Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
The breaking of a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog sculpture at an art fair in Miami may have come as shattering news to Rakewell. Some reports have got rather over-excited about the fact that the sculpture was worth $42,000, but it is worth remembering that a full-sized version of this work, Balloon Dog (Orange), sold at auction for more than $58m way back in 2013. That work, however, is three metres high, while the version that was smashed was a mere 40cm high. Besides, these smaller dogs are made of porcelain and there are 799 of them.
More curious than the surprise of a fair-goer sending the poor creature to its demise was that some thought the breakage was an act of performance art rather than an accident. Jeff Koons has consistently played with ideas of representation and things seeming to be something other from what they are. His balloon animals are a case in point. The larger versions are not porcelain, but stainless steel. The prospect of them floating away is not likely, whatever their appearance suggests. Part of his Celebration series, they are typically bright and shiny to bring childish glee to the viewer. It was one of the ways in which Koons tested the boundaries of ‘good taste’ by exhibiting big, vulgar, shiny things. His interest in air, floating and surface deception can be seen in works such as Aqualung (1985) – diving equipment so heavy it would sink a wearer – and in his Popeye series from 2002 that turned children’s inflatable pool toys into heavy steel and paint.
Most discussions about Jeff Koons lead to the question of money, and the Miami incident is no exception. The self-styled ‘renowned multimedia American Pop Artist’ Stephen Gamson tried to buy the fragments of the broken sculpture, for $15m it seems.
Jeff Koons, however, has hinted that Gamson may be barking up the wrong tree. As he told the New York Post: ‘It’s a shame when anything like that happens but, you know, it’s just a porcelain plate,’ he said. ‘We’re really lucky when it’s just objects that get broken, when there’s little accidents like that, because that can be replaced.’ Thank goodness someone has a sense of proportion.
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‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)