Bags of Tal­ent

His blend of high­brow and low­brow has kept Jeff Koons at the cen­tre of con­tem­po­rary art for decades. Now he has lent his aes­thetic to a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Louis Vuit­ton, writes Mar­i­anna Cerini

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

His blend of high­brow and low­brow has kept Jeff Koons at the cen­tre of con­tem­po­rary art for decades. Now he has lent his aes­thetic to a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Louis Vuit­ton

Men­tion Jeff Koons in the art world and you’ll get wildly diver­gent re­sponses. Some will hail him as a ge­nius, oth­ers as a char­la­tan. What­ever your opin­ion, the Amer­i­can artist—known for el­e­vat­ing chil­dren’s toys and vac­uum clean­ers to the stature of the Greek gods, and for bring­ing large-scale bal­loon sculp­tures into the hal­lowed halls of the Lou­vre—is a highly suc­cess­ful dis­rup­tive gi­ant of con­tem­po­rary art.

The im­pre­sario of power pop art is a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non in his own right, so es­tab­lished that he is no longer af­fected by peo­ple’s opinions. “Some peo­ple are very en­gaged with art, while oth­ers are sim­ply in­tim­i­dated by it,” he says. “They haven’t come to re­alise that art is a tool and can be very lib­er­at­ing. [But] as an artist, the only thing that re­ally mat­ters is trust­ing your­self, fol­low­ing your in­ter­ests and fo­cus­ing on them.”

Which is ex­actly what Koons has been do­ing since the 1980s, when he emerged as an in­no­va­tive sculp­tor whose stain­lesssteel stat­ues—1986’s Rab­bit be­ing a fa­mous ex­am­ple—won over cu­ra­tors, art his­to­ri­ans and crit­ics, who saw in his work a daz­zling con­tem­po­rary up­date of a broad range of hea­then and holy iconog­ra­phy.

Koons con­tin­ues to cre­ate art that falls be­tween large-scale spec­ta­cle and bois­ter­ous car­ni­val, con­stantly chal­leng­ing the no­tion of good taste and high art. His aim, he says, is to erad­i­cate the elitism of the art world. “I re­ally am just en­joy­ing cel­e­brat­ing hu­man­ity,” he


ex­plains, “but also giv­ing peo­ple the chance to re­dis­cover them­selves and their own pos­si­bil­i­ties through the work I make.”

Such am­bi­tious, joy­ful in­tent is per­haps the main rea­son that, de­spite di­vided opinions about his work, Koons is one of the most fa­mous and suc­cess­ful liv­ing Amer­i­can artists. Sales of his work reg­u­larly top the auc­tions. In 2013, his Bal­loon Dog (Or­ange) sold for US$58.4 mil­lion, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive art­work sold at auc­tion by a liv­ing artist.

Peo­ple, it seems, are ir­re­sistibly drawn to Koons’ pe­cu­liar cre­ative en­deav­ours. And not just in the art world: in April, Koons part­nered with lux­ury fash­ion gi­ant Louis Vuit­ton to launch a new line of hand­bags, as well as scarves, key chains and small leather goods, in­clud­ing wal­lets and lap­top sleeves—51 pieces in all—grouped un­der the name Mas­ters.

In­spired by his 2015 Gaz­ing Ball se­ries of paint­ings fea­tur­ing ex­act­ing re­pro­duc­tions of var­i­ous master­works, the col­lec­tion sees five of the most fa­mous paint­ings in his­tory— Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cy­presses, Rubens’ The Tiger Hunt, Frag­o­nard’s Girl with Dog, and Ti­tian’s Mars, Venus and Cupid—printed onto clas­sic Louis Vuit­ton hand­bags such as the Speedy and the Keepall. “I liked the idea of find­ing new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for things that came be­fore us,” Koons says. “It broad­ens one’s per­spec­tive.”

The name of the orig­i­nal artist is em­bla­zoned across the front, while Koons’ ini­tials and the LV mono­gram ap­pear on op­po­site cor­ners at the bot­tom. The JK has been re­worked in the style of the iconic LV, the first time in 16 years of Louis Vuit­ton col­lab­o­ra­tions with artists that its closely guarded mono­gram has been used in such a way. “I thought mak­ing the JK like the LV and hav­ing them side by side would give a new en­ergy to ev­ery­thing,” Koons says. “It makes the bags spe­cial, but also ex­pands Louis Vuit­ton’s reach and sta­tus.” The leather tag around the han­dle that nor­mally se­cretes a lock or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion has also re­ceived the Koons treat­ment, trans­formed into the shape of his fa­mous bal­loon bunny.

The re­sult is ab­so­lutely Koons: high and low, tongue-in-cheek and hu­mor­ously bold. It is great art made dis­pos­able—an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the artist’s canon.

“I had no re­stric­tions in the way I ap­proached the col­lec­tion,” Koons says, “which was won­der­ful. Work­ing with LV was great in terms of re­sources, too. They have amaz­ing ma­te­ri­als and share my de­sire to cel­e­brate craft and at­ten­tion to de­tail. When the first sam­ples came in, I went, ‘Wow! That’s a bet­ter sam­ple than any­thing I’ve ever seen.’ The at­ten­tion to de­tail, the qual­ity of the leather, it all re­flected what I want the pub­lic and fu­ture own­ers of the col­lec­tion to feel: that I—we—care.”

Koons’ as­pi­ra­tion for the bag may sound a lit­tle ide­al­is­tic, but, ul­ti­mately, that day­dreamy at­ti­tude is ex­actly what has made him as an artist. “For me, it’s a lot about feel­ings,” he says. “My art is very much about the viewer, or in this case the car­rier. I want to cre­ate a form of re­cip­ro­cal trust and the idea of a con­nec­tion. I be­lieve that through ideas we can change our­selves.”

Can a back­pack de­pict­ing Rubens’ The Tiger Hunt trig­ger all that? Maybe. We cer­tainly wouldn’t con­tra­dict the King of Pop Art.

Dis­rupt­ing tra­di­tions, Koons has re­worked his ini­tials on the bags in the style of the iconic LV mono­gram

US­ABLE ART Koons’s Mas­ters se­ries for Louis Vuit­ton turns iconic mas­ter­pieces into ac­ces­si­ble leather com­modi­ties

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