Jeff Koons
(American, b. 1955)

By appropriating and recontextualizing everyday manufactured objects, Jeff Koons provokes contemplation of consumerism, class roles, and distinctions between popular taste and high art.

About the artist
Jeff Koons
Courtesy Jeff Koons Studio
A former stockbroker, Jeff Koons is best known for his appropriation and recontextualization of ordinary, recognizable objects. Beginning in the 1980s, Koons transformed objects such as basketballs, vacuum cleaners, liquor decanters, and inflatable toys into works of art that blur the boundaries between popular taste and high art. In 1980 he placed new commercial vacuum cleaners in clean, Plexiglas boxes illuminated by fluorescent lighting. In doing so, the vacuum cleaners, sealed in their immaculate, sterile spaces, were rendered functionless. Koons challenges the viewer to consider these vacuum cleaners as artistic objects. According to Koons, “I chose the vacuum cleaners because this is a machine that, if it is used, is used to collect dirt, which is just the opposite of the absolutely pristine situation in which I placed them.” His appropriation of found objects relates him to the pop art movement. With their high-quality materials and blatant flaunting of name-brand products, Koons’s artworks often address major social issues such as consumerism and class roles within today’s society.

Rabbit, 1986

Rabbit, 1986
Stainless steel, 41 x 19 x 12 in.
Partial gift of Stefan T. Edlis and
H. Gael Neeson  2000.21
Koons’s Rabbit began as an inflatable, store-bought, plastic toy. Its transformation started when Koons bought it, blew it up, and had it cast in highly polished stainless steel. It has crinkled ears like an inflatable toy, a spherical head, and bulbous appendages, yet its face is blank. Employing a cliché, Koons has depicted a rabbit eating a carrot. While it appears to be a whimsical work of art, it also raises serious questions about what constitutes art. In its finished state it visually challenges the viewer on several levels. While it appears to be a shiny, lightweight, Mylar balloon, it is actually quite heavy and hard. Its mirrorlike surface also seduces the viewer, much as shiny silver in a jewelry store window would. As such, Rabbit addresses the heyday of luxury and consumerism in the 1980s. Rabbit’s surface also calls to mind the use of shiny metals in both historical and social contexts. According to Koons, “Polished objects have often been displayed by the church and by wealthy people to set a stage of both material security and enlightenment of spiritual nature; the stainless steel is a fake reflection of that stage.”

The sculpture’s stainless steel surface functions as a mirror and reflects everything that is exhibited around it and everyone who looks at it. It is a work of art with chameleon-like qualities—changing as its surroundings change.


Ideas for activities
Art
In conjunction with research on the 1980s, discuss Rabbit as a symbol for that period and have students identify and depict a symbol for the current times.

Language arts/social studies
Have students explore the presence of rabbits in contemporary culture (e.g., Bugs Bunny, the Easter Bunny, the Energizer Bunny, Richard Adams’s novel Watership Down, lab animals, etc.) Then have students replace one of the particular rabbits they investigated with Jeff Koons’s Rabbit. How are the specific qualities of Koons’s Rabbit similar and different to the image(s) of rabbits conveyed in contemporary culture?

Social studies
Have students explore specific examples of luxury and consumerism in the 1980s (e.g., Trump Tower, etc.) Then have students compare the Reagan-era economy to today’s economy.


Questions for looking and discussion

Additional work by Jeff Koons