The Jeff Koons Affair

American sculptor Jeff Koons gifted one of his creations to the city of Paris last November. But the gaudy work inspired by the Statue of Liberty is still a point of contention.
© Jeff Koons

The artist’s large-scale sculpture representing a bouquet of tulips is supposed to be pay homage to the victims of the Paris Attacks in 2015. The project is supported by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the former American ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, and the painted steel object was initially destined to be a permanent installation on the square in front of the Palais de Tokyo museum in the 16th arrondissement.

But the project has fallen behind schedule several times. Some of the setbacks have been engineered, others are just down to bad luck. It should be noted that the gift – designed to celebrate Franco-American friendship – is first and foremost a marketing operation spearheaded by the artist-cum-businessman. In reality, Jeff Koons is only giving Paris the “concept” of the sculpture; it is the city’s responsibility to find more than three million euros needed to produce and install it. A fund was set up to raise money from patrons looking to finance cultural projects in the French capital, but private donations appear hard to come by. The French do not have a particularly strong tradition of patronage.

As well as these troubles, the director of the Palais de Tokyo conveniently discovered the ground in front of the museum was too fragile to bear the weight of the thirty-ton statue. Another – preferably less visible – location would have to be found. And if that were not enough, French art critics and artists – whose works are rarely showcased in the streets of Paris – find Jeff Koons’ “thing” to be exceptionally ugly. It is more than likely that the bouquet of flowers will remain in the design phase, which may be its finest possible expression: a certain idea of friendship, but without the unnecessary costs.