There are not many places on earth where paintings of Popeye mingle with giant lobsters, or where a team can scheme to hang a full-sized train from a crane.
But as this episode of TateShots proves, anything is possible in the studio of Jeff Koons. Fresh from exhibiting his work at the Palace of Versailles - the first time a contemporary artist has been invited to exhibit there- the boundary-breaking artist gave us a whistle-stop tour of his factory-like facility.
This is a lobster that gets set up on a trash can and a chair. It’s called Acrobat – it balances itself. This is also aluminum.
My name is Jeff Koons. I’m an artist. This studio is located in New York City. I’ve always had a little studio in my apartment, or eventually I would have just a large building like this as a studio. I’ve been in this location for about the last eight years.
Kind of the first thing you learn to do is create kind of a personal iconography, or you develop a vocabulary to work with; and that vocabulary lets you control physiology and the secretions that take place within the body. So there is a kind of a sense of power that comes from being able to create certain effects, certain intellectual and physical reactions to work.
This piece is Train and Train consists of a crane, a ready made crane, and a steam engine, a 1943 Baldwin steam engine 70 feet long. You walk right underneath this. It’s going to be in front of a museum, so when the museum opens at noon-time and then when the museum closes; and the piece will do everything that a real train does.
When I was younger, art was a vehicle that created anxiety, and, you know, whether you could draw something just perfect – it was about kind of performance, in a way. And you start to understand about the history of art, other artists, their involvement with art, how it connects you to other disciplines in the world; and this starts to erode away at the kind of insecurities and anxieties that you have.
When we work on smaller domestic size pieces, they will be cast in up-state New York in aluminum. We will bring them here and we will do the rest of the metalwork here on site, and then we prime them. This has just been primed. Actually this is a base coat of paint. This piece has been primed, and now we’re going back. We always get different over-spray each time we paint or prime something, and we have to work the surface to get everything correct to go on to the next stage.
What art is able to do is, it’s about acceptance, and people talk about aesthetics and all these different things, but at the end of the day what art really is, is a vehicle of acceptance.
First you accept yourself, and eventually the highest state is the acceptance of others. You know, usually a painting maybe will be a year and a half. I would say on average a painting is about nine months to a year; but sometimes a painting will be a year, a year and a half. Some of these paintings I’ve worked on, I’ve put in storage, then I’ve brought back out to finish the work on. And if you look at Popeye here in the front, he’s here very virile and making, showing his muscles, but if you look in the background there’s also this ghostlike figure of Popeye floating up off the picture plain in the back.
My relationship with art is changed every day, and every day you wake up, your relationship is a little different with it. When I was very young, I kind of got a sense of self through art. My parents let me know that I could do something and I was proud of that, and I just started to trust in this activity, and it gave me a sense of who I am.