Jeff Koons is one of those living enigmas of the modern art world. You either love or hate him, but there are certain indisputable facts that make him the envy of fellow artists. He’s reviled by a good number of critics and adored by the public who feel they’re in on the joke. Whether begrudgingly or not, you have to salute the guy. His approach to making everyday objects and childhood memories transform into pop culture icons is evidently a direct descendant of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art. But in today’s world, if bigger and grander is better, Koons has certainly learned that lesson very well.
He holds the record for the most expensive piece sold at auction by a living artist; his Balloon Dog was sold at Christie’s for US$58.4 million some years back. And topping his own standing record, a Jeff Koons Balloon Rabbit fetched US$91 million in May of this year. Now, before you start raising your eyebrows to the ceiling, yes, they are inspired by the plastic balloon figurines that clowns produce at every children’s party, but Koons' original Balloon Rabbit was a 3-ton stainless steel, reflective surface sculpture that stood over 4 meters high.
Koons’ fascination with Limoges porcelain led him to the undisputed master of the craftsman’s art, Bernardaud. Founded in 1863, Bernardaud is situated right at Limoges, and its manufacture of ceramic articles for household or ornamental use reflects a rich history of French cultural heritage. The first stage of the collaboration produced plates that had Koons’ Balloon Dog depicted right in the middle of the plate.
This year sees the porcelain-makers take on the challenge of creating something different. In Limited Edition production figures (less than a thousand per figurine are said to have been produced globally), Bernardaud has produced three-dimensional porcelain replicas of Koons' original work. They're made of porcelain, but somehow, they now mimic the mirror-polish of the original pieces.
At Rustans Makati, on display were the Porcelain Limited Editions by Jeff Koons x Bernardaud of the Balloon Monkey (Orange), the Balloon Rabbit (Violet), and the Balloon Swan (Magenta). Koons himself has remarked on how these pieces exemplify sexual awareness—the standing tail of the Balloon Monkey is a phallic reference, and he’s called the Balloon Swan "beauty and sexual harmony." Why? Because according to him, from the front angle, the Balloon Swan is totem-like and male, but when viewed from the side, it becomes female. Koons worked on the curvature of the neck for over a year, until he got it right.
The Jeff Koons x Bernardaud Porcelain Limited Edition can be viewed on the 4th floor of Rustans Makati, giving the Bernardaud section a colorful and hip spin. I’m certain they’ll go fast—as despite the stiff on-the-high-side 6-figure prices, the fact that they’re relatively few in number all over the world makes them a collector’s dream. Bully for the collector who acquires all three to put on his shelf.