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Elon Musk flies Jeff Koons to the Moon

16 February 2024

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

There was a moment this week when it looked as if Jeff Koons, one of the contemporary art world’s most thrusting figures, would fail to achieve lift-off. A total of 125 miniature sculptures of the moon were due to be launched towards that lunar body for Koons’s Moon Phases Project. However, it took many false starts before the rocket left Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The cause of this dysfunction? An issue with the methane propellant on the SpaceX rocket. Perhaps Elon Musk had, for once, failed to generate enough hot air.

According to an accompanying statement, ‘Those Moons will be the very first authorised artworks placed on the Moon.’ In that ‘authorised’ lies the story of the Moon Museum: a ceramic wafer measuring all of 1.9cm on its longest side, which in 1969 was secretly attached to the leg of a lunar lander for the Apollo 12 flight. Aboard the miniature ‘museum’ were works by six artists, including Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. Alas, without another trip to find the wafer, it is impossible to know if this pioneering piece of space art is, in fact, in space.

If the Moon Museum is up there, then the cartoon-loving Koons will find his work in good company. Below a schoolboy scrawl of a penis (Warhol’s contribution) is a simplified Mickey Mouse, courtesy of Oldenburg. To Rakewell, it seems that Koons missed an opportunity to pay homage to the dogs of the Soviet space programme – why no balloon Laika, Jeff?

Instead, the first (officially sanctioned) artworks to make it to the moon are a series of one-inch stainless-steel spheres. ‘Each [is] associated with people from various fields and time periods who have made a significant impact to human life on Earth, such as Mozart, Galileo, Cleopatra, and Leonardo da Vinci,’ apparently – though to this viewer, the arrayed spheres look like nothing so much as a pétanque kit. With Warhol among the 125 names, he may now be the only artist to be over-represented on the moon.

If all goes to plan, the lunar lander will arrive in nine days, the landing location becoming a Lunar Heritage Site where Koons’ moons will be installed for perpetuity. For each orb that makes it heavenward, there is a larger replica that remains on earth. Each features a precious stone: a white diamond, yellow diamond, sapphire, emerald or ruby. Tasteful!

What would such a project be if unaccompanied by NFTs? There are 125 for sale from Pace Gallery, one per moon. ‘Space explorations have given us a perspective of our ability to transcend worldly constraints,’ Koons has said. ‘These ideas are central to my NFT project.’ Or as Neil Armstrong might have put it: Koons 1, Mankind 0.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.