Incorporating the vocabulary of his iconic Celebration sculptures, Balloon Monkey, Balloon Rabbit and Balloon Swan marked a spectacular new chapter in Jeff Koons’s oeuvre.
Whether it is the seductive reflective surface, the intricate knots, creases, or twists, no detail of the work was compromised in rendering these balloon animals in porcelain. Koons, intrigued by Limoges porcelain, partnered with Bernardaud to realize this complex work. For over 150 years, Bernardaud has worked with the most skilled artisans at their workshop in Limoges and most recently created new technologies to achieve the porcelain Balloon Swan (Yellow), Balloon Monkey (Blue) and Balloon Rabbit (Red) by Jeff Koons.
Balloon Swan (Yellow)
Jeff Koons transforms a simple twisted balloon swan into a reflective yellow porcelain for his limited edition, Balloon Swan (Yellow). The original Balloon Swan, 2004–2011, is a monumental sculpture, standing over 3 meters high, in mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating in five unique versions: magenta, red, violet, blue, and yellow.
The figure of the swan has significant personal resonance for the artist; it was one of the first sculptures Koons made at 9 years old in ceramic, for which the young artist diligently worked on to get the angle of the neck correct. For Balloon Swan, he worked for over a year and a half shaping its graceful neck. Through research, modeling, milling, polishing, and lacquering, the swan was elevated to its final monumental form. His perseverance resulted in a work that alludes to the playfulness of childhood while its simplified, reflective surface also communicates desire and acceptance.
Koons had an epiphany when he first saw the swan’s two-dimensional form on the computer: “Balloon Swan harmonizes sexual energy. If you look at it from the front, it’s totem-like and male. If you go to the side it becomes female. Balloon Swan is reminiscent of classical works, it defines beauty as sexual harmony.”
Balloon Monkey (Blue)
Balloon Monkey (Blue), 2017, by Koons, is based on a balloon that is twisted into the shape of a monkey. Seven years in the making, the original Balloon Monkey, 2006–2013, is 12 ½ feet long and weighs nearly five tons. The monumental sculpture is made from mirror-polished stainless steel finished with transparent color coating in five unique versions: blue, magenta, orange, red and yellow.
Jeff Koons has been interested in cultural subject matter with widespread appeal throughout his career. It is, therefore, fitting that the monkey has been a recurring motif in his body of work. Among the artist’s work, his most well-known is the life-sized porcelain artwork created in 1988, Michael Jackson and Bubbles. Humankind’s close kinship with primates has captured artist’s fascination throughout history, serving as an allegorical figure for universal themes such as the pursuit of pleasure, sexuality and innocence. Balloon Monkey explores these themes, evident through the playful form juxtaposed with tumescent tail, undoubtedly a phallic reference. Koons merges these typically contradictory concepts through the reduction of the subject to its most essential form, thereby purifying otherwise conflicting sensations for the viewer to achieve the elevated state of transcendence through self-acceptance.
Balloon Rabbit (Red)
Inspired by a twisted rubber balloon rabbit, Koons’s Balloon Rabbit (Red), 2017, is a highly reflective red porcelain limited edition. The original Balloon Rabbit, 2005–2010, a three ton sculpture, standing over four meters high was made from mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating in five unique versions: blue, magenta, violet, red and yellow.
Why a rabbit? Koons replied: “It comes from my upbringing, I grew up in south-central Pennsylvania, in a rural community, and at special times of the year, people would put things out in their front yard for decoration like reindeer at Christmas time. In the spring, around Easter time, there would be inflatable rabbits.
I was always very struck by the generosity of the neighbours in doing that, giving pleasure to other people in that way. One of the things that I’m most proud of is making work that lets viewers not feel intimidated by art, but feel that they can emotionally participate in it through their senses and their intellect and be fully engaged”. The rabbit is featured prominently in Koons’s oeuvre, first appearing in his 1979 work Inflatable Flower and Bunny (Tall White, Pink Bunny) and then in his stainless steel Rabbit, 1986, which marked the first time Koons’s portrayed the subject matter with a highly reflective surface. Through Koons’s mirror-like surfaces the viewer becomes an essential part of the artwork and undergoes an affirmation of self.