French Art Dealers Demand That Paris Relocate Jeff Koons’s Controversial Flower Sculpture

The saga continues for Jeff Koons's disputed memorial to victims of the Paris attacks.

French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen (L) poses for photographs with US artist Jeff Koons (R) during a meeting on January 30, 2018 in Paris. Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images.

Art dealers are driving the latest wave of backlash against Jeff Koons’s hotly contested memorial to victims of the Paris terror attacks, a giant-sized bouquet of balloon flowers that French art world luminaries have decried as “shocking.” Last week, the Professional Committee of Art Galleries released a public statement demanding that the artist’s gift to France be installed in a different location.

The Professional Committee of Art Galleries is an ethics watchdog which supports more than 250 French galleries. In its public letter, it states: “This is not a matter of judging aesthetic qualities or the suitability of the sculpture as an homage to the victims of the attacks in France, but the location that was chosen.”

The dealers argue that the Koons memorial, currently intended for Tokyo Square in front of the Palais de Tokyo, should be placed at another, more appropriate site. Relocating the contentious artwork would be more fitting for a permanent tribute to terrorist attacks, they argue, while also leaving the high-profile plaza free for temporary public sculpture from the Parisian museums in the area. 

Jeff Koons Bouquet of Tulips (2016). © Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction. © Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction. Illustration 3D de l’oeuvre in situ.

Rendering of Jeff Koons Bouquet of Tulips (2016). ©Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction.

The letter (first spotted by Benjamin Sutton), is signed by committee chair Georges-Philippe Vallois, a broker-turned-art dealer who operates GP & N Vallois Gallery. The group was founded in 1947 to defend the interests of art galleries to public authorities. 

Some believe the dealers’ response suggests a bit of sour grapes. The French newspaper Le Figaro described the motivations behind the letter as a mix of “sincere moral questioning,” jealousy among competitors, and anger that a non-French artist would receive such a prominent public project. 

The text It was released on the eve of Koons’s meeting with French culture minister Françoise Nyssen about the sculpture. Jeff Koons’s studio did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the culture ministry has not yet responded to queries about the outcome of the meeting with Koons last Tuesday.

Koons’s former dealer, Emmanuelle de Noirmont, who is helping to organize the project, told Le Monde that the discussion did not have anything to do with the current polemic or the placement of the work. Last week, de Noirmont’s French art production company rushed to the artist’s defense amid the percolating opposition to the design.

The sculpture, Bouquet of Tulips, has been beset with controversy since it was first announced. A public petition asking France to say “non” to the gift has garnered nearly 8,000 signatures and the bouquet has been snubbed by French art-world luminaries

A copy of the full statement from the Professional Committee of Art Galleries, translated by artnet News, is below.

The Professional Committee of Art Galleries wishes to make known its opposition to the permanent installation of the Jeff Koons sculpture ‘Bouquet of Tulips’ between the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Palais de Tokyo.

This is not a matter of judging aesthetic qualities or the suitability of the sculpture as an homage to the victims of the attacks in France, but the location that was chosen.

While it is important to pay tribute to the artist for his generosity and attention to the victims of terrorism, it is also important that the commemoration of a dramatic event finds its place in an appropriate and specific context outside of any location related to artistic manifestations that could weaken or distract from the memory.

It is the duty of the City of Paris to make such a site in collaboration with all the people concerned, as well as the artist.

We believe that the immediate surroundings of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, and the Palais de Tokyo—much like those of the Georges Pompidou Center—must remain free for those institutions to program depending on current events, and should not be subject to definitive, permanent attribution. By nature temporary, the artistic occupation of these spaces should be entrusted to the curators who are in charge of programming them.

Georges-Philippe Vallois

President of the Professional Committee of Art Galleries.


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