City Beat

Artist Jeff Koons: Sacramento owning his sculpture is ‘very moving’

Jeff Koons poses next to “Rabbit,” one of his oversized toy-like sculptures among works spanning a 30-year career being installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Monday, June 23, 2014, in New York. “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective,” marked the final exhibition at the Whitney’s uptown Manhattan location. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Jeff Koons poses next to “Rabbit,” one of his oversized toy-like sculptures among works spanning a 30-year career being installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art on Monday, June 23, 2014, in New York. “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective,” marked the final exhibition at the Whitney’s uptown Manhattan location. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) AP

Jeff Koons watched from afar as Sacramento city leaders and artists debated whether to purchase one of his sculptures for the public plaza at a new downtown arena. It was just the kind of debate Koons’ artwork often creates.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Thursday, Koons said the debate that took place here is “the nature of art.” He also discussed his strong ties to Sacramento, including the fact that his mother in-law lives here and that the locomotives inside the California State Railroad Museum provided the inspiration for a massive sculpture he is working on.

Look for a longer profile of Koons and his place in the art world on Sunday in The Sacramento Bee and at Sacbee.com. Bee staff writer Ed Fletcher has also produced a video based on The Bee’s interview with Koons.

The City Council voted this week to approve a contract with Koons to purchase his “Coloring Book” sculpture. The $7.5 million sculpture – plus $500,000 for shipping and maintenance – is by far the most expensive piece of public art ever created in the city.

The Kings and team owners are covering $5.5 million of the cost. Another $2.5 million is coming from revenue bonds the city of Sacramento is issuing for its contribution to the $477 million arena. The city will own the artwork.

Koons said he didn’t give a lot of thought at first to the notion that Sacramento would be the first municipality to own one of his sculptures. But then he saw the reaction – both positive and negative – and realized the role the sculpture was playing in the city.

“It’s not just one private collector looking at something and saying they’d like that and would like to have that in their collection or a museum,” he said. “This is a whole community, and it’s really very moving.”

Koons also provided some details about his links to Sacramento.

As a young artist, Koons closely followed the work of influential painter Jim Nutt, a leader in the Chicago surrealist movement. Koons said his closest study of Nutt’s work took place while Nutt lived in Sacramento, where he taught art at Sacramento State in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Later in life, Koons married Justine Wheeler, a fellow artist who worked in his studio in the 1990s. Wheeler’s mother lives in Sacramento, and the couple bring their six children here for visits.

While in town, Koons said the family often visits Old Sacramento. As he began designs for his sculpture “Train,” Koons said he sought inspiration from the locomotives inside the California State Railroad Museum. “Train” has not been completed, but could one day be placed on New York City’s High Line, a park that was constructed atop an old elevated railroad spur.

Koons predicted his ties to Sacramento would become stronger.

“I’m going to be looking forward to spending more time in Sacramento because we want to experience the stadium, we want to see the Kings,” Koons said.

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

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