jeff koons

Is Jeff Koons as Passionate About Uniqlo as He Sounds? Why Is This Unicorn Named After Picasso? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News

Curiosities is a column where I comment on the art news of the week, sometimes about stories that were too small or strange to make the cut, sometimes just thoughts on the circus.

Below, some questions posed by the events of the last week…


1) What Is Pacaso?

The logo of property co-ownership sales and management platform Pacaso on a smartphone screen. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The logo of property co-ownership sales and management platform Pacaso. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Founded only last year, Pacaso is, I’m told, the youngest start-up ever to reach “unicorn” status—a valuation of more than $1 billion. A glorified time-share scheme that promises to “democratize second home-ownership,” its mission is to finally let America’s wealthier enclaves know the joys of having your neighborhood become an Airbnb hotspot by selling fractionalized stakes in mansions in places like Napa Valley.

Since you are reading an art site, you are probably already wondering, “Is the name inspired by… you know…” The answer is yes. And the answer to your follow-up question—”does Pacaso’s innovative model of fractional real-estate investment carry on the legacy of Cubism?”—is also yes.

From the company’s Our Story page:

We are inspired by Pablo Picasso’s revolutionary thinking, the way he challenged norms in early 20th century art. He is credited with co-creating Cubism, which brings together individual elements to create a new and innovative whole. That resonated with how we’re approaching second home ownership. We decided on Pacaso to honor Picasso’s legacy of innovation.

And, truly, what an honor it is! Per Planet Money, “No Pacaso” signs are quickly becoming a hot accessory in the nation’s tonier areas. Some poor sap who bought 1/8th of a $4 million mansion recounts showing up for his slot at his new vacation home—which had been dubbed the “Chardonnay” house by Pacaso, and is described as having “a distinctly modern and high-tech feel”—only to be greeted by a sign that read, “The Pacaso House Is the Big One on the Right With No Soul.”


2) What’s Jasper Johns’s Flag Got to Do With Jurassic Park?

Installation view of the "Jasper Johns and the Whitney" in "Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror" at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Installation view of the “Jasper Johns and the Whitney” in “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror” at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Here’s a bit of trivia I didn’t know until I went to the “Jasper Johns and the Whitney” room of the New York museum’s big Jasper Johns show. Just after Michael Crichton wrote and directed the original Westworld in 1973—but long before he wrote Disclosure, created ER, or became one of the world’s most high-profile climate-change deniers—he had a side hustle writing art catalogues. Specifically, the catalogue for Jasper Johns’s 1977 Whitney retrospective.

Let me tell you the story. Johns wanted someone to write about him who was “not an art critic.” By his own admission, Crichton had never read an art catalogue. Asking around, he couldn’t find anyone who had ever actually read a catalogue either, and decided that what people wanted was facts about the artist and the works—“none of that art interpretation stuff.”

Copy of the 1977 catalogue for Jasper Johns's Whitney show, on display at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Copy of the 1977 catalogue for Jasper Johns’s Whitney show, on display at the Whitney. Photo by Ben Davis.

Honestly, this is not bad advice! I hate it when you open a catalogue looking some helpful historical context instead get 30 pages of musings on Giles Deleuze or Fred Moten.

Despite this “just the facts” approach, Crichton’s catalogue contains a pretty fun account of a car trip he took with Johns where the artist resolutely refuses to offer directions to get where they are going:

Once I drove him from his house at Stony Point into New York City. We were going to some destination I did not know. I asked him how to get there. “Well, I’m not sure, I’ll know when I see it, as we go.”

We drove for a while longer, crossing the George Washington Bridge. I asked again. “Well, I don’t know. Turn right here, and we’ll figure out the rest later.”

I love how closely the description of a Jasper Johns outing follows his well-known art-making mantra: “Take an object / Do something to it / Do something else to it [Repeat].” Or, as Crichton narrates Johns’s thought process, “We are going down this street now, and when we get to the end, we will decide which way to turn, and having decided that, we will wait until it is time to make another decision.”

Jasper Johns: important painter; demanding road trip companion.

Crichton accepted a small painting from Johns in lieu of payment, and according to author Don Thompson, he later turned down $5 million for it from Larry Gagosian. For that reason, the 1977 Whitney Museum catalogue is sometimes regarded as the most lucrative piece of art writing ever done.


