Lot 47
  • 47

Jeff Koons

7,000,000 - 9,000,000 USD
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  • Jeff Koons
  • Bear and Policeman
  • signed, dated 1988 and numbered 3/3 on the underside
  • polychromed wood
  • 85 x 43 x 36 in. 215.9 x 109.2 x 91.4 cm
  • Executed in 1988, this work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.


Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Private Collection, Europe


New York, Sonnabend Gallery; Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler; Chicago, Donald Young Gallery, Banality, November 1988 - January 1989 (an edition no. shown at each venue)
Exh. Cat., Rotterdam, Rotterdamse Kunststichting and Galerie 't Venster, Jeff Koons: Nieuw Werk, January - February 1989, illustrated in exhibition brochure (edition no. unknown)
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation, May - August 1989, cat. no. 26, not illustrated (edition no. unknown) and p. 40 (text) 
Malmö, Rooseum Malmö, What is Contemporary Art?, June - July 1989, cat. no. 55, p. 103, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Mit dem Fernrohr Durch Die Kungeschichte, Kunsthalle Basel, August - October 1989, cat. no. 49, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High & Low: Modern Art, Popular Culture, October 1990 - September 1991, cat. no. 35, p. 397, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Robert Gober, On Kawara, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Albert Oehlen, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Philip Taaffe, Christopher Wool,  May - June 1992, p. 31, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Pully-Lausanne, FAE Musée d'Art Contemporain; Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea; Athens, DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Post Human, June 1992 - May 1993, p. 109, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Bordeaux, CAPC Musee d'Art Contemporain, Collection pour une region: Richard Baquie, Jedermann N.A., Jeff Koons, Rombouts & Droste, Haim Steinbach, June - November 1993, p. 35, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, From Beyond the Pale: Art and Artists at the Edge of Consensus, 1994, p. 35, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
New York, Deitch Projects, Pig, April - August 2009 (another example)


