Some time ago, controversial American artist Jeff Koons talked to Time Magazine about his medal from the U.S. Department of State's Art in Embassies programme and some other issues related to his career.
Hi, I’m Belinda Luscombe. I’m the editor-at-large at Time. Jeff Koons is one of the most famous and successful artists working in America today. He’s also one of the most controversial. On November 30th he will be getting a medal from the Department of State and we are here at his West 29th Street studio to talk about that and other things. Mr Koons, thanks for having us.
I’m thrilled to have you.
So explain to me about this medal. What service have you done for your country that you would be getting this.
There’s a programme called Art in Embassies, and it’s about participating in cultural exchange with the State Department. And it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary. And I’d imagine back in the mid 90’s I started to participate. I think the, the first embassy or ambassador’s home that my work was on loan to was in Czechokslovakia and I know that my work is, been in France and other countries. Now at the present time in Beijing, China at the American embassy they have a work of mine called Tulips.
So do you get to have any say over which of your works go where because I would imagine some of your work, which, you know, one of your big interests is sex, isn’t gonna play well in all embassies, if you see what I mean.
You know, there’s a kind of an appropriate place for different dialogues. And so, you know, the works that are chosen for the programme are, you know, works that can really transcend go across all different types of cultures.
You have had, you are exhibited internationally, but you actually had quite a lot of shows in Europe this year. Is the attitude to your work, are you aware of the attitude you’re working different in different countries? Do different cultures respond to it differently?
I think that the European population is more used to being engaged with art, that it has more a more profound place in their life.
And the Americans are not, is what you’re saying?
I think that maybe Americans are more intimidated by art, and they haven’t really come to realize that art is a tool and it’s something that is a tool, and it’s something which is very, very liberal to them. There’s nothing required in any manner, you don’t have to have any prior knowledge in any area of the arts to participate in them.
A lot of people, it’s a… it’s a very big division between people who are in the art world, or engaged in it and people who are not. Is there understanding of an artist who doesn’t touch, make his own work? And I wonder if you could explain to people who still don’t understand that, how it’s still art if you haven’t really touched it?
Yeah, I touch these things in a different way. At the end, I’m responsible for every aspect of my work. I’ve created systems that on a painting, every mark on that painting, even though somebody else is maybe be applying that mark, is exactly the way I would do it. It’s the exact colour I would use, ‘cause I’ve already created the colour and approved the colour and the way the paint’s being applied is exactly the way that I’ve directed that it’s to be done. So, every part of it is an extension of my being just as articulating my fingertips like this, I’m working with other people.
When I was researching you, almost every article quoted an old Time magazine article written by the art critic Robert Hughes. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. And he, he was not a fan, I think it’s safe to say, and one of the thing he said was that, you know, you know, you couldn’t carve your initials on a tree, and you were the princeling of kitsch. He’s not with us anymore, Mr Hughes. I wonder if he was sitting here, what, you know, considering how it all worked out for you, what would you wanna say to him?
I would have to say if you, if anybody has vision in life, you can do it. You know, I’m actually very, very skilled at drawing and painting. When I was in art school I would always win awards, and win scholarships. But if you have vision in life, you can do anything, using your fingers, using your hands as tools. It’s having the vision. So, you know, I don’t believe that people are just born with some form of, of talent, that some abstract thing. It’s about being able to have vision. And if you have vision, you can exercise.
Mr Koons, thank you very much.