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Koons's highly acclaimed Celebration series, starting in the early 1990s, evokes with its large-scale motifs of balloon animals, wrapped Easter eggs or stacks of play-doo, cheerful and light-hearted children’s memories of birthday parties and holidays. The iconic forms of the balloon animals – dog, swan, rabbit, and monkey – have been blown up to gigantic sculptures of steel, covered with a transparent chromatic coating. This finish gives the massive artworks a fragile and light appearance. These works are now available for collectors in a smaller size as iconic editions produced by the French porcelain manufacture Bernardaud.
“It is about celebration and childhood and color and simplicity – but it’s also a Trojan horse. It’s a Trojan horse to the whole body of artwork.”
Incorporating the vocabulary of his iconic Celebration sculptures, Balloon Rabbit, Balloon Monkey, and Balloon Swan marked a spectacular new chapter in Jeff Koons’s oeuvre. Jeff Koons has been interested in cultural subject matter with widespread appeal throughout his career. It is, therefore, fitting that the rabbit, the monkey, and the swan have been recurring motifs in his body of work. These subjects have captured the artist’s fascination throughout history, serving as allegorical figures for universal themes such as the pursuit of pleasure, sexuality, and innocence. Koons merges these typically contradictory concepts through the reduction of the subjects to their most essential forms.
Koons had an epiphany when he first saw the swan’s two-dimensional form on the computer as for the artist it represents at the same time male and female aspects. The figure of the swan has always had significant personal resonance for the artist; it was one of the first sculptures Koons made at 9 years old in ceramic, for which the young artist diligently worked on to get the angle of the neck correct.
"Balloon Swan harmonizes sexual energy. If you look at it from the front, it’s totem-like and male. If you go to the side it becomes female. Balloon Swan is reminiscent of classical works, it defines beauty as sexual harmony.”
The Balloon Dog is an iconic work within the highly acclaimed Celebration series, which Jeff Koons began in the mid-1990s. The Celebration artworks reference certain times of year (holidays and birthdays) but also the celebration of the cycle of life. Balloon Dog has the profoundness of an archaic sculpture. The artist’s exacting standards are one of the most captivating aspects of Koons’s art as captured in the porcelain Balloon Dog, which simulates the mirror-polished stainless steel of the monumental sculpture with its metallic finish and then attached to a reflective porcelain plate.What else could suggest the cheer of children’s parties more eloquently than a colorful balloon, twisted into the instantly recognizable form of a dog?
“The balloon dog is eternally optimistic.”
Originally created in 2000, the floral sculpture Split-Rocker is a highly complex architectural structure covered with a million brightly colored flowers. The bicephalous piece, inspired by a rocking toy for children is divided into two parts: the “Dino” section (the head of the dinosaur) and the rocking horse section (the head of a pony).
“I was always intrigued by porcelain, by both the economic and the sexual aspect of the material”
Split-Rocker is a monumental sculpture that measures more than 10 meters in height with a total surface area of 100 square meters. In 2012 Koons joins forces with porcelain manufacture Bernardaud to release a multiple version in reduced size of the monumental original Split-Rocker.
In Paper Kite Butterfly on Oleander, Hirst features his signature motif – the butterfly – alive in its natural surroundings, hanging from a beautiful, strikingly coloured blossom. In this, he has created an uplifting and celestial image that inspires childlike wonder in the face of such a beauty of nature. At the same time, however, it provokes fundamental questions about the meaning of life, a life which is characterized by death, and the fragility of biological existence.
“I love butterflies because when they are dead they look alive."—Damien Hirst
There is no imminent promise of salvation, no escape offered in these works. Those black pills, as in Dark Black Heaven, are as threatening as they are strangely attractive, a dark fatal allure which we already know leads to one ultimate destiny.
Hirst’s work questions the equivocal role of medicine. It can either take life and save life or destroy and restore. These pills are not a memento mori like the skulls or the butterflies. They are a symbol of resignation and alienation from life, and a fatal attraction towards death.
"It’s like God should be, the way they sell you the pills, the forms, the utopia, the hope, the cure. We’ve come a long way since quack doctors."—Damien Hirst
The pharmaceutical cabinets, as in Hirst’s work Utopia, question people´s complete reliance on medications and their power to heal, which fulfill the natural desire for immortality. However, the question is: Can drugs cure this problem, or can art?
On the other hand, Gold tears, which is part of the Utopia series, depicts rows of shiny diamonds on shelves covered with golden foil in front of a golden-beige background. The image is an intense vision of a golden cabinet filled with diamonds, a vision often associated with glorious eternity. But as always in Hirst’s art, the ambiguity is obvious – this cabinet points to the fact that behind all the shiny glittery surfaces there might be nothing, no meaning, and no soul. And hence the desire for eternity is less a promise than a condemnation.
"I can’t understand why most people believe in medicine and don’t believe in art, without questioning either."—Damien Hirst