Spring comes early at Christie’s this November with a stunning set of seven rainbow-hued tulips. Estimated $20-30 million, Tulips is the most complex and colorful sculpture of Jeff Koons’ Celebration series. The five meter bouquet of seven polychrome tulips will bloom in the plaza entrance of Christie’s 20 Rockefeller for two weeks, before being harvested for the evening sale on November 14.
Tulips was created in an edition of five, each of which features a unique arrangement of the colours of the flowers. Since their completion, these have become emblematic of Koons’ work, the other examples are held by high-profile collections: one was shown at the unveiling of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008, while others are at the Guggenheim Bilbao, the Prada Foundation and the Viktor Pinchuk Foundation; a temporary exhibition copy was also created to be shown in China and is on a ten-year loan to the US Embassy in Beijing. The present one was acquired in 2002 by NORD/LB Norddeutsche Landesbank in Hanover, Germany. In May, the bank announced to sell Tulips in order to fund the creation of an arts foundation in Hanover, with the mission to support creative and invigorating contemporary arts projects in northern Germany.
“Tulips is one of the most vivid and optimistic works from Koons’ seminal Celebration series, a tribute to pleasures of all kinds—sentimental, playful, and erotic. Inspired by flowers that are known to symbolize spring, rebirth, love and passion, Koons transforms this universally appealing source, referenced throughout the history of art, into a monumental sculpture that is both formally sophisticated and technically dazzling. The extraordinary quality of Tulips, combined with Koons’ esteemed position within the international marketplace makes it a particular delight for us to handle the sale on behalf of NORD/LB”, said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art.
Jeff Koons’ jubilant Tulips comprises seven individually-coloured balloon flowers, scaled up to an epic size and presented in gleaming monochrome. This sculpture, with its spray of coloured flowers, marks the explosive culmination point of Koons’ now-legendary Celebration series. This was a group of works that he created from the mid-1990s and which took a vast amount of time to produce due to the artist’s own exacting standards, which pushed him towards financial trouble in his single-minded quest for the perfection evident in the pure, reflective gleam of Tulips. Of the steel sculptures in Celebration, Tulips is one of the most complex and features a rare, emphatic spectrum of colours: the rest, with the exception of Coloring Book, comprises either one or two colours only, as opposed to the rainbow-like spread here. The combination of the vivid colour-scheme of Tulips and its mirror finish means that it reflects the viewers, and also crucially reflects itself. This unleashes a kaleidoscopic cascade of colour variations that derives from a deliberately limited palette of the seven constituent parts. If the orange is reflected in the blue, say, and that reflection is viewed in the surface of the magenta tulip, the resulting colours recede in reflection after reflection like a Pantone colour chart, filled with infinite variety. In this way, the surface of Tulips embraces itself, resulting in an implosion of colour ricocheting through the near-infinite succession of reflections.
Childhood was fundamental to the inspiration behind Celebration: when he began work on the series, Koons was viewing the events of the calendar from a child-like perspective inspired by the birth of his son Ludwig. He was intrigued by the innocence of Ludwig’s view of the world, which was untainted by the cultural programming of education. A short time after he had embarked upon Celebration, Koons’ marriage to Ilona Staller – the Hungarian-born porn star who had become an Italian politician – disintegrated; after a custody battle, Ludwig was abducted and taken abroad. “Celebration became a way for me to celebrate Ludwig’s return,” Koons explained. “There was a new urgency to the work. It was a way for me to communicate with him how much I was missing him”. In a sense, the sculptures and posters of the Celebration series are the greetings cards from father to son, carried out on an epic scale. This reveals to what extent the near-universal markers that Koons selected to give a sense of the year’s various celebrations, viewed from a child’s perspective, also come from a highly personal dimension.
While the balloons invoke Ludwig’s childhood, the subject of flowers also harks back to Koons’ own. “I have always enjoyed flowers,” he has said. “Since taking art lessons as a child, I have had flowers in my work. I always like the sense that a flower just displays itself. The viewer always finds grace in a flower. Flowers are a symbol that life goes forward”. The flower has been a recurring feature in Koons’ visual lexicon, already appearing in his first recognised series, the Inflatables of 1979.
NORD/LB Norddeutsche Landesbank will part with the sculpture Tulips in order to establish the NORD/LB Arts Foundation headquartered in Hanover, Germany. The foundation will bundle and intensify the bank’s funding of art and culture. The proceeds of the auction are to be used to fund the foundation’s capitalization. “It is with a heavy heart that we part from the Tulips. This presents us, however, with the possibility to set new impulses by sponsoring a variety of art and cultural projects. We want to make a considerable contribution towards the enrichment of the cultural scene especially in northern Germany,” said NORD/LB CEO Dr. Gunter Dunkel.
Since 1999, the NORD/LB operates its own art gallery in Hanover. The bank has also built up an extensive collection of post-war and contemporary art works dating from 1945 to present. Works from Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Rebecca Horn, Jörg Immendorff, Per Kirkeby, Jannis Kounellis, Sol LeWitt, Markus Lüpertz, Jonathan Meese, Sigmar Polke, Neo Rauch, Gerhard Richter, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly, as well as additional works from Jeff Koons are among the collection of over 3,000 pieces. In addition to the sponsorship of culture and the arts that NORD/LB plans to operate through its new foundation, the bank will continue its extensive commitment to social and charitable projects, as well as its funding of the sciences.
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images/AFP.