"Atlantisches Bundnis, eine Gesprachsrundemit mit Georg Herold, Jeff Koons und Isabelle Graw," Wolkenkratzer, January – February 1988, pp. 36-42
"Collaborations, Martin Kippenberger-Jeff Koons," Parkett, no. 19, 1989, p. 35, (text)
Klaus Kertess, "Bad," Parkett, no. 19, 1989, p. 35, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Jean-Christophe Ammann, "Der Fall Jeff Koons," Parkett, no. 19, 1989, p. 54 (text)
Clare Farrow, Andreas Papadakis and Nicola Hadges, "Jeff Koons: The Power of Seduction," Art & Design 6, nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 48-53; reprinted in New Art International, Academy Editions, London, 1991, pp. 153-157
Angelika Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, pl. 22, p. 120, illustrated in color (detail), p. 25, illustrated in color (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1988), and p. 121, illustrated in color (in installation at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 1988) (edition no. unknown)
Albig Jorg-Uwe, "Jeff Koons, ein Prophet der inneren Leere," Art-Das Kunstmagazin, December 1992,  p. 57, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, The Jeff Koons Handbook, New York, 1992, p. 115, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Munich, K-Raum Daxer, Selected Works from the Early Eighties: Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, 1992
Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Jeff Koons, 1992, cat. no. 40, pl. 39, illustrated in color (artist's proof)
Exh. Cat., Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (and travelling), Jeff Koons - Retrospectiv, 1992, cat. no. 46, p. 64, illustrated (edition no. 1/3)
David Littlejohn, "Who is Jeff Koons and Why Are People Saying Such Terrible Things About Him?", Artnews, April 1993, p. 92, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Erik Jens Sorensen, Jeff Koons, Denmark, 1993, p. 64
Exh. Cat., Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Tuning Up, 1994 - 1995, illustrated in color (edition no. 2/3)
The 20th Century Art Book, London, 1996, p. 249, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Thomas Zaunschirm, Kunst als Sudenfall: Die Tabuverletzungen des Jeff Koons, Rombach, Freiburg, 1996, p. 52
Exh. Cat., Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Die Epoche der Moderne Kunst im 20 Jahrhundert, 1997, pl. 334, illustrated, (edition no. 2/3)
Exh. Cat., Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Jeff Koons, 2003, p. 66, illustrated, (edition no. 2/3)
Exh. Cat., Tokyo, Mori Art Museum, Inaugural Exhibition Happiness, A Survival Guide for Art and Life, October 2003 - January 2004 (another example)
Exh. Cat., Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst (and travelling), Jeff Koons: Retrospective, 2004, p. 88, illustrated in color (another example)
Exh. Cat., New York, C&M Arts, Jeff Koons: Highlights of 25 Years, 2004, pp. 17 and 88, illustrated in color (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1988) (edition no. unknown)
Ken Miller, "The Establishment: Jeff Koons [interview]." Tokion, March - April 2005, p.  6, p. 16 and pp. 38-41, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Universal Experience: Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye, 2005 (edition no. 2/3)
Exh. Cat., Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, New York, New York, 2006, p. 479, illustrated (edition no. 2/3)
Müller Von Hans-Joachim, "Wir sind Oberammergau." Monopol, no. 6, December 2006, p. 45, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Hans Werner Holzworth ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2007, p. 299, illustrated in color (in installation at Galerie Max Hetzler, 1988), pp. 304-305, illustrated in color (detail), p. 306, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Gianni Romano and Elena Molinaro, Jeff Koons Retrospettivamente, Milan, 2007, p. 29, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Stephanie Seymour, "Jeff Koons: Art Made in Heaven", Whitewall, Fall 2007, issue 7, p. 140, illustrated in color (edition no. unknown)
Leslie Camhi, "The Seer - Ileana Sonnabend." New York Times Style Magazine, December 2, 2007, p. 209, illustrated (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, 1988)
Exh. Cat., Chicago,  Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, 2008, p. 69, illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the back cover (detail) (artist's proof)
Exh. Cat., Versailles, Château de Versailles, Jeff Koons, 2008, pp. 61 and 148, illustrated in color and pp. 62-63, illustrated in color (detail) (edition no. 2/3)
Robert Pincus-Witten, "Passages: The Eyes Had It." Artforum, January 2008, p. 70, illustrated in color (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, 1988) (edition no. unknown)
Thomas Wagner, "Generation Zeitgeist," Art-Das Kunstmagazin, no. 1, January 2008, p. 4, illustrated in color (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, 1988) and p. 40, illustrated in color (detail, in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, 1988) (edition no. unknown)
Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Childish Things, 2010, illustrated in color pp. 47 and 95 (another example)
Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, 2012, p. 119, illustrated in color (another example), pp. 120-121, illustrated in color (in installation at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1988) (edition no. 2/3)
Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture, 2014, p. 129, illustrated in color, p. 130, illustrated in color (detail) and p. 129 (text) (another example)


This sculpture is in excellent condition. The paint surface, as well as the seams associated with the fabrication process, are stable and secure. There are no significant dimensional changes or signs of warping of the wood over time, as can be the case with the nature of wood as a medium. There are a few very fine and stable dimensional hairline cracks in the policeman's jacket, located above and to the right of his breast pocket and also on the back of his jacket extending up from the bottom hem.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“I’ve made what the Beatles would have made if they had made sculpture. Nobody ever said that the Beatles’ music was not on a high level, but it appealed to a mass audience. That’s what I want to do.” (Jeff Koons in The Jeff Koons Handbook, New York, 1992, p. 114)

Towering at an imposing stature of almost seven-feet tall, Jeff Koons’s iconic Bear and Policeman from his 1988 Banality series is seductively gargantuan. Simultaneously innocent and menacing, while retaining a fanciful hilarity concomitant with sadistic transgression, the present work reincarnates our base desires as art and subverts them with great élan. Bear and Policeman has been exhibited in almost every major international survey of Koons’s output over the past quarter-century—most recently in the critically acclaimed large-scale retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