3) Is the Male Gaze in the NFT World Really Going to Be Decentered by Playboy?

Playboy has enthusiastically gotten into the NFT game. On the one hand, it is looking to sell its back catalogue of vintage cheesecake as NFTs; on the other, it is out to smash the patriarchy.

Specifically, the magazine has partnered with the Sevens Foundation on a new NFT commission (open to applicants through October 1!) called “The Art of Gender and Sexuality.” The initiative, we read, recognizes that “the fight for equality and representation that continues to define the art world at large is particularly urgent in the fast-moving world of NFTs, a primarily cis-male dominated space.”

I would make a joke here about how “I support Playboy for its social justice mission to decenter the digital art world” is the new “I read Playboy for the articles,” but, you know, Playboy did publish some pretty good articles.


4) Will Koons’s Uniqlo Line Redefine Basic Fashion?

“Sophisticated pop artworks by one of the greatest contemporary artists, Jeff Koons!” boasts the website of Uniqlo, the fast-fashion juggernaut from Japan that has just launched a Koons capsule collection in coordination with the soon-to-open “Jeff Koons: Lost in America” show in Qatar.

The exclamation point certainly proves they are excited—but what’s so “sophisticated” about these works?

Craft, craft, it’s all about craft, according to the interview with Koons on the project’s micro-site (which also features interviews with curators Massimiliano Gioni, Elena Geuna, and Yuko Hasegawa). We’re talking here about the craft of… printing pictures of Balloon Dog and Rabbit onto basic cotton Ts and hoodies.

Here’s Koons waxing Koonsian about the globe-spanning merch collab in a series of words that sound as if they have been put into Google translate from English to a foreign language and back again (but he speaks with such conviction!):

I enjoy very much how Uniqlo is in contact with my generation but also a younger generation and it really communicates across cultures and everybody enjoys very much their clothing. We are just people who are seeking to be connected with each other. By working with Uniqlo, making a T-shirt that can be connected and communicate to somebody else that I care about them—I embrace that opportunity.

Of the collection’s various options, my favorite has to be the Jeff Koons sweatshirt featuring his work Play-doh (1994–2014). Not exactly pushing the boundaries of graphic design, as far as I can tell, it offers the giant words “JEFF KOONS” next to an image of sculpture.

I assure you that as a work of art, the massive, precision-designed Play-doh actually is impressive and huge and detailed in its craftsmanship. But rather than seamlessly “communicating across cultures,” when its image is printed without scale on a shirt, like nothing so much a sturdy pile of rainbow doggy-doo (maybe from Flower Puppy).

Screenshot of Jeff Koons x Uniqlo sweatshirt featuring Play-doh.

Screenshot of Jeff Koons x Uniqlo sweatshirt featuring Play-doh on the Uniqlo website.

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The Guggenheim Bilbao Just Dropped a Rap Video to Raise Funds to Repair Its Jeff Koons Puppy Sculpture and It’s… Well, Judge for Yourself

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao launched a €100,000 ($118,000) crowdfunding campaign in June to renovate the flowering Jeff Koons Puppy sculpture that stands at its entrance. But it seems donations haven’t been as bountiful as the institution may have hoped.

It’s two months into the campaign and only €28,000 ($33,000) has been raised—just over a quarter of the goal. Now, in a last-ditch effort to revive the fundraising drive, the museum has released a bizarre rap video that “gives voice” to the sculpture and encourages art lovers to donate. It’s called “P.U.P.P.Y.”—and it’s super awkward. 

“It’s the ‘P’ with the ‘U’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘Y.’ So please don’t kill my vibe,” raps M.C. Gransan, the Bilbao-born songwriter, in the chorus. The passage ends with another inexplicable plea: “Bring me to life.” 

In the video, Gransan performs at various locations in front of the museum, Koons’s dog often looming in the background. Much of the footage is stylized with retrograde technicolor effects, giving the whole thing the feel of a ’90s-era anti-drug PSA. The beat, meanwhile, was created by someone named ​​Doggy Charles. 

A still from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao's "P.U.P.P.Y." music video.

