Jeff Koons, the name that is equally praised and despised in today’s art world. Whatever he does Koons sparks the debates and there are always controversies of some kind regarding his artistry.
However, there is a body of work that is even today perceived as the most controversial, shocking and provocative in the artist’s whole career and it is his Made in Heaven series, first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1990. The explicit pornographic imagery of the series brings a modern tale of Adam and Eve with Jeff Koons and his future bride Ilona Staller, better known as the soft-porn star La Cicciolina, in the main roles.
Made in Heaven series didn’t just blur the line between art and porn but it also completely erased it, showing that porn is art undisputedly, if it’s made by one of the world’s most famous contemporary artist. Although some critics suggested that this particular series would be Jeff Koons’s downfall, Koons proved them all wrong, and he was "reborn in porn" to become the world’s most expensive living artist.
The initial motivation for Made in Heaven series came from Koons’s observations of human behavior and how the body is often perceived as an object of shame and guilt. Koons wanted to celebrate the acceptance of oneself and to also engage in a dialogue with the art history, referencing the baroque and rococo aesthetics and works of Bernini, Fragonard, Boucher and modern masters like Manet and Courbet.
However, these references were completely overshadowed by the explicitness of the work and controversies that followed. The initial series comprised of photographs printed on canvas, and later on the same imagery was explored through sculptural works, all of them celebrations of one of the shortest love stories in contemporary art history. During the custody disputes, Koons destroyed many of the artworks from the series as Illona thought they were too pornographic (Ironical isn’t it?).
To the delight of the collectors, many of these pieces survived and now it is time to see how well they were accepted at the art market. Therefore, we are bringing you the list of 7 most expensive Made in Heaven pieces, finishing our list with the most expensive one, just to keep you interested until the very end.
Editors’ Tip: Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal
Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal is an essential reference for those who wish to understand better the life and art of one of the world’s most notorious contemporary artists. In a series of interviews with the acclaimed art curator and historian Norman Rosenthal, Jeff Koons talks about his thirty-five years long career, providing readers with the access to the key aspects of his practice, some of them being sexuality, self-acceptance, and ecstasy. The book is an unsurpassed reading material, which gives a compelling insight into the thoughts of this extraordinary artist, presenting us with the artistry of Jeff Koons from the first hand. With over 250 color illustrations, it is also a comprehensive tour of Koons’ works, from the early days of his career to the present date.
When we look at this painting we simply can support those critics who were judgmental of the kitschy elements in Made in Heaven series. Perhaps not explicit in sexuality as the other paintings are, Ilona on Top artwork looks so artificial with Jeff Koons staring awkwardly in the camera lens and letting his wife do all the acting. And what’s up with that sea of butterflies? This heavenly artwork was first offered by Sotheby’s New York back in 1997 achieving a hammer price of $140,000, which was 17% over the high estimate. In 2009, the same auction house estimated the piece at $3 million, way beyond the initial price, and the piece failed to sell.
The lustful lovemaking comes to life in Koons’s Wolfman painting as the lovers are celebrating their animalistic heritage under the full moon. Some may call it banal, others may enjoy Koons acting like a wolf man and putting his goofy facial expressions out of the picture for a while. The fairy-like or nymph-like outfit of Cicciolina is not to be underestimated, as it was her favorite look before she married Koons and started experimenting with other not so virgin-looking styles. Anyway, it seems that the people from Sotheby’s have learned their lesson as in 2002 the piece was estimated at a more modest price of $350,000 and it went for $290,000, a bit below the high estimate.
You know how Jeff Koons is one of those artists that people just love to hate. Well, some hateful individuals saw Made in Heaven series as a perfect opportunity to ridicule Koons’s sexual life, to the extent that they even saw the whole series as the artists excuse to get laid. Perhaps it was, but I doubt that it is the information Jeff Koons will ever share with the audience. Although not as shocking or provoking as Red But Close-Up, Red Butt (Distance) did achieve a significant hammer price of $330,000, selling for 65% over the high estimate at Sotheby’s auction house in New York in 2000.
If you thought that none of the oral sex representation would make it to the list you are terribly wrong. Done on the same background as the Wolfman, and often exhibited side by side due to their shared aesthetics, the piece Blow Job-Ice sees Staller in metallic heels and bottomless lingerie, with a surprisingly maidenly wreath of flowers, holding Koons’s penis against her tongue. The piece was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $350,000 below the low estimate of $400,000.
Now, this is the piece that sparked many controversies over the years. If we didn’t know that the most expensive living artist made it, we might have mistaken it for probably any snapshot from a porn movie. This is probably the ultimate example of the disappearance of that barrier between art and porn in Made in Heaven series, and if we decide to see Red Butt (Close-Up) as art, it might be only because we know who the subjects on the painting are. Nonetheless, we simply don’t need to speculate, we know it is art and not porn cause nobody would pay $450,000 for a regular pornographic image. The piece was sold in 2005 at Sotheby’s 25% below the high estimate. A fun fact about this particular work is that is has also initiated the speculations whether it was truly Koons’s genitals on the painting, since the faces are not visible and if body double was acting instead of the artist.
We are slowly approaching the end of our list. But before we move to that long expected most expensive artwork from the Made in Heaven series we have to see the second most expensive. Created in 1991, the piece titled Ponies is not that pornographic at all. More subtle in its erotica, Ponies managed to fetch the price 60% higher than the high estimate, selling for $480,000 in 2004, once again at the Sotheby’s auction house in New York.
And the most expensive Made in Heaven piece is Silver Shoes from 1990. I don’t know about you, but the notion of silver shoes always reminded me of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz books. Perhaps Ilona Staller would not fit the role of Dorothy or the Wicked Witch but considering the unbelievable price of Jeff Koons’s artworks, he just might be a wizard. Anyhow, the most expensive piece from this series is not even close to his other works that brought him the title of the most expensive artist at the first place. If we have in mind that Jeff Koons’s works have been fetching millions, then Silver Shoes which were sold for $800,000 at Sotheby’s in 2007 seem a lot more modest.