Former Pompidou Foundation President Calls Jeff Koons’s ‘Flashy’ Gift to Paris a ‘Poisoned Chalice’

Robert M. Rubin thinks Koon’s gift is “insensitive, self-serving, and flashy.”

Jeff Koons poses with his sculpture
Jeff Koons poses with his sculpture "Tulips," which is similar to the design the American gifted to Paris. Photo Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images.

The former president of the Centre Pompidou Foundation, Robert M. Rubin, has criticized Jeff Koons for giving his Bouquet of Tulips to Paris, calling the gift a “poisoned chalice” in an op-ed published in Le Monde on Saturday, July 29.

In the article, Rubin—who chaired the Paris museum’s American philanthropic arm from 2006 to 2012—explained that it is common practice in France for artists to donate works to a museum that organizes an exhibition of their work.

Over a decade ago, Jeff Koons staged an intervention in Versailles that was paid for by the artist’s dealers and collectors, but as the 17th-century palace doesn’t collect contemporary art, Koons wasn’t able to repay his “cultural debt” to the country in the traditional manner.

Dubbing Koons “the king of contemporary kitsch,” Rubin came down on the American sculptor for his choice to gift Bouquet of Tulips to the city rather than donating a work to the Centre Pompidou:

“The gift of Bouquet of Tulips, announced with fanfare last autumn, does not balance the accounts. For starters, it’s not exactly a gift. Koons is only offering the concept, the initial idea. Someone else has to pay for the [rest].”

The production and installation of the sculpture is projected to cost €3.5 million ($4 million), which is, according to Rubin, more than thrice the annual acquisition budget afforded to the Centre Pompidou.

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

Jeff Koons, Bouquet of Tulips (2016). ©Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction. 3D Illustration of the work in situ.

In response to defenders of Koons, who have likened the conceptual offer to the work of Sol Lewitt, Rubin wrote: “LeWitt’s wall drawings and conceptual works can be painted, erased, or covered over and then installed elsewhere, since one needs only a few assistants with pencils and a ruler to recreate them. With Bouquet of Tulips, it’s the opposite: 1% conception, 99% execution.”

Koons gifted the work to the city last year, as a mark of American solidarity following the terrorist attacks. But Rubin has dismissed it as “insensitive, self-serving, and flashy” while France’s culture ministry is being swallowed by budgetary deficit. “Who seriously believes that this will encourage tourists to come back to Paris?,” he wrote.

Rubin also lashed out at the choice of location for the sculpture in the large public square between the Modern Art Museum and the Palais de Tokyo, blocking the view of the Eiffel Tower and disturbing the “architectural unity” of the Parisian neighborhood.

“If France feels obligated, at this point, to accept this sad bouquet, it should be installed elsewhere, in a tourist trap. Don’t jam it between museums that, if their institutional souls could speak, would say, “No thank you!”

artnet News reached out to Jeff Koons’ studio manager and the City of Paris for comment, but had not received a reply at the time of publishing.


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