Art: Tulips, 1995-2004 by Jeff Koons
Tulips, 1995–2004 by Jeff Koons, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent colour coating 80 x 180 x 205 in
When American pop artist Jeff Koons unveiled Bouquet of Tulips, a 41-foot-high sculpture of a hand holding tulips, in Paris in 2019, The New Yorker called it ‘iffy’. Meant to honour the victims of the November 2015 Paris attacks, it only left Parisians outraged. Those blooms were a reprise of an earlier series, Tulips (1995–2004), which consisted of five versions of a bouquet of oversized, multicoloured tulips.
The critical consensus on Koons is that early promise has given way to blatant commercialism. In fact, he holds the record for the highest selling artwork by a living artist (Rabbit, 1986 fetched $91 million at auction in 2019).
Koons’ polarizing appeal rests on his sculptures made using inflatable toys, which are then cast in highly polished stainless steel. The works are created in a factory-like setting, where employees put in the actual labour of making the artworks—raising tantalizing questions about the nature of creating art.
None of this takes away from the moment you first set your eyes on a Koons. The Broad (pronounced to rhyme with ‘road’) in Los Angeles, where I first encountered Koons’ work, has an impressive oeuvre, including one of the Tulips series. There’s something about large, shiny objects that commands the gaze. The Guardian called it ‘art for people with short attention spans’. That’s nearly everyone these days.