Color Theory: Jeff Koons’ Repackaged Childhood Grows Up With ‘Bouquet of Tulips’

Is ‘Bouquet of Tulips’ serious enough to carry the gravitas Koons says it does? Or is it empty and unsettling?

Jeff Koons is an artist people semmingly love to hate.

Koons broke the record for most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction, and boy, people really seem to hate him for it.

‘Rabbit’ sold for $91 Million at Christies. photo by Seth Wenig

Jeff Koons ‘Rabbit’ is the most expensive piece of art ever sold by a living artist. Put another way, ‘Rabbit’ is a $91 Million chrome remake of the same inflatable rabbit that the Easter Bunny left me back in 1988.

Anytime someone makes money off “something your kid could have done,” people kinda hate you for it.

Koons’ art is basically a repackaging of childhood tropes

Hate: A Special Kind Of Love

I love how UrbanDictionary.com defines Hate as, “a special kind of love given to people who suck.”

Bravo to whoever perfectly came up with that definition for hatred.

That definition lovingly encapsulates the passive-aggressive, lonely, dark side of the internet, highlight-reel-only, social media culture we live in during these Smartphone Era times.

Hatred abounds and surrounds us in this climate. Everyone the world over has never sucked more. Where is all this special love taking us? Hard to say for sure. But hatred, and it’s odd proxy cancel-culture, is certainly real.

Fascinating, if not horrifying, to watch happen to others.

And fittingly — when Bouqet of Tulips was announced, people hated Jeff Koons for it.

Jeff Koons presents a mock-up of ‘Bouquet’

Bouquet of Tulips has been controversial in particular since the day it was commissioned. The goal of the piece was to commemorate the November 15th Paris Terrorists Attacks that left 130 Parisians dead and 350 wounded.

And yet controversy swirled around Bouquet stemming from two origins, one general, and one specific:

  1. Someone always hates everything, and haters are the loudest.
  2. People don’t think Koons isn’t a serious enough artist.

Regardless, enough hatred built towards Bouquet that its location was moved. They moved it from Palais de Tokyo, to the more remote Petit Palais. So they could look at it less. Why didn’t they just cancel the order?

The Court Of Social Media Opinion

Upon the unveiling of Bouquet of Tulips in Paris in late October 2019, critics and haters flocked to the internet to flood social media with the predictable vitriol:

Meanwhile, Jeff Koons defended Bouquet of Tulips, calling it:

  • is a symbol of remembrance, optimism, and healing.
  • represents loss, rebirth, and the vitality of the human spirit.
  • is a symbol that life moves forward.

What do you think?

The Key Questions Raised in Koons’ Work

Is Bouquet an amazingly thoughtful gesture that honors the victim and survivors of the Paris terrorist attack? Or is it a handful of buttholes?

Really, this question faces every creator, forever — Will people believe (buy) your sentiment (bullshit)?

Koons work has been attacked throughout his career for its, “unsettling perfection, extravagance, and emptiness.

So is Bouquet of Tulips serious enough to carry the gravitas Koons says it does? Or is it empty and unsettling?

The Tulip Twist

People hate Jeff Koons. But let’s turn the special love around on the haters for a minute.

First of all, the haters of Bouquet missed a huge detail. (Not a first for haters in general).

These tulips look like marshmallow-assholes because they aren’t tulips. They’re balloon tulips. (Haters are so lazy.)

The well established fact is that Jeff Koons loves balloon animals. Clearly, balloon animals are a key part of his ongoing effort to repackage and resell giant little rosebud bites of our childhood.

You may not know this, but balloon animal insiders have a name for the particular balloon-flower Koons used in Bouquet of Tulips. They call it the Tulip Twist.

The trick to the Tulip Twist is that you take a long, partially-inflated balloon and wedge the balloon knot onto the uninflated “stem”.

Here’s a two minute youtube video showing you how to perform the Tulip Twist, so you can make your own bouquet:

A statue of balloon tulips is a self-referential move by Jeff Koons. In other words, this isn’t the first time Koons has done balloons, nor tulips.

Being self-referential (aka self-promoting) is another thing people hate about Jeff Koons. Meanwhile, MJ wears Air Jordans all the time and we love him for it. Haters love having their cake and eating it too.

That said, there is something new and never-before-seen from Koons when it comes to Bouquet Of Tulips — the hand.

The Hand was Something New From Koons — Why Does It Matter?

Koons has never included a hand in any of his sculptures. He could have easily recreated Tulips from Rockefeller Center. But Koons chose to add a hand. Why? Let’s take a moment to focus on the hand:

  • First of the right hand in Bouquet Of Tulips appears to be either a child’s or woman’s.
  • With attention to detail we see that yes, it’s skintone is very light, probably white.
  • We see no nail polish, no blemishes, no bracelet, no wrist watch… yet.
  • Indeed, one can imagine some future marketing campaign, say, during the French Open (sponsored by Rolex) where an enormous watch goes around the wrist.

