Jeff Koons 'Rabbit' Sets Record For Most Expensive Work By Living Artist

May 16, 2019
Originally published on May 16, 2019 10:47 pm
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Last night, a shiny object said an art world record. It was a stainless steel sculpture of a bunny called "Rabbit" by Jeff Koons. When it sold for $91 million at Christie's Auction House in New York, the sculpture became the most expensive work by a living artist. NPR's Neda Ulaby wondered why.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: I asked Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz of New York Magazine for his reaction to the news.

JERRY SALTZ: Disgusted, horrified, watching the odiously alchemical operation of the market turning a once great work of art into only a number.

ULABY: Saltz says Koon (ph) catapulted into full-blown art world celebrity in the 1980s for creating metallic balloon dogs, suspending basketballs and aquariums and exhibiting kitschy porcelain figures of himself having sex with his then-wife, an Italian adult film star.

SALTZ: I have loved Jeff Koons.

ULABY: But these days, Saltz thinks of Koons's work as basically a status symbol for a handful of billionaires.

SALTZ: I buy my Jeff Koons, then you buy yours for higher. Then I get to sell mine for a little bit more. It's a self-replicating, non-thinking organism like buying a Maserati.

JED PERL: Well, you can't drive a Jeff Koons to the grocery store.

ULABY: Jed Perl, another distinguished art critic, is even more grossed out than Jerry Saltz by the sale. Perl doesn't even like the sculpture. Here's how he describes the most expensive piece of art by a living artist.

PERL: It's a metal molding of a plastic blow-up toy.

ULABY: Perl finds the smooth, faceless "Rabbit" emotionally empty to the point of being dead. But plenty of other people see a sense of humor in the sculpture and in its highly polished surface, a reflection of our increasingly impersonal and overhyped world. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.