Jeff Koons takes knotted balloon dogs and enlarges them in stainless steel. He cross-breeds a rocking horse and rocking dinosaur, and then realizes the hybrid as a house-high topiary. He makes a cheesy plastic toy of a kitten stuck in a sock, scaled for a giant’s playroom. These fantastical objects have made him one of the world’s most important artists.
This year, he’s also one of the world’s most exhibited artists. In May, the prestigious Beyeler museum in Basel opened the first Swiss survey of his art, on Wednesday another survey launched across two venues in Frankfurt, and a huge retrospective has been announced for 2014 at the Whitney Museum in New York—a first for Koons in his own city, and the last Whitney show before the museum moves to its new downtown space.
In my latest conversation with Koons, on a bright June morning at the Beyeler, fantasy seems far from his mind as he discusses his fanciful work. He presents himself as the most dedicated of realists, a regular Andrew Wyeth in 3D. “I X-ray everything,” he explains—every balloon toy or beach float that he plans to copy—“so I get all my internal data." If he’s making a Koonsian version of a balloon-doll neolithic Venus, like the room-size one now in Frankfurt, it has to be a perfect copy of a real one at normal scale.