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Why are the French Protesting Jeff Koons' Proposed Monument for Paris?

  • Bouquet of Tulips by Jeff Koons
January 30, 2018
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via this email:

When the news became a thing of public knowledge in November, the announcement that Jeff Koons would “donate” a monumental sculpture to the city of Paris, France was met with fanfare. Yet, the eerie silence from too many public spokesmen at the time was troubling and now, about two to three months later, the future of Koons’s latest sculpture hangs in the air.

In an open letter published by the French newspaper Libération, a variety of artists and public personas have called for the abandonment of plans to install the piece in the City of Light, arguing that the Bouquet of Tulips is too inappropriate both on an aesthetic and a conceptual level, as well as claiming that the planed way to execute the sculpture is borderline offensive.

A rendering of Jeff Koons’s Bouquet of Tulips. The work was to be installed in the city of Paris France in 2018 to honor the attacks on people in 2015
A rendering of Jeff Koons’s Bouquet of Tulips. © Jeff Koons, Courtesy NOIRMONTARTPRODUCTION

Too Many Struggles and Obstacles

Before the project started hitting a variety of dead ends, Jeff Koons wanted to donate a monumental sculpture of a hand holding a bFouquet of balloon tulips to honor victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks.

However, the sculpture’s road to realization was met with a lot of obstacles over the last few months.

A lot of these problems were of practical nature. The main issue was that private foundation has taken longer than it expected to raise the estimated 3.5 million euros ($3.9 million) necessary to make and install the piece – something Koons did not take into account.

Judith Benhamou-Huet, a French art critic and blogger, went as far as saying that the artwork is “superconceptual” as the artist is giving nothing more than a concept.

The other notable issue was with the pavement of the plaza Koons selected for the Bouquet of Tulips as it’s simply not strong enough to support the 30-ton sculpture. The artist insisted that the piece be installed between the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville and the Palais de Tokyo, in front of a colonnade.

Jeff Koons's Tulips by in Full Bloom Outside Christie's at Rockefeller Center
Jeff Koons’s Tulips by in Full Bloom Outside Christie’s at Rockefeller Center, via

The Open Letter Calling For the Abandonment of the Project

Now, Bouquet of Tulips faces its biggest obstacle so far – signed by the artists Christian Boltanski and Jean-Luc Moulène, film director Olivier Assayas, former French culture minister Frédéric Mitterand and Montpellier Contemporain director Nicolas Bourriaud, the open letter published in Libération took issue with the sculpture, both aesthetically and practically.

Current plans for the sculpture, which is being built in Germany as we speak, feature a large hand holding a pastel-colored version of the artist’s 1994–2005 work Tulips. Reportedly, the piece is inspired by paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Pablo Picasso.

In the letter, the signees explain that the work is symbolically inappropriate to its subject matter and that it does no justice to the people who pointlessly lost their lives in 2015.

The practical problems of the project represent a big part of the overall issue protesting artists are taking with the Bouquet of Tulips. The signees argue that the completed sculpture will obstruct views of the Eiffel Tower and that the pavement below could not possibly support the work. Furthermore, they are offended by the irresponsibly handled financial aspect of the project.

Jeff Koons - Bouquet of Tulips, 2016, photo by Michel Euler
Jeff Koons and his Bouquet of Tulips, 2016, photo by Michel Euler via Liberation

The Future of Jeff Koons’s Bouquet of Tulips in Paris

Isabel Pasquier, an art critic at France Inter, one of the country’s leading public radio stations, gave an interesting opinion on the matter during one of her shows:

They presented this bouquet as a symbolic present to Paris, but then we realized it wasn’t exactly a present, since France had to pay to install it. Whether you appreciate his art or not, Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.

Even before the open letter, which can be found in French, along with its list of signees, on Libération’s website, the future of Bouquet of Tulips was hard to predict due to all the technical and financial problems surrounding it.

Now, following the public protest of the France’s most respected individuals, the fate of Jeff Koons’s sculpture is as murky as ever.

Jeff Koons ‘wants to give hope’ to Paris attacks survivors – France 24

Jeff Koons Responds

The French art production house, Noirmontartproduction, in charge of the project in question, has issued a response in defense of the artwork.

In it, they describe how the artwork came to be, at the invitation by the former US ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, and clarify that it was all funded by gifts from French-American donors, via a fundraising campaign.

”“Conceived as a gesture of friendship and union, the Bouquet of Tulips of Jeff Koons cannot become a symbol of discord!” says the statement.

Read the full letter here.

Featured image: Bouquet of Tulips by Jeff Koons, Photograph Jeff Koons via Normontartproduction, All images used for illustrative purposes only.