The Statue Of Liberty

Of course, the Bouquet Of Tulips hand evokes another famous hand — the one attached to the Statue of Liberty.

It’s worth pointing out that the Statue of Liberty was itself a gift from France to America in 1886, and plays a symbolic role, especially in the American immigration story at Ellis Island.

Coupled with the tension in the world surrounding immigration, and the foreign actors in terrorist bombings, this reference turns the bouquet into something akin to a peace offering.

In addition, Koons himself also cited Picasso’s Bouquet Of Peace as inspiration.

For me, the hand in Bouquet Of Tulips also brings to mind the outstretched hand of Balloon Girl in There Is Always Hope by Banksy.

“Balloon Girl/ There Is Always Hope” by Banksy

Even though he’s self-promoting, people don’t seem to hate Banksy as much as they do Jeff Koons.

By comparison that’s probably because Banksy remains anonymous, and does things now-and-then like shred a Balloon Girl right after it sold for $1 Million.

Also speaking of money — Bouquet of Tulips reminds us that tulips themselves were famously once used as currency.

Tulip Mania

This story resurfaced during the first Bitcoin boom. Tulip Mania occurred during the Dutch Golden Age of the early 1600’s when the Netherlands was the most dominant nation on the planet. Tulip Mania is an atypical example of typical supply and demand economics. Simply put, tulip bulb prices followed skyrocketing demand.

In turn, the Tulip Mania bubble burst in 1637 when prices bottomed out. The bulb supply hyper-corrected, which flooded the market, and the tulip-hoarders lost all their guilders.

Subsequently, Tulip Mania remains a favorite, colorful reference point for talking-heads when discussing other bubbles (like dotcoms, real estate, cryptocurrency, US debt, etc).

BUT — Whereas most people think tulips are as Dutch as wooden shoes and wind mills — tulips actually originated in Turkey. Interesting twist, no? Like the ISIS Terrorists who attacked Paris, Tulips are from the Middle East.

If you’re interested, here’ s a three minute video on the history of the Tulip.

Then there is the language of color.

The Semantics Of Color aka Color Theory

Like the rose or carnation, there is a symbolic language associated with each color Tulip. Perhaps Koons denoted some meaning via the semantics of his tulip colors?

Let’s investigate!

  • There are two blue tulips in the bouquet (one sky blue and one royal blue). Blue tulips traditionally symbolize peace and tranquility.
  • There are two red tulips, symbolizing everlasting love and trust.
  • There are two yellow tulips, symbolizing friendship, but also “rejection in love.”
  • There are two white tulips, which symbolize forgiveness, humility, purity, innocence — and also something new or fresh.
  • There is one pink tulip, symbolizing happiness and care.
  • There is one orange tulip, symbolizing connection, energy, and understanding between two people.
  • There is also one green tulip, which doesn’t carry any symbolism that I could find. However, it is the same patina green of the Statue Of Liberty, which symbolizes liberty and the enlightenment of the world.

Perhaps this green tulip is meant to stand out for this lack of prior symbolic meaning. ensure we connect Bouquet of Tulips to the Statue of Liberty, and all it symbolizes in all it’s Viva Franco-Americano glory.

Maybe its that but the green is to evoke money and capitalism? Maybe it’s just a bouquet of buttholes. Maybe it’s just a bunch of empty Koonsy, kitschy, whimsy.

Maybe you love Bouquet Of Tulips, maybe you hate it — and Jeff Koons, (whoever he is). Regardless of what narrative you decide to let your meaning structure follow, Art is always experienced on the individual level.

Thus, forgive me for influencing your opinion on Bouquet of Tulips with one final thought — Which is to say, my personal experience when I look at it.

The Denouement (For Me)

Ultimately, for me, Bouquet of Tulips evokes one of the most cherished, universal memories. Not of childhood — but of parenthood.

I speak, of course, of the heart-melting moment when your smiling child presents you with the bouquet of flowers. Sometimes they’re even tulips; more often, weeds.

Regardless, you accept this gift of pure love from the wonderful, little outstretched hand.

And in a flash of afternoon sunlight — your heart breaks out of love.

Love for this fragile, beautiful person. You love this child so much it hurts. They’ve already run off, but you get chills emanating from the lizard depths of your nervous system. It feels like death is choking you by the neck, squeezing the water of life from your eyeballs.

You see now. And the full weight hits you. You’ll do anything on the planet for this child. You’d happily die for them. You vow to become a better person for them, to take better care of them and yourself, and to be a better steward of the world for them.

Every parent knows that feeling.

If you could bottle that feeling and sell it, maybe you’d make a fortune. Maybe that’s the genius of Jeff Koons? Keep the millions, I’ll take the chills.

What does this image symbolize for you?

To summarize, for me, with Bouquet of Tulips, Jeff Koons’ repackaged childhood grows up. From now on, let’s call it, “repackaged parenthood.”

Pattern recognition is the task of the Artist. This is the pattern recognition you’re looking for.

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