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Jeff Koons Recalls His Favorite Whitney Museum Moments


JEFFPerennial art world heavyweight? Sure. But this summer in particular, New York City finds itself basking in the throes of Koonsmania. Yesterday a cadre of bold-faced names turned out for Larry Gagosian’s summer luncheon feting the artist’s colossal Split-Rocker sculpture, which will preside over Rockefeller Center till September. On Friday, a massive Koons retrospective bows at the Whitney, the last-ever exhibit in the Breuer-designed Madison Avenue space before the institution decamps to downtown. And July 17 sees the opening of H&M’s Fifth Avenue megastore, a 57,000-square-foot museum-inspired space. The retailer, which has lent its sponsorship to the Whitney’s survey, plans to wrap its new digs in a giant Koons balloon dog graphic—to say nothing of that certain-to-sell-out purse.

At this week’s Whitney preview, Koons waxed nostalgic about the significance of the old space: “I think the Whitney has always been a museum that’s been inviting to artists. It’s let artists know that it’s really here as a platform for them to experience art, get a better understanding of the possibilities of art.” As to his first thoughts on having the last word? “When the museum asked me to have an exhibition, and they said they wanted me to close the first building, I thought, Close the Breuer? Shouldn’t I maybe be opening the new museum? But the more I thought about it, it was just really perfect to be able to have that last exhibition here in this space because it’s such a fantastic architectural museum for art. This is just an ideal moment. I feel such a sense of comfort in having the exhibition here. It’s perfect.”

Below, Koons shares with us his holy trinity of memories from the Breuer-designed fortress on Madison Avenue.

1. “The Whitney Biennials! I remember staying in the museum for twenty-four hours one time, sleeping in the museum, installing an equilibrium tank for one of the Biennials that I was involved with.”

2. “In 1974, when I came here as a young student—I would’ve been, I guess, 18 years of age—and I followed Jim Nutt. It had a very large impact on me, and I ended up changing art schools—I moved from Maryland Institute College of Art to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago so that I’d be able to study with Jim. He was our sabbatical lead, but I think I had him as a teacher only once. But I was able to work very closely with some of the people around Jim, so seeing that exhibition here was very, very moving to me.”

3. “I met H.C. Westermann [when] he had a retrospective here at the Whitney. I met him out front. He came and he had on a cowboy suit and cowboy boots. He was very, very generous.”

Photo: David X Prutting/

Dept. of Culture