Description: Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
78 x 87 x 87 in. (198.1 x 220.1 x 220.1 cm.)
Executed in 1994-2005.
Artist or Maker: Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Provenance: Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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It may not be as large as the Ritz, but Diamond (Blue) comes close. A monumental reimagining of the diamond, this work takes bling bling to crazy and cartoonish new levels. This sculpture, executed in 2005-06 and forming part of Koons' ongoing and much talked-about Celebration series, shows an ideal, fairytale, gigantic version of the a gem, with gleaming golden settings at its corners. It appears to have been prised from some colossal engagement ring. It is like the famous Hope Diamond magnified to some crazy new degree; it is luxury at a new extreme, a vast gleaming prize, the ultimate symbol of affluence and attainment on an unreal scale -- Diamond (Blue) is a latter-day Pop icon. But where Pop focussed on modern-day materialism, Koons uses the viewer's aspirations and consumerism instead as a means to encouraging a revelation: "I'm not interested in capitalism at all. I'm not interested in objects. I don't care about money. I'm interested in people -- human desire and aspiration and having daily interconnection with the people I value. I believe in experience, and having transcendence in your life" (J. Koons, quoted at culturetvnews.blogspot.com). In the shining, chrome surface of the Diamond (Blue) , the ultimate superlative stand-in for infinite wealth, we find rapture, and through that, transcendence.
Koons originally conceived of the Celebration series as some form of child's view of the world. In works such as Diamond (Blue) , he is trying to capture the sense of fun and wonderment that accompanies a fresh, youthful perception of our surroundings. In the vast and impossible Diamond (Blue) , this is clear in the gleaming, reflective but deliberately not see-through surface of the rock itself. It does not have the transparency of a real diamond, but instead has deliberately taken on a visual language that speaks of the synthetic, of the unreal, of a Never-Neverland realm of the imagined. The crazy scale of this seven-foot jewel adds to this, helping us see a diamond from a perspective similar to that of a child. "Childhood's important to me, and it's when I first came into contact with art," Koons told David Sylvester in 2000.
"This happened when I was around four of five. One of the greatest pleasures I remember is looking at a cereal box...Visually you can't get tired of the box. I mean, you sit there, and you look at the front, and you look at the back. Then maybe the next day you pull out that box again, and you're just still amazed by it; you never tire of the amazement. You know, all of life is like that or can be like that. It's just about being able to find amazement in things. I think it's easy for people to feel connected to that situation of not tiring of looking at something over and over again, and not feeling any sense of boredom, but feeling interest. Life is amazing, and visual experience is amazing" (J. Koons, 2000, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists , London, 2002, p. 334).
In Diamond (Blue) , this cereal-box aesthetic has been taken to new levels of chrome fetishisation, resulting in the almost hallucinatory, larger-than-life appearance of the sculpture. This vast engagement ring is Koons' invitation to us to join him in celebrating life itself.
The importance of childhood to the Celebration series reflected changes in Koons' own life. When his son Ludwig was born, he was exposed to an entire new world of products and packaging from which he had been almost sheltered by adult life:
"My son was born in October 1992. Immediately I became interested in a lot of images I came across, the packaging of toys, a playful rabbit -- things that I enjoyed again. I had used a lot of these images in the past. I started the Celebration series without a title. My son used to come into the studio while I was working on Hanging Heart . Then he was abducted, and my ex-wife later kidnapped him. So the work fell into an area where I felt that I wanted my son to feel how much I was thinking of him" (J. Koons, quoted in T. Kellein, ed., Jeff Koons: Pictures 1980-2002 , exh. cat., Bielefeld, 2002, p. 28).
This latter aspect, this desire to embrace a child-like perspective, was in part an attempt to seek out concentrated doses of optimism and was in part a reaction to his well-publicised custody battle-- he wanted "to communicate with my son...to tell him I was thinking about him all the time" (J. Koons, quoted in A. Gingeras, "The Comeback of Sincerity: Jeff Koons 1995-2001," Jeff Koons , exh.cat., Bregenz, 2001, p. 86).
It was not the childish perception and sense of awe alone that led to the Celebration series, but also that most Koonsian of subjects -- sex. Explaining the role of the diamond in the series, Koons has said in interview that Celebration is "a group based on the calendar of holidays: vacations, birthdays, Valentine's Day, Easter. The diamond is seven feet wide. The stone is attached to a ring by four prongs. For me, the prongs are like sperm attacking an ovum. The facets of the diamond are the egg in the process of being fertilized" (J. Koons, quoted in H. Bellet, "Jeff Koons: 'La sexualité, c'est l'objet principal de l'art'", Le Monde , 30 August 2005, reproduced at www.lemonde.fr, trans. C.T. Downey). This is procreation in action in a strange, luxurious new setting. The context of the jewellery, which may well be an engagement ring, introduces a sense of romance, of the prelude to sex and therefore to reproduction, meaning that the form of Diamond (Blue) echoes some of its content.
