Lot 46
  • 46

Jeff Koons

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jeff Koons
  • Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden)
  • signed, numbered 3/3 and dated 2013
  • plaster and glass
  • 97 1/16 x 96 1/2 x 28 1/2 in. 246.5 x 245.1 x 72.4 cm.
  • Executed in 2013, this work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.


Courtesy of the artist


Exh. Cat., New York, David Zwirner Gallery, Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball, 2013, pl. X, pp. 48-49, illustrated in color (in installation) and pp. 50-51, illustrated in color (prototype exhibited)
Carl Swanson, "Jeff Koons Is the Most Successful American Artist Since Warhol. So What's the Art World Got Against Him?," New York Magazine, May 13, 2013, illustrated in color (in production) (ed. no. 1/3)
"Jeff Koons opens at Gagosian AND Zwirner this week," Phaidon, May 2013


Please note the condition report for this lot will be available upon installation in our exhibition, opening May 8th.
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

Jeff Koons’s breathtaking Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden) summons a world of wondrous enchantment and magical realism, collapsing epochs in the quest for a Platonic ideal of beauty. Koons finds inspiration from a plaster cast of the west pediment from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, a prototypical example of early Classical Greek sculpture that depicts the centauromachy—a mythical battle between the half-man, half-horse centaurs and the Lapiths, a mountainous tribe from northern Greece, at the marriage feast of their King Pirithous. As the legend chronicles, during the wedding the Lapiths gave the centaurs wine, which inflamed their savage side and led them to rape the human women; at the close of the epic carnage, the Lapiths emerged triumphant having eventually defeated the centaur battalion. The fragment that Koons replicates depicts the leader of the centaurs Eurytion attempting to kidnap the Lapith bride, whose resistance forges an intense struggle. Nestled within the arch of the centaur’s back, a brilliant cobalt sphere sits elegantly poised amongst the dynamism of the violent encounter. Arresting in its dazzling color and flawless polish, the blue globe commands the optical focal point of the composition, in contrast with the cool white plaster of the centaur and lapith maiden. As the precisely simulated colorless plaster sculpture recedes into the background, Koons’s intervention in history disrupts tradition and shifts the attention away from the past toward the instantaneous present absorbed in the ball’s alluring reflection.

With Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden), Koons offers up an abstract vision of time in which history exists in a continuum; as Francesco Bonami describes, “He looks at History and Art History as were they private lawns where his gaze can wander randomly and freely… Time in Koons’s work is eventually irrelevant.” (Francesco Bonami, "A Kind of Blue" in Exh. Cat., New York, David Zwirner Gallery, Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball, 2013, n. p.) Koons creates a tension between the static plaster rendition of history's artifact, as exemplified by the cracked seams of antiquity frozen in time, with the ephemeral ever-changing image reflected in the immaculate gazing ball. Essential to Koons’s practice is a consideration of the viewer's gaze and the presence of his reflection in the sculpture. Koons firmly believes in the philosophy of embrace, establishing symbiotic relationships between viewers, the object, and the spaces that they share. For Koons, the environment around the sculpture is as important to the conceptual foundation of the work as the sculpture itself. He is interested in the generosity offered by an artwork through its encounter with the viewer, an exchange that he both reveals and heightens in the illuminating allure of his flawlessly reflective surfaces. The artist said of his interest in empowering the viewer through his mirrored façades, “It constantly reminds viewers of their existence, of your existence, it’s all about you. When you leave the room, it’s gone. When you move, the abstraction takes place; nothing happens without you, it needs you. It’s visually so abstract that it always made me think of generosity.” (Jeff Koons, "Dialogues on Self-Acceptance" in Exh. Cat., Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Jeff Koons, 2012, pp. 35-36) His artistic vernacular 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. The masterful existential experience of time spent with Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden) reminds us of the ultimate pleasures in succumbing to our most primal desire for beauty, oscillating between the poles of attraction that exemplify Koons’s praxis.

Embedded in the readymade object of the gazing ball is the archetypal tension between high art and the banal that courses throughout Koons’s output. Koons presents the talisman of the gazing ball from his hometown of York, Pennsylvania, where glass globes often ornament suburban lawns or gardens, mounted on pillars and reflecting their rural surroundings. This tradition—brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants in the Nineteenth Century—inspired Koons for the way in which this decorative orb creates a shared experience between neighbors, reflecting his own attraction to the power of art to offer wonderment and generosity. Pairing the gazing ball with an antiquity whose very nature proffers the vaulted pantheon of art history, the spectacular finish and precision of the ball's ideal beauty juxtaposed with its popular use value as lawn decoration conflates the highly ordinary with the surreal and fuels a debate about taste that is paradigmatic of Koons’s conceptual project. Here the artist proposes an equilibrium between suburbia and fantasy, and between contemporary mass culture and the venerable annals of history. 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 York, 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 aspirations. His father's elaborate furniture displays and window tableaux showcased precise arrangements of decorative goods that promised social mobility to the residents of the community, and installed mirrors around every corner to make shoppers aware of their presence—a strategy Koons continues to employ in his sculpture, as evidenced by the present work. Enveloped in the sociology of aesthetics, Koons invokes a challenging poetics of class, revealing the emotional investments crystallized in objects and presenting a stimulating commentary on the nature of objecthood and material culture in America. As Bonami explains, “Koons has come up with a primary thesis of beauty and exposed it, fully knowing that on the very grounds of beauty, the work could easily be dismissed, forgotten, and even declared so beautiful that it becomes ugly. Koons has gone so far back in history that he has reached Plato’s cave, but he presents it as a negative, with the shadows transformed into white phantoms. He offers a platonic idea of a conceptual sculpture disguised as a simple, banal, decorative work. He thereby creates a balance between banality and complexity, between the darkness of the cave and the blue of the outdoor sky, between an archeological museum and the lawn in front of a wooden home in Pennsylvania.” (Francesco Bonami, in Op. Cit., 2013, n. p.)