Is Florence ready for Jeff Koons? Pronta or not, the Pennsylvania-born artist now boasts two works of art at the Palazzo Vecchio. While the David copy stands unperturbed, Ammannati’s Neptune looks on perplexed at the new addition to the frontage of the municipal offices: Pluto and Proserpina, an 11-foot-tall curious faux-gilded stainless steel sculpture with live flowering plants. Inside the Palazzo Vecchio, Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes has some new company with Gazing Ball (Barberini Faun), one of a series of plaster casts of famous Greco-Roman sculptures with a symbolic blue sphere. We spoke exclusively to Jeff Koons beside Pluto and Proserpina to find out what this Florence adventure means to him.
The Florentine: Why Florence for Jeff Koons and why now?
Jeff Koons: I’m so thrilled to be here in Florence. I’m grateful that I was invited because of the Biennial, the antique fair. Mayor Nardella along with Fabrizio Moretti came up with the idea, ‘Let’s have contemporary art during the fair and let’s bring Jeff Koons!’ They could have chosen so many different artists, but to have Pluto and Proserpina here in the company of Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini, Giambologna, it’s beautiful. Because what an artist really wants is to have a dialogue with other artists, to make connections. This is the most connected I’ve ever felt.
TF: Speaking about connections, the last person to place an original sculpture so close to the Palazzo Vecchio's frontage was Baccio Bandinelli 500 years ago. How does it feel to have this honour bestowed upon you?
JK: Very special. And it’s interesting because sculptures such as those by Donatello were presented here. The sculpture of Judith and Holofernes was actually gilded, so it was completely reflective in the color gold. Plus, parts of Michelangelo’s David were also gilded, the stump and other parts of the piece. So to have Pluto and Proserpina here in this very reflective yellow color in the plaza, it’s almost a tradition of this and something we would have noticed 500 years ago.
TF: So now that you have the keys to the city, are you planning on using them and doing something else in Florence?
JK: The Florentine people, they’ve lived with beauty, so art has really affected the lives of the average person here. It’s a way of looking at the world, there’s an openness, there’s a curiosity, there’s a parameter of consciousness, of what life can become. So, to be participating in that and receiving the keys to the city was so special to me, to feel like part of this family, where art is a way of life.
TF: Jeff, how would you sum up what art is about in 2015?
JK: Art is always about increasing your parameters and it’s a vehicle to let you accept yourself. And after you have self-acceptance, you can go outside yourself and accept others. That’s the journey that art takes you on.
TF: Some describe your work as ‘provocative’, others as ‘pioneering’, to what extent does labeling even matter?
JK: Art is something that happens within the viewer. You can look at an amazing sculpture, amazing painting, and it’s a transponder—it excites you. But the actual art is the perception that you have of your own possibilities, your own expansion of your interests. So, art is always involved with this dialogue of letting you expand your parameters and continue to become. I don’t think that an artist can do anything just to be provocative or to stir things up a little bit; that never lasts very long. But if you’re always honest and you follow and focus on your interests, it takes you to a very metaphysical place, and that’s where you find art. That’s where you find things that connect you to the universal.