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b. 1955, York, Pa.
Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1955. At the age of eight, he painted copies of Old Master paintings, signed them “Jeffrey Koons,” and sold them at his father’s furniture store. In 1972, he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. After an exchange year at the Art Institute of Chicago, he graduated with a BFA in 1976. In 1977, he moved to New York and began working at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art. There he quickly became notorious for his outrageous clothes and hair, as well as his impressive salesmanship. It was during this period that he first began to work with garish inflatable flowers and rabbits, combining them with plastic, Plexiglas, and mirrors to produce striking sculptures. In 1980, Koons left the museum and began selling mutual funds and stocks at First Investors Corporation to finance the work that would eventually appear in his The New series (1980–83): vacuum cleaners and shampoo polishers displayed in clear Plexigas vitrines.
Koons’s Equilibrium series (1985) included sculptures comprised of basketballs floating in tanks of water. In 1986, he appeared in a group show with Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, and Meyer Vaisman at Sonnabend Gallery in New York; the cool style of the works in the show led critics to declare a shift away from the Neo-Expressionism that had dominated the earlier half of the decade. Koons’s Rabbit (1986), a forty-one-inch-high stainless-steel version of one of the inflatable rabbits he had experimented with previously, drew much of the critical attention. During that same year, Koons introduced the subject of consumerist decadence in his work, most notably in the series Luxury and Degradation, which features images of liquor advertisements and sculptural renderings of travel bars (liquor bottles and glasses in portable cases). He expanded on this theme in the Banality series (1988), producing sculptural pairings such as the pop singer Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee (in Michael Jackson and Bubbles). This series also included “ads,” starring Koons himself, that played on his newfound art-world celebrity. This use of his own image presaged the Made in Heaven series (1990–91), first shown at the 1990 Venice Biennale, in which the artist and his new wife, Ilona Staller, appeared in a panoply of hard-core pornographic poses.
In 1992, Koons’s forty-foot-high sculpture Puppy, a rendering of a West Highland terrier comprised of soil and living, multicolored flowers, was installed in Kassel during Documenta 9. Though not part of the official show, the sculpture was extremely popular and has since been displayed in other cities, including New York, Sydney, and Bilbao. In his work since the mid-1990s—in series such as Celebration (1995–98), Easyfun (1999–2000), Easyfun/Ethereal (2000–02), Popeye (2003), and Hulk Elvis (2007), Koons has continued to produce sculpture but has also concentrated on complex paintings that oscillate between abstraction and pop-culture references.
Koons has had numerous solo exhibitions since a 1980 window installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, including shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1988 and 2008), Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (1993), Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney (1995), Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997), Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin (2000), Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (2003), Victoria and Albert Museum in London (2006), Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2008), and Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (2008). He has also exhibited widely in international group exhibitions, such as Lighting at P.S. 1 in New York (1981), Skulptur. Projekte in Münster (1987), Whitney Biennial (1987 and 1989), Carnegie International (1988), Biennale of Sydney (1990), Venice Biennale (1990 and 1997), American Art in the Twentieth Century at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1993), Hypermental at Kunsthaus Zürich (2000), Art 36 Basel (2005), and Art in America organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Musum and presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai (2007). He received the BZ Cultural Award from the City of Berlin in 2000 and the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 2001. He was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 2002 and then promoted to Officier in 2007, and was given the Wollaston Award from the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2008). He lives and works in New York City and York, Pennsylvania.