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On Sunday, one of Jeff Koons’s reflective “Gazing Balls” shattered into dozens of pieces, after a curious individual touched it in an Amsterdam church. The glass work, on display in a temporary exhibition, was reduced to a pile of fragments on April 8, the last day the show was open.

“Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with Four Saints)” was installed at the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church known for its high-profile art exhibitions. It included a blue glass orb, reminiscent of a giant Christmas ornament, that sat on an aluminum shelf attached to an altarpiece painting by Pietro Perugino, which Koons replicated. Koons has been producing these paintings since 2014, as a follow-up to his 2013 series that balanced gazing balls on plaster sculptures.

Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with Four Saints)” (2018) (photo by Janiek Dam)

Displayed in the church’s apse, the gazing ball was the centerpiece of the three-month exhibition, which also featured a video work. Martijn van Schieveen, a spokesperson for Nieuwe Kerk, confirmed that a visitor had touched the glass ball, which immediately broke, leaving behind shards that were silver on the inside. The painting itself remains undamaged, and no one was hurt.

As its name implies, the mirrored sphere is intended for viewers to gaze into, creating a special, intimate relationship with the reflected image. At Nieuwe Kerk, visitors could get pretty close to the blue ball; only an area marked by a line of tape indicated how far of a distance people should keep between their bodies and the ball.

At a press preview in 2015, Koons said that each hand-blown gazing ball is secured to the shelf by a metal rod that sticks up through the center of each one. A person would have to lift it up to remove it, he said.

Speaking with Dutch daily de Volkskrantvan Schieveen said the ball “jumped” after the visitor, who remains unidentified, touched it. The church is now working with Koons’s studio to investigate the situation and assess the damage, as well as the possibility of repair. It has not disclosed the value of the gazing ball and its accompanying painting.

Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with Four Saints)” (2018) (photo by Janiek Dam)

Benjamin Sutton contributed reporting.

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

13 replies on “Clumsy Churchgoer Destroys Jeff Koons “Gazing Ball” by Touching It”

  1. The world of contemporary bullshit. The philosophy of, gazing into a glass orb produced by under paid and under appreciated artisans into a copied painting. The concept is as shallow and vapid as the “artist” himself. And placing it in a church? The ego must be such a burden for this hack.

  2. Given that Koons is and always has been a giant fraud, this is no great loss. If anything, the person who did the damage should be applauded

  3. what bothers me is the fact that an observer had the gall to touch someone elses’ work. I understand the desire to interact with a work but I was raised that art was always hadns off, lest it become damaged.

    1. When you work on the floor in a museum you will see hands on the art a few times a day. Also, people falling and tripping into it while taking selfies. Obliviousness and blamelessness is the new normal

  4. From a museum studies person’s point of view, wouldn’t the church have had to make practically bloodwritten promises to the Koons studio that the Gazing Ball would have been affixed to the shelf as described in the article, with a rod? Clearly not. Oh well. The Gazing Balls are mass produced anyway.

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