5 Things We Learned from Justine Wheeler-Koons’s ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ Puff Piece
One of her husband's statues fell on her head.
Jeff Koons may be a ubiquitous presence in the art world, but how much do you know about Justine Wheeler-Koons? The South Africa-born artist, who recently launched the jewelry line called Gus+Al, sat down with Harper’s Bazaar to discuss her creative pursuits, how she met her husband, and what it’s like to raise six children with a multimillionaire pop artist.
1. She wrote her thesis on her husband’s work.
In the early ’90s, when she was backpacking through Amsterdam, she happened upon one of Jeff’s shows at the Stedelijk Museum, and eventually wrote her thesis on his work. “Certain books were still banned in South Africa at the time, so I brought all his books home,” she recalls.
2. They met in a bar.
In 1995, Justine was in New York on vacation. She went to meet a friend at Bar 89 in SoHo, and it was there that she encountered Jeff. “I just never went home,” she says. “I was drinking whiskey on the rocks. I think Jeff had a beard.” She got a job in his studio in order to obtain a work visa, and the rest is history.
3. She paints, but sparingly.
After suffering postpartum depression following her last pregnancy, Koons found solace in her studio. “I just knew I had to save myself somehow, and the only way I could think of was going back to the studio and painting so there was something of me left in the picture,” she says.
But don’t plan on seeing the works in a gallery anytime soon: “I don’t think I can [show them]. Jeff has a very big shadow…That’s why I wanted to do the jewelry. It’s creative but completely different from Jeff’s work.”
4. Her husband moved to New York because of Patti Smith.
In discussing some of her feminist icons, who include Malala Yousafzai, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Roberta Kaplan, Justine also reveals this little fact about her husband. “Patti Smith is an icon, a powerhouse,” she says. “She is literally the reason Jeff moved to New York in the ’70s—her voice and message changed his life.”
5. One of Jeff’s sculptures once fell on her head.
When Justine first began work in Jeff’s studio, he was muddling through his dramatic divorce from Ilona “Cicciolina” Staller, a porn star and founder of Italy’s Democrazia, Natura e Amore (Democracy, Nature and Love) political party. At the time, Koons was working on a lot of his large kitsch works. Her favorites were the massive Cat on a Clothesline sculptures, one of which actually fell on her. “It was all part of the fun of that really strange time in Jeff’s life,” she remembers.
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