A still from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s “P.U.P.P.Y.” music video.

Puppy, as Koons’s 40-foot-tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier is titled, was installed at the Guggenheim’s Spanish branch in 1997. Since then, “it has turned out to be an icon for the city of Bilbao,” said the museum’s director general, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, in a previous promotional video.

Some 38,000 plants, including begonias, marigolds, and petunias line the structure’s exterior, while inside is an elaborate irrigation system. After two decades, many of the internal pipes need replacing, as do some sections of the artwork’s steel shell. Preventative restoration work is scheduled for September and will allow the structure to consume water. 

In an interview with the Guggenheim this year, Koons said that Puppy was “inspired by my visits to Europe’s baroque cathedrals and the way they achieve this balance between the symmetrical and the asymmetrical and between the eternal and the ephemeral.”

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The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week

Germany Plans Return of Benin Bronzes – In a landmark decision, Germany has announced that it will begin to return the looted art objects in 2022.

The Art Fair Freeze Is Thawing – Rejoice art lovers, Frieze New York is preparing to open IRL next week, with new health and safety precautions in place.

Phillips Names New CEO – The auction house has appointed an ex-Christie’s exec to replace Edward Dolman as CEO.

Ai Weiwei the Author – Activist artist Ai Weiwei is writing a memoir about his family’s history of dissidence in China.

EmRata Releases NFT – The supermodel Emily Ratajkowski is releasing an NFT involving a Richard Prince work that was appropriated from her own Instagram account.

Cappellazzo Decamps from Sotheby’s – Art-market rainmaker and head of the global fine art division Amy Cappellazzo is leaving Sotheby’s.

MoMA Musical Chairs – After activists thwarted Leon Black’s chances at reelection to the museum’s board, MoMA announced that Marie-Josee Kravis will take his place.

Earliest Human Home Unearthed – Archaeologists have discovered a South African cave inhabited by humans 2 million years ago.

The Basquiat Boom Continues – Yet another painting by the beloved artist is hitting the auction block, this time with a $50 million pricetag.

Koons Quits Larry and David – Superstar artist Jeff Koons will now be represented worldwide by Pace, ditching Gagosian and Zwirner.

The Burden of Knockoffs – A theme park in Indonesia must destroy its knockoff installation of Chris Burden’s Urban Light after it lost a lawsuit brought by the artist’s estate.

Archaeologists Up in Arms – Dozens of archaeologists are furious at the news of a renovation of the Acropolis.

Oscars NFT Fumble – An artist is redesigning a Chadwick Boseman-themed NFT after a wave of criticism.

Kanye’s Old Sneakers Bring in Bank – A pair of “Nike Air Yeezy” sneakers that the rapper wore to the Grammy’s sold for $1.8 million in a Sotheby’s private sale.

Cadre of Gallery’s Opt Out of Frieze – One-third of galleries who signed up to show at Frieze New York have dropped out, and been replaced with local galleries.


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A French Appeals Court Has Found Jeff Koons Guilty of Copyright Infringement Again—and Hiked Up His Fines

In a double hit of bad news for art star Jeff Koons, a French appeals court not only upheld a 2018 decision that found him and the Pompidou Centre guilty of copyright infringement, but also increased his fine.

French photographer Frank Davidovici initially brought the lawsuit in 2015, alleging that Koons had copied his photo for an ad campaign for the clothing line Naf Naf. Koons’s 1988 sculpture Fait d’hiver, from his “Banality” series, depicts a woman lying in snow next to a pig wearing a ring of roses and a barrel around its neck, and penguins standing nearby. Davidovici’s photo also shows a female model lying in snow in a similar position with a pig (which is the Naf Naf mascot), also wearing a small barrel around his neck. Davidovici’s image did not feature penguins, and his model wore a jacket as opposed to Koons’s model, who wore a revealing mesh top.

Davidovici saw the work in a catalogue for Koons’s popular 2014 retrospective that debuted at the Whitney Museum in New York and later traveled to the Centre Pompidou.

