Headline February 18, 2017/ ''' STUDENTS OF SUBLIME '''


''THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN this aspect of my work that makes people either like it or not, but I always want everyone to like it,'' says Koons.

''Not because I want everyone to love me, but because I believe that my motives are pure-

I'm trying to share, to the best of my ability, the joy and pleasure, knowledge and enlightenment that I get through art. So if somebody doesn't like it. I'm always a little hurt.''

In manner, Koons is chatty, polite and genial, gracefully avoiding questions he does not wish to answer {anything to do with Andy Warhol or fellow contemporary artists} by talking about a subject he prefers, like how much better the work of great artists become as they age.

From time to time, he courts Pseuds' Corner by soliloquising intensely seriously, but bafflingly, about things that touch him deeply. {Like Led Zeppelin's music: It's not the blues. It's way beyond the blues. It's Greek tragedy. You know 'Ooh, Ooh. Yeah. Yeah''? That's Greek tragedy.''

And weight training:   ''My heavy lifting in weights is a metaphor for my heavy lifting in art. I really believe in body and mind. I love how in the ancient world you'd bring the gods into your body.''} 

No wonder Roberta Smith, art critic of  The New York Times, once accused him of indulging in  ''a slightly nonsensical Koons-speak that casts him as the truest believer in a cult of his own invention.''  

Koons discovered art at a Saturday morning children's class in York, the historic [in the US sense] city in Pennsylvania where he grew up. ''Art was the first thing I found that I was better at than my sister,'' he recalls. ''She was three years older than me, and she could run faster, jump higher, pronounce more words and count better. 

Art classes gave me a sense of self.. And my parents were always so supportive, so from the age of seven I took art classes every Saturday morning.''

Koons work is strewn with references to childhood memories of York, from personal mementoes, like the ''travel bar'' his parents took on holiday, to local customs, such as reflective glass ''gazing halls''  that Pennsylvanians display in their gardens and yards.

After graduating from  high school  in 1972, he enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art nearby Baltimore. ''Up until then, my art education had been about the technical tools that enable you to create perspective and shadow and shading, so it was quite superficial,'' says Koons.

''I didn't understand the real power of art until my first art history class in Baltimore. Then I realised that I'd found an activity that could give me a dialogue with philosophy, sociology, psychology, theology and physics, because it is connected to all human disciplines. Ever since then, I've felt like the luckiest person in the world.''

In Baltimore, Koons became fascinated by the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists including the Jim Nutt and Ed Paschke, who combined the influences of  surrealism and Dudaism  with pop art, and Koons switched to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for his final year in 1975.

One of his teachers there was Paschke, who hired him as an assistant after he graduated. Koons was happily settled in Chicago until he heard Patti Smith on the radio in 1977, talking bout her music and the downtown club scene in New York.

''I thought, I want to be part of my generations. I want to be participating, not making painting that I'd dreamt the night before,'' he recalls. ''So I hitch-hiked to New York the next day and I've been here ever since.''

Koons joined the army of young artists who were living and working in then-grungy downtown Manhattan, desperately trying to persuade independent galleries to show their work.

He made sculptures from mirrors and inflatable plastic flowers like those he remembered from kids parties in York, and made ends meet by working on the membership desk at the Museum of Modern Art. 

There Koons joined a proud lineage of artists, including Dan Flavin, Sol LeWit and Robert Ryman, who funded their early work by temping MoMA.

Like them, he seized the opportunity to study the museum's collection, but proved to be unusually  enterprising addition to the membership desk, decking himself out in gaudy ties and waistcoats to attract visitors' attention.

A natural salesman, who had sold sweets door to door as a child, Koons helped to double the number of members, some of whom to hire him. ''They'd come up and say: 'Jeff you should work for me.' So I wound up selling mutual funds, door-to-door again.''

He soon moved on from mutual funds to commodities. So unusual was it for an artist, particularly one from the downtown art scene, to work on Wall Street, that Koons five year stint in the financial services sector has dominated perception of him ever since.

Does he regret it? ''No!'' he laughs
''I was always an artist, and everyone around me knew that. But I needed a higher income to make the work I wanted to make, and I couldn't do that by selling membership at MoMA.''

Koons ploughed his Wall Street earning into The New, a series of reconstructed Hoover vacuum cleaners, which were exhibited in a window of the New Museum in 1980. 

Two years later, he moved in with his parents for six months to save enough money to complete the  Equilibrium series, a costlier project that included suspending basketballs in tank of water.

The artist Michael Craig-Martin saw Koons work for the first time at Equilibrium exhibition in 1985. ''I happened to be in New York and to be going around little galleries on the Lower East Side, and found this show by Jeff Koons, who I'd never heard of,'' he says.

''I thought it was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. I had no explanation for the work and couldn't contextualize it, but it was so striking and memorable that it stayed with me.''

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