City Beat

City Council unanimously approves contract with Jeff Koons for $8 million arena sculpture

Robb Swanson, right, and Doug Wilson hold posters opposing the sculpture chosen to go in front of the arena Tuesday at the Sacramento council meeting.
Robb Swanson, right, and Doug Wilson hold posters opposing the sculpture chosen to go in front of the arena Tuesday at the Sacramento council meeting.

After nearly three hours of passionate testimony from local artists and philanthropists, the Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a contract with renowned artist Jeff Koons for an $8 million sculpture outside the downtown sports arena.

The agreement, approved by a 7-0 vote, will also dedicate $1.5 million to local art for the arena – by far the largest single expenditure on local public art in the city’s history. That money, most of it from a private donation by local art patron Marcy Friedman, was contingent upon the council approving the contract with Koons.

“This guy is world renowned, he is one of the most amazing artists ever,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said of Koons. “And for us to have a piece of this man’s art in Sacramento as part of our collection ... it is clear this is a good investment for our community.”

An overflow crowd descended on the City Council chamber for the hearing. More than 240 people were in attendance at one point, forcing security officers to set up seating in a second-floor balcony outside the council chambers. It was the kind of crowd not seen since the City Council voted last year to approve a financing plan for the $477 million arena.

And in a sign of how polarizing the issue had become, of the 54 people who signed up to testify, 27 indicated on speaker paperwork that they supported the Koons sculpture and 27 said they opposed the idea. The opponents, however, were much louder, applauding raucously throughout the night.

“Why are we buying what could be created here?” said Sacramento-based performance artist David Garibaldi. “This is our opportunity to make a statement to the world that our arts are as important as our sports. We are creative and competitive.”

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, where many of the city’s art galleries and museums are located, said the process of selecting the arena art may have contributed to the reaction from local artists. Those artists, he said, expected to have a larger role in the selection process.

The Koons piece was selected by a nine-member panel. The Kings recommended the sculpture to the panel.

“A lot of people are upset because they’ve been made to feel less adequate,” Hansen said, adding that the Sacramento region lags behind other areas its size in purchasing art. As he spoke, Hansen had a miniature copy of one of Koons’ most beloved sculptures – “Balloon Dog (Orange)” – sitting on the City Council dais in front of him.

Many leaders in the local art scene were in City Hall for the debate, including muralists, gallery owners, museum directors and the wealthiest art patrons in the city. A large contingent from the Sacramento Kings was also in attendance, including team president Chris Granger and team minority owners Mark Friedman and Phil Oates.

“We have a rare opportunity for Sacramento to snare an extremely important piece of art by an internationally acclaimed artist,” Marcy Friedman said. “It’s destined to become the most photographed image in Sacramento history.”

Friedman is donating $1 million to the local art fund at the arena; the Kings and the city have agreed to contribute $250,000 apiece. That spending is by far the single largest donation to local public art in city history.

The council voted to approve a contract to purchase the Koons sculpture for $7.5 million from the artist and his gallery. An additional $500,000 will be spent on shipping and maintenance for the artwork. The purchase is part of the city’s Art in Public Places program, which requires 2 percent of construction budgets for public projects to be spent on art.

Under terms of the contract, $2.5 million would come from revenue bonds the city plans to issue for its contribution to the arena. The Kings have committed an additional $2.5 million for the art purchase; team chairman Vivek Ranadive and team minority owners Oates and Kevin Nagle would donate an additional $1 million apiece.

The sculpture is from Koons’ “Coloring Book” series, inspired by a young child coloring outside the lines over an image of the character Piglet from “Winnie the Pooh.” Koons’ work has been shown in some of the world’s premiere institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The arena sculpture would be the first piece of his work owned by a municipality.

“This is a phenomenal opportunity for Sacramento, for our artists, and it will make Sacramento known around the world,” said Lial Jones, director of the Crocker Art Musuem.

Local artists were upset that they did not have an opportunity to bid on the project and saw the selection of Koons – an artist based in New York – as a slap in the face to Sacramento artists.

Other local art advocates rejected the suggestion that Sacramento does not have artists who could create a multimillion-dollar centerpiece for the arena site.

“We do have the artists that are here who are very capable to do a project of that stature,” said Barbara Range of the Brickhouse Gallery in Oak Park.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at

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