Jeff Koons, Fait d'Hiver (1988) Photo: Courtesy Christie's via artnet Price Database

Jeff Koons, Fait d’Hiver (1988). Photo: Courtesy Christie’s via Midnight Publishing Group Price Database


Davidovici sought €300,000 ($352,000) in damages and for the state to seize Koons’s sculpture. In 2018, the Paris court ordered the artist and the museum to pay Davidovici a total of €135,000 ($153,000).

The artist’s associated LLC was also fined €11,000 for reproducing the work on Koons’s website; a publishing house that sold a book with the image was fined €2,000. The court denied the request for the sculpture’s seizure.

Now, the appeals court has raised the amount that Koons and the Pompidou have to pay to the photographer to €190,000 (an increase of €45,000). The decision, filed yesterday, was first reported by ARTnews. In addition, if Koons and the Pompidou continue to show reproductions of the work online, they will owe an additional €600 ($700) per day.

Neither Gagosian Gallery, which represents Koons, nor the Pompidou Centre immediately responded to requests for comment. Davidovici’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an unusual twist, shortly after the November 2018 decision in favor of Davidovici, as Midnight Publishing Group News reported, Elisabeth Bonamy, the art director who said she conceived and executed the visual elements of the ad, said she had not been properly credited for her role in the ad.

“Franck has always taken advantage to make his name famous while completely forgetting me. It’s not very elegant,” Bonamy told Midnight Publishing Group News. She said that Davidovici’s credit-taking had also upset the photographer of the advertisement, William Klein.

Bonamy did not respond to Midnight Publishing Group News’ comment on the most recent legal decision.

In November 2007, a porcelain version of Fait d’hiver sold for $4.3 million at Christie’s. In 2001, a porcelain version offered at Phillips, failed to sell on an estimate of $1.5 million to $2 million.

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Hotelier Rami Fustok on the Jeff Koons He Wishes He’d Bought, and the $400,000 Romero Britto He Did

Entrepreneur and art collector Rami Fustok is not afraid of color or having a little fun when it comes to creating his aesthetic environment. The Mandrake, the boutique hotel he owns in London, is a vibrant testament to Fustok’s holistic vision, filled with rich textiles, bold artworks, thoughtful accents, soundscapes, and signature scents. Simply put: this is not a traditional luxury hotel.

Fustok brings this same creative spirit to building his art collection. Recently, the energetic art lover talked to Midnight Publishing Group News about his collection, his hotel’s current artist-in-residence, and the pricey work he bought by Romero Britto. 

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?
My first purchase was my
Angel sculpture by Bushra Fakhoury. Fakhoury is probably best known for her public sculptures, which have been shown prominently on London’s Park Lane. The sculpture cost around £20,000 at the time. 

What was your most recent purchase?
A multi-media photograph of LA from the British artist Zoobs Ansari. His work often deals with celebrity culture and the darker side of fame, something that vibrates pertinently in today’s age. 

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

Generally, I like to be spontaneous with the way I buy art. However, I am excited about the work of the hotel’s recent artist-in-residence, Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey. He makes unique “Afrogallonism” pieces, assemblages made up of flattened Kufuor gallon cans, jute sacks, discarded car tires, and wood pieces, often inscribed with patterns and text, which examine the powerful agency of everyday objects, and their ecological legacies. 

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?
Probably a large-scale rocking horse sculpture from the Brazilian artist Romero Britto. It cost around $400,000. 

Where do you buy art most frequently?
I think of all places I purchase most regularly at Art Basel Miami Beach. The fair is always a great place to discover work. I’m also lucky to travel and to learn about flourishing art scenes on the ground. It was on a trip with Gallery 1957, in Accra, that I first came across Serge’s work during a studio visit. I purchased a
painting that’s now part of my collection as well.  

Is there a work you regret purchasing?
No, I don’t hold regrets when it comes to art; I love them all.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?
My bathroom is currently art free, but I have an oil on canvas by the German artist Jonas Burgert
above my sofa, titled Bleibleib. It’s a large work depicting a classically draped female figure—it’s one of several works by Burgert in my collection.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?
I do not deem any art to be impractical!

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?
I actually wish I’d bought more of the Jeff Koons-designed Balloon Venus bottle holders from
Dom Pérignon. Based on Koons’s existing large-scale sculpture of a paleolithic fertility figurine it a more manageable addition to the home.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?
I think any Francis Bacon triptych.

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