Wonderland.

Louis Vuitton × Jeff Koons

Kaitlin Phillips grills the Neo-Pop icon on a most covetable collaboration.

All clothing and accessories LOUIS VUITTON Pre-Fall 2017. All bags LOUIS VUITTON Masters Colaboration with Jeff Koons

The 62-year-old New York City artist, Jeff Koons debuted in the 80s with sincere and beautiful ready-mades, like a series of household appliances, lit up and enshrined in lucite boxes, that betrayed what he in fact was: a vacuum-cleaner salesman. Today his work, which is fabricated by a 100-person studio team in a post-industrial swath of West Chelsea, is the world’s most expensive. This is, perhaps, the cost of happiness. To look at one of his enormous stainless-steel sculptures with the self-explanatory titles, like “Balloon Dog” or “Popeye”, and wonder whether it can be as perfect as it looks, or whether there’s something wrong with it on the inside, is to sense that, at any moment, Koons will appear grinning, like the proudest pet-owner in the world.

Koons, who was honoured in 2014 with a then-controversial, now-obvious retrospective at the Whitney Museum, can practically guarantee that what he makes and sells will last forever. He has a mania for consumer satisfaction, and no one, except for the Olsen twins, is better at telegraphing ease and elevating the banal through perfectionism. Witness his new co-branding venture with Louis Vuitton, in which he restores a sense of status to a symbol thereof, the luxury monogrammed “It-bag”. Each bag from “The Masters” collection is printed on its face with a painting by an old master and, in metallic all-caps, the artist’s name: da Vinci, Fragonard, Rubens, Titian, Van Gogh. Each comes with a keychain in the shape of a Playboy-ish bunny, the clearest Koons signature on the piece. We phoned the artist to find out which bag he’d carry himself, and which of his six children is the most talented. And, if you’ll excuse me for saying so, to listen to an artist who will repeat himself in every interview for the rest of his life—an artist so apolitical, so apocalyptical, nothing can chip his veneer. Not that I have proof! He’s so authentically coy, a reporter forgets her job.

All clothing and accessories LOUIS VUITTON Pre-Fall 2017. All bags LOUIS VUITTON Masters Colaboration with Jeff Koons

What was your day like today?

On the weekends, I always take my family to our farm in Pennsylvania. It belonged to my grandfather, my mother’s father, and we have horses there, cattle, and our kids can really run wild.

The beauty is really in nature, and to accept the chaos of nature. You see symbols of hope everywhere— flowers blooming, crops growing, and you know at the same time you see trees falling over and undergrowth, and you get to see the other side of the life cycle. Things are in decay, so it’s absolutely a beautiful experience. Especially when you get to enjoy exerting aspects of control, when you can build a structure in a wild space.

But are you actually someone who looks around the world and sees a lot of decay?

You know, I tend to be an optimist. I love the idea of making life better for ourselves, better so we can share information. That’s what my mentors have done.

What are the names of some of your mentors?

Salvador Dalí was a mentor. When I was 18 I called him up and told him I was a fan and he told me that I could come to New York and meet him that weekend if I wanted to. He took time out of his day and we went to some galleries, he posed for some photos, and I realised that I could become a part of it.

Have you ever read the Eve Babitz book, Eve’s Hollywood? In it she has this anecdote about introducing Salvador Dalí and Frank Zappa. It’s amusing, she’s quite proud of herself for staging a historical event.

Dalí was so open to everybody. He treated every moment as if it was the most special in his life, and everybody who I’ve come across that has had an interaction with him, he always made them feel grand. Each situation was an extravagant moment.

James Rosenquist told me one time that when he met Dalí he was at a restaurant at the 21 Club, and Dalí picked up the asparagus off his plate and put it on his head, and the liquid from the asparagus was dripping down his hair and face, and he sat with the asparagus on his head during the whole lunch.

Ronald Firbank, the author, he once went to a dinner party in his honour, and all this sumptuous food was laid out, and he proceeded to pick up his fork and ate a single pea. And then he left.

Yes. A character and a performer.

Do you equate being a better human with being a better artist? Do you find that days when you’re being a jerk, that your art suffers?

[Pause.] At the end of the day I think that art is all metaphor for self acceptance and how the individual accepts other people, and that’s the highest state of art.

So you see yourself as primarily a social artist?

