Jeff Koons, Master in the Art of Self-Promotion and and Branding

The controversial work of Jeff Koons sets him as one of the most influencial artists of our time. His creations are easily understood, luxurious, glamourous, and above all, identifiable. Some say that he chooses form over substance, but most people refer to him as the absolute and undefeated reference for marketing and self-promotion.

Jeff Koons is an artist and a brand; he took self-promotion to a whole new level. Whether we like his art or not, none can deny that he is the worthy successor of Andy Warhol in many ways.

Artsper goes over the recipe for success of the Jeff Koons phenomenon throughout 7 crucial milestones.


Jeff koons, a small town boy, moves to New York at the age of 22 and starts selling memberships at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). He then works as a financial broker at Wall Street to finance his artistic career. From this experience, he retained numerous expressions inspired from the financial sector (“This will increase my market share”, I” need to diversify my basket”), which elicits horror in the art community, exasperated by an artist who promotes commercial art. Frustrated with unsuccessful sales, Jeff Koons moves back to Florida during 1982 with his parents and saves money to move back to New York during wintertime.

Notwithstanding all the discourse around his work, the determination that Jeff Koons has shown to carry out his project is present throughout his artistic career.


Jeff Koons, Blue Balloon Dog, 2002, Courtesy of Markowicz Fine Art

Following the steps of Andy Warhol and his illustrious Campbell soups, Koons has made famous manufactured objects like the « Deluxe Shampoo Deliver ». Koons strips everyday life objects them from their original context and showcases them ironically by covering them with a glamorous shine. At the time where money is a taboo subject in the art world and is traditionally perceived as an evil that sullies the purity and grandeur of the artistic creation, Jeff Koons embraces the capitalistic component of the art market without hypocrisy. He will even make it the red thread of his aesthetical conception. Says historian and C&M Arts director of exhibitions Robert-Pincus Witten, “Jeff recognizes that works of art in a capitalist culture inevitably are reduced to the condition of commodity. What Jeff did was say, ‘Let’s short-circuit the process. Let’s begin with the commodity.’”


Koons always takes into consideration where his works will be exhibited and the people to whom his work appeals. Once again, Koons is conscious of the inner workings of the art market and the skyrocketing prices of his artworks. Moreover, he is conscious of his importance among his peers. He perceives himsefl as a pioneer and a trailblazer who does the dirty job of contemporary artists. He says: « someone in every generation has to be held up as a shining example of what is wrong with current art ». His artworks set themselves as a true representation of the contradictions that the world is enduring today: Featureless, attractive, large-scale, full of details and impeccably executed, they evoke the factice luxury and the fast-paced environment of modern life. Koons pretends that his work is about issues of awareness. He is against the idea that art has a critical goal, therefore he seeks to abolish judgement in order to be « able to look at the world as it is and accept it as a whole ». Jeff Koons aims to erase all form of segregation and abolish hierarchy, to which critic Robert Hugues responds: « If Jeff Koon’s work is about class struggle, I am Maria of Romania ! ».

Jeff Koons, Plate “Split-Rocker” , 2012, Courtesy of Galerie Fluegel Roncak


Jeff Koon’s ambition can only equal the level of the close circle of collectors and dealers that made him. His vision goes beyond that of a dealer, which allows him to manipulate the art market. Launched by Greek collector Dakis Joannou, Koons has worked closely with dealer Sonnabend, Deitch, Gagosian, Mnuchin, Young, who count as the most renowned dealers in the world. He has also attracted a number of art collectors such as François Pinault, CEO of Christie’s Auction House, the press magnate Peter Brant andStephan Edlis, who buy his pieces straight from the studio. More recently, Koons has been collected by lots of celebrities. Over the years, the artist has convinced collectors to pay for the fabrication of his artworks, which allowed him to control his market value.


Jeff Koons, with Tracey Emin, is the contemporary artist that uses the art of self-promotion and advertisement to its fullest. His auction prices have skyrocketed in 1999 when Peter Brant, the press magnate, have spent 1.8$ million on Pink Panther (1998), a porcelain of the Pink Panther in the arms of a curvaceous blond. Before the auction, the work has been largely mediatized when Koons affirmed: « I don’t know what she would be doing with the Pink Panther other than taking it home to masturbate with ». Little before the sale, comedians in a Pink Panther costume were parading around at Christie’s, to give a little more publicity to this particular lot. In 1991, Jeff Koons had a short-lived marriage with Ilona Staller, a pornographic star and political figure in Italy, which inspired his erotic series “Made in Heaven”. His strong liking for scandal and manipulation of the media ensured that he fully mastered his market value. By provoking the press, the artist has managed to rise to the dual challenge of reaching his target (the wealthy collectors) and diffusing his brand among the wide public.


Thanks to a combination of charisma, publicity and hard work, Koons has succeeded to be taken seriously by the institutional world, despite the scathing comments that he has suffered from. The criticism was such that Bernard Blistène, director of the Modern Art Museum in Paris said that « we are entitled to ask ourselves if it is the art being judged or the mythology around a man who became a fictional character ». In 2014, the Centre Pompidou looked back at the 35-year career of Jeff Koons. He became then the most visited artist in the history of Centre Pompidou. Since this exhibition, part of the critics and curators community presents his art as a synthesis between Pop Art and minimalism. Above all, they insist on its democratic character and its aim to conciliate contemporary art and the popular culture.


Jeff Koons, Puppy, 1992, Courtesy of Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Finally, few know that Koons is a fine connoisseur of medieval arts and the Renaissance period. His close collaborators describe him as an eternal romantic. The gallery owner Sonnabend made no bones about his attitude towards his art: He was ready to ruin himself for his piece to be the exact reproduction of what he envisioned. « He wants the artwork to be a miracle ». His perfectionism gives him an aura of restlessness and sharp intelligence that adds to the mythology of Jeff Koons, the capitalist poet.