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Who is Jeff Koons?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2014
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Jeff Koons is a modern American artist known for his colorful works and large-scale sculptures. He has received many awards for his artwork and in 2007 was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his work. A controversial figure in the art world, Jeff Koons has many passionate fans and dismissive detractors.

Born in 1955 in Pennsylvania, Jeff Koons was fascinated with art from a young age and studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1976 from the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art. Since the 1980s, his work has been displayed in permanent and temporary exhibits at many of the finest modern art museums in the world, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

With his typical neon-bright color palette and fondness for kitschy subject matter such as balloon animals, Jeff Koons is often labeled a post-pop artist, similar to Keith Haring and Romero Britto. He often uses inspirations from children’s toys and works in a variety of mediums, including metal sculpture, painting, inflatable art, and living flower sculptures. One of his best known pieces is the enormous “Puppy,” made out of living plants on a steel frame and standing 43 ft (12.3 m) high.

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Many of his sculptures are conceptual images rather than specific designs. His early piece, “Three Ball 50/50 Tank,” consists of three basketballs floating in a glass tank half-filled with water. Koons has suggested that his work is not meant to be ironic or extremely deep, preferring to focus on the viewer’s first reaction and what they take away from the piece.

In 1991, the work of Jeff Koons came under serious criticism, when he debuted a series of sexually explicit paintings and sculptures that featured him and his wife, former adult film actress Ilona Staller. Despite the artistic beauty of many of the individual pieces in the “Made in Heaven” series, many felt that the overt depiction of sexual acts was in bad taste and inappropriate.

In addition to his continuing work as an artist, Jeff Koons has become notable for his involvement in several charitable organizations. He has been heavily involved in efforts to combat child abduction and the exploitation of children, and has recently become involved with the Hereditary Disease Foundation. His philanthropic interests have won him much acclaim, including the dedication of the Koons Family Institute on International Law and Policy as a tribute to his efforts.

Jeff Koons remains a loved and hated artist in the world of modern art. Supporters consider his work to be vibrant, whimsical, emotive and important to the field of modern art and neo-pop art. Those who disagree suggest that his work as cheap and cynical, refusing to believe that it is truly meant to be without irony. Despite his detractors, Koons has received many awards and accolades for his work, including nomination to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005.

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