American artist Jeff Koons has exhibited giant, shiny, stainless-steel balloon dogs, a 40-foot-tall puppy made of flowering plants and self-portraits of himself in X-rated positions with his then-wife, an Italian porn star. His statue of a German peddler, “Kiepenkerl,” outside the Hirshhorn Museum, is atypically understated. Ahead of his Thursday lecture there, Koons spoke to us in language so perplexing it could practically be a piece of his art.
What will you talk about Thursday?
I’ve just been working on a body of work called “Antiquity.” It’s about the connections and the sense of almost a biological family that comes from dealing with a community of references from one artist to another.
You’ve used “readymades” — objects, like vacuum cleaners, you call art. What draws you to them?
It’s a metaphor for acceptance. You learn to go inward and then you start accepting the external world. It always comes down to the act of acceptance, just saying something is perfect in what it is.
The traveling museum Salvage Art Institute featured one of your balloon dogs that got broken in transit. Is broken art still perfect?
You can find a hierarchy of the significance of different things, but not of value, of being. Everything is perfect for what it is.
You have assistants doing your hands-on work. Has that changed the creative process for you?
If I were working on a painting by myself it could take me four years. In the system I’ve created, every mark on that painting is a mark that I’m responsible for, exactly the way I would do it if my own hand did it.
Do you miss the physicality of drawing or sculpting?
To reduce everything down to the movement of a body part — I’m talking about not only physical gesture, but intellectual gesture. A much broader range of gesture is incorporated into the creation of a work of art.