jeff Koons as the son of Andy Warhol. I've thought of myself more as maybe the son of Michelangelo. I think I've taught my sperms more tricks than Andy has.

JS: And what is your relationship to success?

JK: I never really have wanted success for any reason other than economic independence. I've wanted to have a liberated life. I've believed in the state of leisure – my most happy moments are just in a state of leisure and I try to be in that state always.

JS: About your relationship to media you have said: "I would like to have a dialogue with the media because the media define reality and subvert the media to get visible and using their attributes." Don't you think you have used the more obvious attribute – sex – which is saleable for the media?

JK: I think I have dived the bottom of hypocrisy and I have resurfaced. I haven't tried to make any direct judgement whether morally I believe in this or morally I believe in that but I've gone to the bottom of hypocrisy.

JS: Do you see a difference between sex and pornography?

JK: To me, sex and love are a manner to enter the eternal and I think even at times pornography could be a way of entering into the eternal. It's all based on one's parameters.

JS: You seem to be obsessed to make an art accessible to all. Do you think art must have a social dimension?

JK: I believe that art has been a very impotent activity for quite some time. I would hope that art could assume the responsibility to lead, to be a political value to the world, that it can meet people's needs, that it manipulates and it seduces. And that it can be a political tool. In recent times, since the Baroque and Rococo, art has been just purely impotent.

JS: You are speaking a lot about the practical program. Can you tell us a bit more?

JK: For me, one society of the blue blood would be one society in a state of entropy. One leisure class – everyone in a state of leisure.

JS: But don't you think you are playing more with the elite than with all the classes?

JK: I've always tried to have my work to be able to – no matter what class someone is from – give mobility: If somebody is from a lower class or a middle class I try to communicate to them that it is enough to be clever, to embrace their own past that is their foundation in the world so that they are able to move themselves upwards, that they have the belief they can achieve their desire; and at the same time to debase the upper class. They need a place to fall and embracing their own history is their fall.

JS: You have said that you want to use luxury as a metaphor to define class structure.

JK: I have done that in a body of work called "Luxury & Degradation".

JS: And don't you think it's a bit an artificial luxury?

JK: I don't believe in luxury. To me, luxury is a form of degradation, the same that alcohol is a form of degradation. It is just a form of abstraction which is used to manipulate the masses to be able to take the political, economic power away from the masses. There are all different levels of luxury. Whether it is just a bottle of liquor that has a catchy name to it, or a Jaguar or Mercedes car, it is a debasement.

JS: You would become like a kind of guide, a kind of mentor to follow for the masses?

JK: I would hope to be a political propagandist.

JS: How do you think about the real one?

JK: I think I am the real one. I'm happy to say that my work has functioned very much like a rock star's video. It's gone over many different cultures. I try to make a work that functions globally and I've already admitted from the beginning: I have gone to the bottom of hypocrisy. If I ring your doorbell and you open the door I will be anybody that you want me to be.

JS: Don't you think this behaviour is specifically American?

JK: No, I think it is global. I think it is the need to communicate and wanting the responsibility to communicate. The first thing that is necessary in communication is to be able to have the viewer prepared for the information. And you must seduce, you must manipulate for that. There are people who go around saying: "Oh, I don't believe in these words, manipulation and seduction, I want art dealing in aesthetics!" The people who want art dealing in aesthetics only want to use art as segregation for their own level of society or their own belief in their own intellectual quality.

JS: Communication for you would be symptomatic of the eighties?

JK: Of all time.

JS: But don't you think that there is a kind of very American Dream?

JK: If I would be an amoeba I would be trying to seduce the amoeba next to me.

JS: But what can you imagine doing after the images you have produced this year? To stay on this step because when you open the door it is difficult to go back afterwards?

JK: I really have been on a life quest and to create an art that is very similar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Holy Grail. These are images which communicate warmth to people, they make them feel secure and they let them feel the sense of possibility for the future. I believe that I am making contemporary Sacred Hearts of Jesus every moment.

