Saturday, July 26, 2014

Balloon Dog

Above is Jeff Koons' "Balloon Dog (Orange)," a 10-foot tall sculpture of polished stainless steel.  Last November, it fetched the highest price ever for a work by a living artist -- $58.4 million.  There are other Balloon Dogs -- in blue, magenta, red and yellow -- around the world.

Given last year's sale and this year's Koons exhibit at the Whitney in New York, it's Balloon Dog everywhere these days.

The artist has worked with the fast-fashion retailer H&M to develop a Balloon Dog product, the purse seen below, for about $50.

To promote the event, H&M decorated the outside of one of its New York stores with a Balloon Dog. Of course there was a fancy celebrity party for the opening, and, no, I wasn't invited.

In addition, Ali Baba, the Chinese Ebay (or is it the Chinese Amazon?) is offering knockoff balloon dogs in various sizes and colors with prices starting at $500.

Jeff Koons has been down this road before.  In 2011, he tried to stop a company from selling
copycat balloon dog bookends, but that led nowhere.  Now you can buy a set of the bookends, shown below, from the shop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for about $50.

It is tempting to call Balloon Dog a great big piece of kitsch.  Many people have done so.  And I'm skeptical that  people will be studying Balloon Dog and its meaning 100 years from now.

But if it is so trite, why are people paying so much attention to it?

A man who works with stainless steel for commercial applications said this about Balloon Dog in his blog:

"Koons somehow transforms stainless steel into a soft, pliable metal.  His Balloon Dog in orange looks like you could pop it with a pin; you can feel the air pushing at the steel's inner surface, trying to get out.  It looks like you can squeeze it."

So there is some technical mastery there.

An art critic for The Guardian newspaper in Britain credited Balloon Dog, which was released in the 1990s, with kicking off a fascination that led to everything from blow-up toys to the Toy Story movie.  Here's what he wrote in 2011:

"The truth  is that, of all the artists at work today, Koons is one of the most influential -- and yet his influence is the least acknowledged.  He has avoided becoming cool.  Critics affect to despise him.  And yet there is scarcely a work or a high-tech toy that does not have a debt to Koons concealed within it."

Below is a Christie's video of Jeff Koons talking about Balloon Dog.  The video was made before the auction house sold Balloon Dog last year, and so it is clearly a bit of a sales job.

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