Random thought I had today: With the King of Pop’s death in June, the price of superstar conceptual artist Jeff Koons‘ famed 1988 sculpture, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, above, must be rocketing in value. (Made in an edition of three, plus an artist’s proof, one of the life-sized, 42 in. x 70 1/2 in. x 32 1/2 in. porcelain tchotchkes sold at auction for $5.6 million in 2001.)
Indeed, legendary art dealer Larry Gagosian, who reps Koons, right, told The New York Times back in July that if one of the creations
was to come up for sale now, it could make more than $20 million. “And that’s conservative,” he added.
Of course, that’s what someone who gets a piece of every sale is supposed to say, especially during the hype hurricane mere days after Jackson’s demise.
But, in truth, the art market’s not doing so well. As Bloomberg.com noted in July, quoting London’s ArtTactic, “Contemporary-art values have tumbled in the last year, with average auction prices down 76.2 percent since May 2008.” (In May, Sotheby’s reported an 87% drop in second-quarter profits compared to a year before, a plummet from which they’ve only begun to recover.)
That same Bloomberg.com piece featured Koons, talking postmortem, during a new show, about the reason he’d made MJ and Bubbles:
“I wanted to show Michael as a contemporary Christ figure: I wanted to give the viewer a sense of a spiritual authority,” says the soft-spoken Koons, wearing a gray summer suit and a serious expression in an interview at the gallery.
Koons intended the sculpture as a way of “paying homage to the greatness,” he says. He had watched Jackson moonwalk, and “everybody’s jaw just dropped, seeing that.”
“The type of adulation, the type of support that’s given to pop artists — this was the contemporary type of support that I thought that Christ would have received in his time,” explains Koons, who says he executed the sculpture in a Renaissance style, its triangular shape reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “Pieta.”
Yeah, his words have got the ring of Koons’ typically doe-eyed, “golly-gee” fake wonderment and art blather that got him rich and famous. (People with longer memories or lifespans may recall questions of racism the work sparked, when viewers noted a striking resemblence in it between Bubbles and his owner.)
Despite this provenance, though, or because of it, Jeff Koons is an art world money machine—a thriller, if you will—and the massive MJ and Bubbles has got to be the world’s ultimate Michael Jackson collectible, especially in the recent shadow of his burial. With these facts, even a monkey would agree.