In 2014, the most expensive art on the market is created and sold by living artists. Artists have become celebrities in a world where information is quickly distributed over easily accessible social media platforms. The art world has become commercialized, placing an emphasis on profit and success that is translated to the general public. Andy Warhol was the first commercial artist. He magnified consumerism through repetition of commercial products and mass production made possible by the invention of the silk screen. The goal of any artist could be to educate the world and show people the passion and emotion the artist feels. Today artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the wealthiest living artists, are collaborating with Fortune 500 companies bringing their art closer to the public. The artists are no longer magnifying our consumerist society they are pioneering it, having their way with commercial culture—and with us.
If you listen to Jay Z you may recognize him from the lyrics, “Jeff Koons balloons, I just want to blow up.” Blow up, is precisely what Jeff Koons has done. Today he is most famous for his “balloons,” stainless steel sculptures with a mirror finish. Koons desires to re-create the ecstatic experiences of a child’s enjoyment of the world with these large-scale balloon sculptures. The subject of his sculptures began as everyday objects such as tulips, cherries, or a dog. Not alone in his mission, Jeff Koons has a team consisting of 130 people. From 3D rendering experts to skilled painters, each work is created and perfected to appear with the absence of the human touch. In 2013 he sold one of the sculptures “Balloon Dog,” for $58.4 million. He broke the world’s record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork by a living artist, until Hirst (Art News). As time goes on Koon’s subject matter has become increasingly commercial, employing icons of consumer culture such as Popeye, the Pink Panther, and Michael Jackson. In the past Koons has paired up with Lady Gaga and BMW among others. In 2013 he teamed up with Dom Perignon, arguably the worlds most luxury champagne for collaboration. The result was the Balloon Venus. This two-foot high limited edition, hand-polished, polyurethane resin holds the Dom Perignon Champagne Rose bottle. According to Koons, “the Balloon Venus represents our human history and aspect of the future.” (Damien Hirst). The entire sculpture is bright magenta in color and the material is highly reflective. Smooth and curved the form of the figure is consistent. The Venus Balloon is a re-interpretation of the Venus of Willendorf (Dom Perignon Versus Jeff Koons). Venus of Willendorf is a famous prehistoric statuette whose features celebrated fertility and childbearing. Jeff Koons Balloon Venus proposes a new kind of idol: a modern-day goddess of love who embraces her beholder in reflective curves (Dom Perignon). In Koon’s rendition, the Venus preciously guards the vintage bottle. The Venus Balloon also has prominent features indicative of fertility such as large bulbous breasts. A crown of spheres rests on the head of the Venus synthesized from the Venus of Willendorf who exhibits bulb-like hair particles. The collector’s edition Dom Perignon Venus Balloon is priced at $20,000 and is made to order. “I know that my mother will want one,” Koons said, smiling. “But I hope a lot of collectors, people who are already involved with my work, will give these as gifts to their friends.” Right there, he told us, his interest in collaboration with Dom Perignon was to distribute his art to a larger audience. It is no crime to want to popularize yourself as an artist, but it seems this collaboration is lacking something deeper. As an artist Jeff Koons has the unique opportunity to send a message to the public, especially when collaborating with a product on the market. He has contributed to consumer culture by helping the manufacturer market their product. What is the greater good in this? Jeff Koons seems to have sold out to the most expensive champagne company. As a member of the public, the message I am receiving is “Do what you can to make money, and the more luxury you can do it, the better off you are.”
Often compared to Koons is celebrity artist, Damien Hirst, who has proven his ability to command astronomical prices for art works. Aside from being an artist, Damien Hirst is also a curator, collector, entrepreneur, restaurateur, and clothing designer. Hirst initially shocked the art world with his conceptual art. He became widely recognized for placing large dead animals in the preservative substance, formaldehyde. A stuffed shark placed in a box with formaldehyde sold for the staggering price of 8 million dollars. He repeated this process with the subject of a horse and inflated the price. Similar to Jeff Koons, Hirst has a team of scientists and artist working alongside him to help produce the work. Recently Hirst sold the most expensive piece by a living artist titled, “For the Love of God.” The sculpture produced in 2007 consists of a platinum cast of an 18th century skull encrusted with over 8,000 genuine diamonds. The materials alone are estimated to cost 14 million, and the price of the sculpture was $100 million dollars. Combine all that with Hirst’s other retail pursuits, including a company that licenses his imagery and a new line of clothing as part of the Warhol Factory X Levi’s label, and it’s easy to see him as a commercial artist. “Clearly, Hirst has become more than a famous artist — he has become a global brand,” wrote Pernilla Holmes. (Art News). In 2012, Disney reached out to Hirst to collaborate for “Kids Company.” The company is a nonprofit organization that seeks practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children. His commission was to recreate the most famous icon of consumer culture, Mickey Mouse. Hirst said, “Mickey Mouse represents happiness and the joy of being a kid and I have reduced his shape down to the basic elements of a few simple spots. I hope people love it, because it is still instantly recognizable – Mickey is such a universal and powerful icon.” Hirst followed in the footsteps of artists including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg in interpreting Disney’s best-loved character. (Bowley, Graham). His simple rendition of Mickey Mouse consists of 12 dots: red, yellow, black and flesh. The composition entails a simple white background the dots on top. His bold use of the iconic Mickey colors connect the floating dots which makeup the figure. The form of the dots is reminiscent of the original curved shape of the character. Hirst version of Mickey parallels his series of Spot Paintings where he uses color and pattern to evoke meaning. Disney knew that Hirst was the best candidate for the job because his art is the most expensive on the market. With the goal of raising money for charity money is an important factor. When Hirst decided to collaborate with Disney for a commercial consumer piece his goal was different the Koons. Hirst took advantage of his public art fame and gave back to the public.
On one hand I see the commercialization of art as a positive thing. It spreads art to the public, and brings money into the art world. On the other hand I envision artists are promoters of social change, something I believe these works lack. Many questions are raised with the controversial artist Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. How much does it cost to be an artist today? What message are these artists sending to the public? In some ways these artists may be discouraging to up and coming artists who do not have the funds to create a certain type of art. Remembering back to Andy Warhol and his magnification of consumer culture, his intent was to get the public to understand our culture, and how it manipulates us. Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are assisting the manufacturer to increase sales, and boost consumer culture. As artists they could be advocating change in society, rather then promoting themselves, and the idea of spending.
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Holmes, Pernilla. “THE BRANDING OF DAMIEN HIRST.”
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