The New Jeff Koons is a highly important example of the artist’s early work, and marks a rare opportunity to acquire a piece from this crucial period of Koons’ artistic development. Whilst engaging with a centuries-old tradition of self-portraiture, The New Jeff Koons brilliantly epitomizes the artist’s aim of making a direct connection with the viewer: the eyes of the four year old Koons stare out at the onlooker, compelling attention; there is no hint of timidity or shyness within the direct gaze. The future artist appears to be a model of good behavior, hair perfectly in place and clothes tidily arranged, whilst happily occupied with a set of crayons which seem to prophetically signify later success. The quality and coloration of the photo reveal its late 1950s vintage, introducing corresponding allusions to the best elements of the quintessential American suburban childhood, sheltered from the social and political concerns of the period. Katy Siegel argues that the depiction of the juvenile Koons conforms to an accepted trope of childhood innocence and the accompanying ideal of the renewal of unadulterated creative powers: “It is an image of the young artist, and of childhood itself; a point in time that modern art has always cast as the moment of purity and true creativity to which the artist strives to return. In Koons’ self-portrait he is young, unspoiled, even virginal… And yet, even at this young age, he has been emphatically shaped, formed in the image of the perfect young boy… Who or what shaped him? The demands and desires of the educational culture, and his parents? Or his own ambitions?” (Katy Siegel in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 110) Koons’ background certainly appears to have provided a key creative impetus: his father owned a furniture and interior design store in which the young Koons was able to gain an early understanding of design and decoration, and his parents encouraged his interest in art from a young age to the best of their ability. The boy Koons has shown in The New Jeff Koons certainly appears confident in his nascent artistic ability and in his choice of occupation: there is already a sense of the unwavering determination and astonishing imagination which was to carry him to the very pinnacle of his chosen career.
The New Jeff Koons was created as Koons hovered on the cusp of a radical change in stylistic direction. Aside from paintings as a student, Koons’ earliest work had featured colorful inflatables installed on mirrored platforms, an artistic chapter which rapidly segued into experimentation with lighting installations in the manner of Dan Flavin, adorned with household objects such as toasters or teapots. It was not until 1980, the year in which The New Jeff Koons was made, that Koons inaugurated a new phase of his art which he believed satisfied the creative aims for which he had been striving. The New series – as opposed to the earlier Pre-New series – gave rise to what were to become some of Koons’ most recognizable works, including the series of Hoovers encased in Plexiglas that the artist considered a celebration of the object in itself. The creation of The New Jeff Koons during this period is of major import, arguably indicating that Koons felt he had finally been able to access his true creative identity and utilize his artistic prowess in satisfactory directions. The artist’s own analysis of The New Jeff Koons seems to support this idea, arguably associating his youthful recognition of artistic skill with his breakthrough provided by the New series: “The New Jeff Koons is my kindergarten photograph… This was at a time when I really felt, or could recognise that I felt, like an artist for the first time, and that art had come in under my feet and was just taking me away, and I was following it. I always liked to think that that picture showed my greatest amount of integrity.” (cited in Ibid., p. 122) The use of the word ‘New’ in the title further supports this concept of artistic birth and incarnation. Ultimately The New Jeff Koons is an incredibly significant work within Koons’ oeuvre, anticipating the profoundly great creative heights the artist would scale in the course of his future career.
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