I see myself as an artist that enjoys feelings and sensations, the primary reason I make my work is I want a dose of the sensation I need. But then I love to communicate and share that with other people. I’ve come to the realisation that art has transformed my life, and I’ve tried to communicate where I’ve seen art disempower me, I want them to be aware of the dangers, and how not to place oneself where art would disempower them.

When has it disempowered you?

Well first of all there’s no place anywhere for judgement, for segregation, and everything is perfect in its own way, no matter what it is. Certain things may have more significance in your life than at other points, but everything is perfect in its own way. When you feel like it disempowers you, that’s where you should feel like you need to bring more to the situation than just who you are at that moment. The art is what happens inside you, that’s what art is. Something that has the ability to excite you, that’s art.

Is it exciting to watch your children go through this process? How’s their relationship with art?

You know one of the things that I’ve done for my children, we don’t live with my work in the house. We go to the studio once a week, but I want them to understand that art is a much vaster activity than what their mother and father do. [His wife is artist Justine Wheeler Koons.] When they think of art they think of their own potential within the realm. With a strong parental presence they would see Justine and I as more of guides, showing them how many people are a part of the art world.

All clothing and accessories LOUIS VUITTON Pre-Fall 2017. All bags LOUIS VUITTON Masters Colaboration with Jeff Koons

So you feel as if you’re raising artists?

All of our children are creative. I was looking at a drawing that the youngest made of a vase of flowers the other morning, and I was just overwhelmed with the beauty of it. It had such an inner strength to it, and he’s only four years old. It was very abstract and different from the actual vase, but it was better than the actual vase. All of our children are creative and intellectually stimulated. I’m sure in the humanities they’ll all make a contribution.

You surround your children with paintings by the old masters in your house. Do you think that your new collaboration with Louis Vuitton using these paintings, will that also inspire the public to be creative, like your children?

I worked with Louis Vuitton several years ago, and I made a balloon edition of one of their champagnes, and it was a tremendous experience. I received a call about two years ago, where I was asked if I was interested in designing a bag collection. I said that I wanted to think about it over the weekend, but I realised immediately that I wanted to do it, to create a vehicle to try and share an aspect of potential art, so immediately I called back and said I’d love to.

Do you plan on carrying your own purse? Do you know about the phenomenon of ‘man purses’?

There’s one I could see myself using. There are also some backpacks that my children and my sons are going to be using. I think that they’re very versatile. What I really loved about the project was the materialism. I’ve worked with wood and glass and porcelain, and Louis Vuitton has the same love of materials. I was able to work with leathers and colour them, heighten the textures, print, saturate colour and the continuation of surface. All these areas are a celebration of material. It’s an intuitive thing that you end up pushing the material to its limits trying to make something new.

How did you choose each painter?

I love art so it’s hard in a way, but I really chose the works that made up my own DNA. What I was trying to capture with this series is that the way our genes and our DNA are interconnected in a double helix. Our cultural life is interconnected, and outside our body this connectivity runs parallel. When we come across an artist, or someone in the humanities, or anyone in life, if you give it up to what they do, it can change your life. I came across Manet’s work, and I became a different person, through Goya’s work, Raphael. I really wanted to celebrate this connectivity and transcendence. What’s being celebrated is giving it up to Leonardo, but Leonardo was giving it up to Uccello. Ruben’s ‘The Tiger Hunt’ was a take off of Leonardo’s ‘Battle of Anghiari’. If I wasn’t an artist, I’d still be using other people from the past, and mentors of the past who allow us to have a richer moment in the present, and our offspring to have a better future.

Yes… I suppose the project seems very consciously positive.

I think from the beginning of history people were mobile and able to carry objects with them, things that helped them to survive, people still do that to this day. It’s extremely relevant.

In college I used to copyedit Us Weekly and they had a section where they’d dump out what was in a celebrity’s bag and analyse everything in it. It was popular.

I’m sure. Because people carry things that are sentimental to them, they carry things that are practical to them. I wanted the LV project to celebrate this intimacy, and what our fore-bearers brought to us.

Do you picture the ideal wearer of this bag, or do you see it as an everywoman or everyman’s bag, despite the price tag?

I’d like to see schoolchildren wearing the backpacks!

Jeff Koons’ new show “Jeff Koons” is open at the Gagosian Beverly Hills until 18 August 2017.

Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.

Photography
Darto Catellani
Fashion
Angelo de Santo
Model
Valery Kaufman at Storm Model Management
Words
Kaitlin Phillips
Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons

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