JS: In that sense you have said: "My work is more ideal than conceptual"?

JK: My work is not a segregator.

JS: Is your own life to be the territory of your work for the future?

JK: I don't think my own life has ever been the territory of my art. It may be a perception that it is my own life. Right now, I am working on another contemporary Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a twelve meter high puppy. It will sit in front of a Schloss in Aarls in Germany and it will transform this town into Disneyland. It will be one of the eight wonders as Disneyland in Germany. It is going to be Rococo and it will be a Sacred Heart of Jesus.

JS: And speaking about Rococo . So, how is your relationship to the Rococo or kitsch?

JK: Sexual.

JS: Only?

JK: The Rococo and the Baroque and kitsch. it deals with people's needs, their need for equilibrium. If you see mathematics on one side you see nature on the other. If you see abstinence on one side you see sex. It is about equilibrium and putting somebody in a position that communication can take place. Kitsch is a symbol of your past and mine.
I saw a photo of Ilona in Stern magazine in January of '88 and the dress that she was wearing I used in a sculpture that I made called "Fake Divers". And after a while I started to follow Ilona a little bit. Driving on the autostrada, I had seen a men's magazine and I would realize: "My good god, this is the same woman!" And I just wanted to be in the photos, I wanted to participate in those photos, I wanted to debase Jeff Koons.

JS: But how did you meet her ?

JK: I called her on the telephone.

JS: That was it?

JK: Mmmm .

JS: And that was the only. you, you, you.?

JK: We met each other and it was a biological attraction.

JS: And what did she represent for you when you wanted to meet her so strongly?

JK: She represented a past more complicated than my own. Jeff Koons had quite a normal past. I went to art school, I have a Fine Arts background, I participate in high-culture. Ilona represented low-culture to me. And if I wanted to communicate to people to embrace their past I wanted to have mine a little more complicated.

JS: So, she was for you the image of a possibility for your work and for your life?

JK: Ilona was the image to me of a Bavarian cow, an image of fertility. Right now, I am very happy that we are making our first child – Ilona is five months pregnant at this time.

JS: And do you think the baby will be included in the work?

JK: It is a biological sculpture.

JS: Because the frontier between. You are completely in a media field in which there is no frontier between reality and life, no privacy.

JK: My involvement with media is only to try to be coordinated as an artist. The media has a tremendous amount of hypocrisy involved with it, and the levels that an artist must go, what they must do, how they must present themselves, isn't necessarily the level of morality that I may carry with myself. But if one wants to be effective one has to embrace that morality.

JS: You touch on a word: "morality". There are a lot of people who think there is a moral background possible in your work. What do you think about this?

JK: My work does have a moral background: It wants to enjoy life, it is about listening to life, it is about having as much opportunity in life as possible and about extending those parameters. I enjoy Michelangelo because when I look at Michelangelo it is about masturbation. The Baroque, the over-emphasizing of a muscle – it lets you feel your own muscle. A woman's breast larger than life lets a woman feel her breast. This is a form of masturbation. This puts one in contact with life.

JS: So do you like masturbation?

JK: I enjoy masturbation as far as a vehicle in life, listening to life. I believe that love is a higher state. You can't get into the eternal through masturbation but you can through love.

JS: And desire?

JK: I believe in desire.

JS: Because there is a lot of desire in the work for people who look at it?

JK: I hope that the work induces desire and lets people know that they can achieve their desire. At the same moment, it never segregates anyone from their past. No one has ever looked at a Jeff Koons and has felt that this work was speaking down to them, they have always felt above my work.

JS: You are playing with media but your art is acting professional in that field, which is quite rare for an artist.

JK: I enjoy speaking about my work and I enjoy taking the responsibility to tell people what it is about. The last thing that I want is a critic or a curator to define to the public what my work is about: When I speak with media and if I am at my best I am really just on automatic pilot.

(Vienna, June 1992)