The notion of sex forming part of the Celebration series is wholly in keeping with Koons' long-standing campaign to help his viewers to come to terms with themselves. For Koons, art is a form of therapy, aimed at helping the viewer become a better, more honest, more comfortable, more whole person. He does this by encouraging us to forget taste, to forget shame, to forget guilt. The inclusion of a sexual dimension to Diamond (Blue) is not ironic or dark, but is wholly celebratory. Koons is encouraging us to reach a state of guiltlessness. He is unafraid to face what he sees as facts that too many people have been conditioned to ignore. "Sexuality is the principal object of art," he has explained. "It's about the preservation of the species. Procreation is a priority. But this also has a spiritual aspect for me. It's about the way that we have children" (J. Koons, quoted in ibid. ). In Diamond (Blue) , then, the way that children see and the way that children are made are blended in one sculpture. This encapsulates Koons' statement that, "I believe the way to enter the eternal is through the biological"
(J. Koons, quoted in S. Coles & R. Violette, eds., The Jeff Koons Handbook , London, 1992, p. 35).
Visually, Diamond (Blue) is made all the more striking by its combination of scale and form. It is largely geometrical, both in the rigid angularity of the faceted gem itself and in the restrained, curvy, deliberately sperm-like forms of the ring-settings. These settings disrupt the almost Minimalist look of the diamond, while also invoking the work of the great Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. As ever with the work of Jeff Koons, appearances are deceptive: what appears to be a literal, child-like reimagining of the diamond in fact is the product of a brain that has digested a vast range of influences and that makes reference to many cultural touchstones. The fact that such serious heavyweights as Brancusi and Minimalism are evoked in a work that playfully re-presents a frivolous aspect of the real world through a deliberately light-hearted filter shows a certain irreverence on the part of Koons, who is puncturing the seriousness of his predecessors, knocking them from their pedestals in order to continue his one-man campaign against the hegemony of so-called "good taste."
Koons has a history of revelling in subverting the formality of sculpture and civic sculpture in particular. This was first demonstrated to dramatic effect when he placed the immense, flower-covered Puppy in front of the Baroque Schloss Arolsen in Germany. Diamond (Blue) is a continuation of this disruption of ideas of public display, a fact that was demonstrated when its sister sculpture Pink Diamond was exhibited in the John Madejski Garden at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year. The work is anti-sculpture and sculpture all at once. The clichéd feminine and domestic daintiness of jewellery has been completely turned on its head by this hulking giant of a ring, placed in an open space. And yet some of the ritziness of jewellery is retained in the shining surface, which has been specifically designed for display. The finish of the massively-magnified Diamond (Blue) , which is roughly seven feet wide, reflects its surroundings, gleaming in a way that high-tech objects and the best jewellery do. It has a deliberately hyper-modern sheen that combines the clinical or scientific with the Versace, blending opulence with a language of rigid reason.
This finish is the result of an epic, almost Herculean endeavour on the part of Koons himself. The Celebration series of works is in part ongoing not so much because it is an open-ended project, but because of Koons' determination to acquire the intense, flawless finish he desired in his sculptures. This resulted in a campaign of experimentation both by Koons and by specialists consulted and employed by him in which he pushed back the boundaries and stretched the capabilities of his media to new extremes. This was a quest for an elusive grail of perfection, and Koons' single-mindedness resulted in his almost disappearing for several years from the art scene and even pushing himself towards financial ruin. The Celebration series was originally intended for display at a retrospective planned at the Solomon J. Guggenheim Museum in New York...for 1996. This was pushed back again and again while Koons sought the finish for his sculptures, and also his paintings, that he required in order to bring his concepts to a state of perfection, of the Ideal (this perfectionism is perhaps demonstrated by the fact that one of the five Diamond sculptures is still under fabrication at the moment). For Koons, signs of manufacture can distract the viewer from the work, from its content, from its intention. As he said several years earlier: "I'm basically the idea person. I'm not physically involved in the production. I don't have the necessary abilities, so I always go to the top people, whether I'm working with my foundry Tallix or in physics. I'm always trying to maintain the integrity of the works...I worked with many of the top physicists and chemists in the country" (J. Koons, quoted in A.C. Danto, "Banality and Celebration: The Art of Jeff Koons," pp. 125-34, Jeff Koons: Retrospective , exh.cat., Oslo, 2004, p. 128). The continuing validity of this statement is evidenced in the perfection of the unearthly sheen of the crystalline facets of Diamond (Blue) .
24421546: Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Blue) , 1994-2006. c Jeff Koons.
24422611: Andy Warhol, Carat , 1961. c Andy Warhol Foundation CORBIS.
24650632: Roy Lichtenstein, The Ring , 1962. c Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.
24422604: Hope Diamond Necklace. c Smithsonian Institution CORBIS.
24651288: Jeff Koons, Pink Bow, from Celebration series , 1995-97. c 2007 Jeff Koons.
24421157: Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Blue) . The Broad Foundation, Santa Monica. Photography by Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles.