Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective

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.

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 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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Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.