An anthropomorphized bear wearing a candy-colored striped shirt and a floppy yellow bow tied at the neck escapes traditional symbolic associations of huggable warmth and affectionate earnestness, instead adopting a leering gaze and threatening persona. With his arm wrapped tenderly around the shoulder of the typically uniformed British policeman that peers upward in his grasp, the bear jeers while gripping the Bobby’s whistle—a dramatic reversal of roles that disrupts the inherent power dynamic between the policeman and his irrational, playful counterpart. When interviewed for Art21, Koons explained the glaring sexual undertones permeating the relationship between the bear and the policeman: “There is a sense of sexual humiliation in the over-powering of the Bobby. For me the piece is really saying that art should be something powerful. But at the same time, there’s a morality that comes along with that—the respect of other people, that their rights are equal to yours. So Bear and Policeman was always about art having that power, but being misused and going out of control." The polished brilliance of Koons’s Bear and Policeman resides in its capacity to conflate the highly ordinary with the surreal, tinkering within an exceedingly original, controlled, and complex conceptual domain.

In 1988, Jeff Koons unveiled a series of twenty new sculptures in three concurrent shows at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York, Galerie Max Hetzler in Cologne, and Donald Young Gallery in Chicago. All three galleries displayed the complete body of twenty works from Banality, each executed in an edition of three such that the simultaneous display could be made possible. Following his already controversial reputation with the series The NewEquilibrium, and StatuaryBanality provoked an entirely new level of unparalleled outrage among critics, collectors, and the public. As Adam Gopnik recalled, Banality “shocked people who claimed not to have been shocked by anything at all since the early sixties, and caused a scandal of a sort that was…almost touching in its re-creation of an earlier and more embattled era in the history of modern art.” (Gopnik cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, 2014, p. 22) Although Banality encouraged hostile reactions and controversy, Koons maintains that his modus operandi was never guided by provocation; rather, acceptance is imperative to Koons. His vocabulary is characterized by profound affirmation, buoying viewers of his work to embrace their past and accept an iconography of optimism irrespective of socially accepted criteria of good taste.

With the Banality series, Koons was seen as ushering in a new aesthetic era: outrageously confrontational, the audacity of Banality embraces a high-culture version of objects from popular culture that represented mass Americana, trading on the ubiquity of souvenirs and stuffed animals, the ornaments that both clog and define the life of the petite bourgeoisie. Sculptural mash-ups that draw iconographic influence from Capodimonte porcelain, airport gift-shop figurines, stuffed animals, magazines, greeting cards, and popular culture, Banality saw Koons enlarge banal objects to a shocking degree, yet his figures retain at their very core a truly profound authenticity. Viewing Bear and Policeman amongst the other Banality sculptures, we are prone to recall these familiar faces of our innocent youth with affection; magnified and mutated, however, these sculptures present a simultaneous familiarity and strangeness that seizes our instinctive pleasure and replaces it with an unsettling anxiety. Arguing for the appreciation of mass-appeal imagery, Koons traffics in the arbitrary distinctions between high and low art, positioning his sculptures in the uncharted territory between the predetermined polar categories. Growing up in the small town of York, Pennsylvania, Koons’s father ran Henry J. Koons Decorators, through which Koons came to understand how the middle-class endow material goods and décor with their deepest and most personal aspirations. Koons invokes a challenging poetics of class, revealing the emotional investments crystallized in objects; these objects and the desires that they provoke inevitably vary by class, presenting a stimulating comment on the nature of objecthood and material culture in America.

