In Brief

Non, Merci! French Artists and Cultural Workers Reject Giant Jeff Koons Sculpture

In an open letter, 24 artists, curators, politicians, and more called for the costly and logistically complex project to be scrapped.

Jeff Koons, “Bouquet of Tulips” (2016), polychromed bronze, stainless steel, and aluminum; sculpture dimensions: 34 ft 1 1/2 in, (38 ft 3 in with base); width: 27 ft 3/4 in; depth: 33 ft 4 3/8 in (image © Jeff Koons, courtesy Noirmontartproduction, 3D rendering of the work in situ)
Jeff Koons, “Bouquet of Tulips” (2016), polychromed bronze, stainless steel, and aluminum; sculpture dimensions: 34 ft 1 1/2 in, (38 ft 3 in with base); width: 27 ft 3/4 in; depth: 33 ft 4 3/8 in (image © Jeff Koons, courtesy Noirmontartproduction, 3D rendering of the work in situ)

“We appreciate gifts, but free, unconditional, and without ulterior motives.” So says a group of 24 French artists, museum workers, politicians, and others who published an open letter in Libération yesterday rejecting the monumental “Bouquet of Tulips” sculpture that Jeff Koons offered to the city of Paris in 2016.

The signatories include former Minster of Culture and Communication Frédéric Mitterrand, artists Christian Boltanski, Jean-Luc Moulène, and Tania Mouraud, filmmaker Olivier Assayas, collectors Marin Karmitz and Antoine de Galbert, and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, among others. They describe the project to install the Koons sculpture in the plaza between Paris’s Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris as shocking and call the work itself and the choice of site “at the very least surprising, if not opportunistic, perhaps even cynical.”

The planned future site of Jeff Koons's "Bouquet of Tulips" (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The planned future site of Jeff Koons’s “Bouquet of Tulips,” with the main entrance to the municipal Museum of Modern Art at left and the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art center at right. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The sculpture, which, with its base, would reach a height of 38 feet and weigh 36 tons, features a giant, realistically rendered hand holding a bouquet of tulips seemingly made from colorful balloons. Koons intended it as a monument to Franco-American solidarity and a symbol of optimism in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and in 2016. However, many objected to Koons’s ostensible gift on the grounds that some €3.5 million (~$4.3 million) will still have to be raised to make and install the sculpture — he merely gifted the “idea” for it. There are engineering issues with the gift, too, as the sidewalk where the sculpture would be installed cannot currently hold its weight and would need to be reinforced. For these reasons and more, the signatories of yesterday’s letter are calling for the “Bouquet of Tulips” to be scrapped entirely.

“Brilliant and inventive in the 1980s, Jeff Koons has since become a symbol of industrial, spectacular, and speculative art,” the letter reads. “His studio and his dealers are multinational purveyors of hyper-luxury, among others. To offer them so much visibility would amount to advertising or product placement.”

The full letter, translated by the author, is included below.

*  *  *

On November 21, 2016, the US Embassy in France and Paris City Hall announced the gift of the monumental “Bouquet of Tulips” by Jeff Koons, to install it definitely in the Place de Tokyo, “subject to obtaining the remaining authorizations needed.” These authorizations are still pending, the work is still being fabricated in a German factory, and its installation is imminent.

We, artists, politicians, professionals and amateurs of the French art scene, demand that this initiative be abandoned.

Indeed, this project is shocking, for many different reasons, the sum total of which must lead wisely to it being canceled:

Symbolically, above all else. This sculpture was proposed by the artist as a “symbol of memory, optimism, and healing, in order to surmount the terrible events that took place in Paris,” an homage to the victims of the attacks of November 13, 2015. But the choice of the work, and especially of location, without any kind of relationship to the tragic events invoked and where they took place, seem at the very least surprising, if not opportunistic, perhaps even cynical.

Democratically also, if a work of unprecedented importance were to be placed into such a culturally and historically prestigious location, shouldn’t there be an open call, as is common practice, opening this opportunity to members of the French art scene? The incredibly vital creative community of our country would greatly benefit from such an opportunity.

Architecturally and patrimonially, by its visual impact, its gigantism (12 meters tall, 8 wide, and 10 deep), and its siting, this sculpture would overwhelm the current harmony between the colonnades of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris and the Palais de Tokyo, and the views of the Eiffel Tower.

Artistically, brilliant and inventive in the 1980s, Jeff Koons has since become a symbol of industrial, spectacular, and speculative art. His studio and his dealers are multinational purveyors of hyper-luxury, among others. To offer them so much visibility would amount to advertising or product placement, and this would be particularly out of context at such a popular destination for tourists, between two major cultural institutions, devoted especially to emerging artists and the French art scene.

Financially, finally, this installation would be expensive for the state, and thus for all taxpayers. The artist has only gifted his “idea,” but the construction and the installation of the sculpture, estimated at €3.5 million at least, will be financed by arts patrons, French patrons especially, who would benefit from tax abatements of up to 66% on their contributions. Furthermore, the preparatory construction to reinforce the basement of the Palais de Tokyo, would render many of its spaces unusable for a long time and greatly handicap the art center.

Technically, indeed, to place 35 tonnes atop the exhibition spaces of the Palais de Tokyo is an enormous engineering challenge. Already uncertain, the safety of such a project in the long term is impossible to guarantee.

We appreciate gifts, but free, unconditional, and without ulterior motives.

Olivier Assayas, filmmaker; Marie-Claude Beaud, director of the Nouveau Musée national de Monaco; Marie-Laure Bernadac, honorary general curator; Christian Bernard, director of the Printemps de septembre; Christian Boltanski, artist; Nicolas Bourriaud, director of Montpellier Contemporain; Emilie Cariou, deputy vice-president of the finance commission; Stéphane Corréard, director of the Salon Galeristes; Matali Crasset, industrial designer; Alexia Fabre, chief curator of Mac/Val; Estelle Francès, founder of the Fondation Francès; Alexandre Gady, president of sites and monuments; Antoine de Galbert, collector, founder of the Maison rouge; Catherine Grenier, director of the Fondation Alberto-et-Annette-Giacometti; Marie-Laure Jousset, honorary chief curator; Marin Karmitz, collector; Gaëlle Lauriot-Prévost, designer; Claire Le Restif, director of centre d’art contemporain Le Crédac; Gabrielle Maubrie, gallerist, founder of the Association Galeries mode d’emploi; Frédéric Mitterrand, former Minister of Culture and Communication; Jean-Luc Moulène, artist; Tania Mouraud, artist; Pierre Oudart, director of the École supérieure d’art et de design Marseille-Méditerranée; Dominique Perrault, architect.

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