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In a surprise statement released last night by his publicist, mega-celebrity pop artist Jeff Koons announced the end of his career in art and the termination of all projects and staff at his Manhattan studio by the end of 2019.
“I am proud of everything that I have achieved, but the same calling that brought my practice into being is now calling on me to stop,” the statement reads. Another line from the missive, which is said to have perplexed his staff and those nearest to him, reads: “A life-altering religious epiphany has revealed to me a necessary bend in the spiritual path that has guided me since the beginning of my career. I intend to respond to it with acceptance, ending my path in the commercial art world.”
Koons, a master of pop art who translated kitsch and banality into works worth millions of dollars, has been suffering from a slowdown in business in the past two years, coupled with a series of legal entanglements. The artist is currently embroiled in a $90 million lawsuit filed against him and Gagosian Gallery over charges of undelivered works. In November last year, a French court found Koons guilty of copyright infringement of a 1985 advertisement in his 1988 sculpture “Fait d’hiver.” The artist was ordered to pay the creator of the advertisement a sum of $170,000. This case joins four other past convictions over similar charges dating back to 2014.
Koons’s decision to close his studio comes after downsizing his staff four times since 2015. The latest shakeup in January, in which dozens of workers were laid off, coincided with plans to move his studio to Hudson Yards. Last night’s statement announced that this relocation has been canceled. The studio will focus on finishing commissioned projects until it closes permanently next December, the statement says.
Koons’s surprising move is drawing mixed reactions in the art world. A collector and a close friend of the artist who spoke with Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity said, “I think Jeff struggled to balance his success with the deep loathing of so many haters.” According to the collector, Koons has been discreetly pursuing religious studies in the past few months. “He’s been showing a lot of interest in divinity studies lately, but we never saw this coming,” the source said about Koons’s retirement, “To be honest, we’re a little worried about Jeff.”
Koons, 64, was born to a Protestant family in York, Pennsylvania. Hyperallergic has yet received a reply to its inquiry as to which religious faith, if any in particular, was responsible for artist’s epiphany.
On social media, the overall reaction to Koons’s announcement was less than kind. “Good riddance”; “I’ve regained my faith in humans”; and “LOL ur art sucked anyway” were among the most-liked comments on the web.
In Paris, the group of prominent cultural figures who opposed the placement of Koons’s sculpture “Bouquet of Tulips” near the Palais de Tokyo (later moved to a garden beside the Petit Palais) issued a “thank you” letter to the artist for his retirement. “We in Paris would like to thank Jeff Koons for finally closing down his production line of distasteful art. Now that he has retired, we accept his gift to Paris as a relic of a bygone era,” the statement reads.
Koons’s announcement is expected to send shockwaves through the art market, although it remains to be seen how it will affect the market value of his works. An upcoming Christie’s auction in May is expected to break the artist’s $48 million auction record with an estimated $50-$70 million price tag for his sculpture “Rabbit” (1986). Dealers, collectors and auction houses are nervously accommodating to a new reality in which Koons, as he promises in his statement, will be creating art only for himself and his family.