Bear and Policeman incites a visceral response from each viewer that stands before its totemic splendor, motivating instantaneous interpretation. Such a compelling tension between both profanity and desire provokes us to evaluate our own reactions to the work, thereby admitting our inherent benchmarks of taste: “People respond to these types of things, but they still distance themselves from it. The Banality work is about the recognition of the response.” (Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture, June – September 2014, pp. 129-30) Banality was meant to not only make us aware of our own decorum, but further impel the removal of the subsequent shame intuitively felt in response to these works. Altering the domain of the readymade as designated by Duchamp, with Banality Koons draws from objects that already functioned as art on the shelves and tabletops of countless middle-class homes, unlike the purely quotidian commodities that Duchamp transported into the realm of high art. The objects that Koons cites possess no innate use value. Urging viewers to overcome their deeply ingrained and oppressive barometers of taste, Koons argued for the fulfillment of our lingering desires of such comforting accoutrements as these commonplace artifacts of our nostalgic memories. Scott Rothkopf called Banality Koons’ “gospel of absolution.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, 2014, p. 22) Through this body of work, Koons desired to provoke a fundamental shift in the relationship between art and life: "Banality was about communicating to the bourgeois class. I wanted to remove their guilt and shame about the banality that motivates them and which they respond to…to embrace their own history so that they can move on and actually create a new upper class instead of having culture debase them" (the artist in Angelika Muthesius, Ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne 1992, p. 28) Such was the enormity of Koons's undertaking that the icons of this series—Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Ushering in BanalityPink Panther, and Bear and Policeman—have come to epitomize a generation and stand today as the incarnation of an artistic era. Moreover, in breaking many aesthetic and technical boundaries, Bear and Policeman and the Banality series anticipate the sumptuous sculptures in the monumental Celebration series.

Bear and Policeman, and the Banality series as a whole, was at the time Koons' most elaborate and dedicated feat of technical production. Koons commissioned professional craftsmen to execute his porcelain and polychromed wood sculptures, resulting in a staggering mimesis on a surreal scale that aroused a simultaneous awe and familiarity. Bear and Policeman is executed in polychromed wood, an intricate and labor-intensive process whereby wood is carved and later meticulously painted to achieve a naturalistic effigy, originally developed by the sculptors of religious figures in medieval Europe. Koons outsourced the painstaking production of the sculpture to artisans in the mountains of Northern Italy in order to achieve the work’s extraordinary precision. The implausible lengths that Koons pursues to master traditional materials in unprecedented scale and complexity aligns the artist with the sculptural tradition of the Renaissance masters. Every incision, carving, and sumptuously painted wooden detail that adorns Bear and Policeman is archetypal of the astronomical standards of perfection that has defined Koons’s oeuvre from his very first virginal Hoover sculptures through to the flawless stainless steel surface of the Celebration sculpture Moon. The base of Bear and Policeman bears the signature of the craftsman who executed the work while Koons’ signature marks the underside. Beginning with the bronze casts of the Equilibrium series from 1985, Koons had always delighted in the visual paradox and aesthetic delectation of recasting his subject in a new media with the utter perfection of machine-precision finesse. Displaying Koons’s natural predilection for the ornate extravagance of the Baroque, Bear and Policeman has a purposefully distinct eighteenth century Bavarian charm and feel, which may be found in the exaggeration of motif; in the seductive surface and in the bright palette; in the exaggerated expressions of the subjects' faces. Koons’s interest in the eighteenth-century Rococo—the style that exalted the ornate, the seductive, and the over-the-top—is palpable in his response to this period’s popularization of knick-knacks and figurines among the petite bourgeoisie, feeding their own aspirations and desires for status and culture in a way that mimics the contemporary culture of conspicuous consumption.

Witty, intellectual and candid in its presentation, Koons's depiction of the everyday masks a narrative that operates on numerous levels, confronting the viewer with reflections on social aesthetics while never losing sight of the primacy of the object's visual appeal. The result is a sculpture which is more authentic in feel than any ornament that he might have found, a hyperbole of the banal which resuscitates the conceptual genius of Duchamp and rephrases it in a new authentic voice. Rothkopf recently attested to the series’ enduring resonance: “Banalitymade Koons the superstar we know him to be today… Stylishness or the lack thereof is neither an absolute positive value nor a negative one; it changes with the times and without direct correlation to art-historical significance. But Koons’ work remains impressively resistant to that trait. It tests our jaded open-mindedness. Unlike most once-transgressive art, it has retained over decades a concussive power, a capacity to perturb and revolt. Looking at it in the present, one still senses its original sin.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, 2014, p. 23)