Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective

Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective
US pop artist Jeff Koons gestures in front of his BMW Art Car decorated with exploding, multi-colored rays on June 2, 2010 during a press conference at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Photo: Fred Dufour
The Pompidou Centre in Paris opened on Wednesday a major retrospective of the works of Jeff Koons, the controversial American master of kitsch and the world’s highest paid living artist.

The show, which runs until next April, features the statue of pop star Michael Jackson with his pet monkey Bubbles and the spaceman-like silver inflatable "rabbit" that first made Koons famous back in the 1970s.

The material in some parts of the show by the 59-year-old, which covers the last three decades of his career, is so controversial that parts of the exhibition are off limits for minors.

Koons has been no stranger to criticism, including in France, where an exhibition in 2008 at the Palace of Versailles featuring a bright red inflatable lobster and the "rabbit" sparked heated reaction from conservatives who said the iconic site was being violated by kitsch.

The artist last year smashed world auction records when his Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58.4 million (47.2 million euros) — the most money for any work by a living artist and the most for a contemporary sculpture.

His fame extends beyond the art world. He has made the headlines for his colourful personal life and association with celebrities such as Lady Gaga, who made his art a centrepiece of her most recent album launch.

For three years in the early 1990s, he was married to Ilona Staller, a former Italian lawmaker and porn star widely known by her stage name Cicciolina, who once offered to have sex with now executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to avert the first Gulf War.

It was this marriage that provided the inspiration for Koons' most controversial work, "Made in Heaven", a graphic depiction of the couple having sex that sparked outrage.

That work is included in the current retrospective in Paris, which next spring will move on to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in Spain.

It was previously displayed in the artist's hometown of New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where it suffered two separate attacks by vandals.

Koons looks fondly on France, the first country he set foot in apart from the United States, and in an interview with AFP recalled a lunch with former president Jacques Chirac in 2000.

"For an American artist, it is unbelievable to sit down and have lunch with the president of a country like France. It was such a symbol of the openness of this country," he said.

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