We Love Collecting… Jeff Koons, the World’s Most Collectible Artist

Even the artist's peripheral work has a strong secondary market.

Perhaps no piece of public art this past summer has drawn more attention than Jeff Koons’s Split-Rocker, a gargantuan, ironic recreation of a child’s toy, half-pony, half-dinosaur, constructed out of steel and live flowering plants and installed at Rockefeller Center. Split-Rocker, for all its astonishing, playful novelty, and its camp take on consumerism, is very much in the classical tradition of sculpture, expressive of its materials, heroic in scale, emblematic of both persistence and evanescence. The piece is a witty and moving dialogue between the ephemeral qualities of contemporary kitsch and the eternal longings of the human species.

The enormous interest in Split Rocker is just one conspicuous symptom of a general “Koons fever,” with even peripheral work generating a strong secondary market. A few “Balloon Dog” handbags with the Koons imprimatur, which originally sold at H&M for $50, are listed on Ebay for up to thirty times that price. Eager buyers snapped up miniature versions of the Balloon Dog at Phillips earlier this week with a blue dog on a plate selling for$17,500, far higher than the $7,000 high estimate, and a red version fetching $16,250 on the same $7,000 high estimate. (It is no surprise that these miniature sculptures sold for three times their estimate, as this was also the case at Phillips’ previous auction in April.) At the recent Phillips sale, also, a Puppy Vase (1998) sold for $13, 750 against an estimate of $7–9,000.

These pieces offer a tiny glimpse into the “Koons craze” and reflect a public infatuation that is rooted not only in the artist’s pop facility but in deep, less transient qualities that many critics have sought to define. And this is exactly why we love collecting Jeff Koons’s Hecho a manoFlower Puppy (1992). This piece, which might be taken for a maquette for Split Rocker, is a rare chance for private buyers to sample public art. While there are other Koons pieces out there that could be said to do the same, these tend to be more artifact than art, like the artist’s limited edition ceramic vases manufactured by Bernardaud of Limoges and for sale in the Whitney Museum shop during the artist’s recent retrospective. Hecho a mano is an unlimited edition sold by Galerie Wild in Zurich for €900. It is also Koons at his best, with all the resonance of Split-Rocker, less its monumental scale.

It is tempting—as is often the case when faced with a Koons—to take Hecho a Mano as less than serious. But to do so would be to overlook the long traditions of which it is a conscious part, the extraordinary level of craftsmanship that went into its making, and the sheer artistry of its playful form. The piece has the deceptive and welcoming simplicity of a Chia Pet, but it recalls the past even as it comments with eloquent ambivalence on the present, albeit with a kind of hard-eyed sentimentality.

Astrid T. Hill is the president of Monticule Art, which provides art advisory services to private collectors. She specializes in contemporary primary and secondary market works of art.

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