September 16 - November 20, 2010
Popeye Sculpture (catalogue)
galerie jerome de noirmont

Jeff Koons - Moustache,(Popeye series) 2003; Polychromed aluminum, wrought iron, coated steel chain; Edition of 3 and 1 artist´s proof 260,4 x 53,3 x 191,8 cm - 102 1/2 x 21 x 75 1/2 in.

exhibition release



In 1997 the Galerie Jerome de Noirmont organised Jeff Koons’ first solo show in France , with a selection of works offering the French public an overall view of his career, from the first Inflatables made in 1979 up to the 1992 Puppy, a photograph representing the huge, flower-covered sculpture that Koons created for that year’s Documenta in Kassel.


In 2008 the exhibition Jeff Koons Versailles set up a new original dialogue between contemporary and classical art at the heart of the royal apartments in the Château of Versailles, placing some of Koons’s most iconic sculptures, both recent and early, in juxtaposition with treasures of French 18th-century art. Seeking to instil a strong sense of interactive significance into this confrontation between these different forms of artistic expression, and aware that he was addressing a wide public, the palace’s visitors some with little or no experience of contemporary art, Koons was very attentive to the hanging of his works, always aiming to interact with the decoration and function of the rooms. Thus his winsome Rabbit was exhibited in the Salon of Abundance, his Bear and Policeman in the Salon of War, and the shiny Moon in the Gallery of Mirrors.


His third solo show in France will be on view at the gallery from September 16 to November 20, 2010; Jeff Koons will present his latest sculptures from his Popeye series.


Although his work contains numerous art historical references to figures from Fragonard to Picasso, and more notably to Duchamp and Dali, the key to Koons’s art is the relation to the viewer. His great concern is to address all kinds of people, whatever their social or cultural origin – to create trust in the viewer: as Koons himself states, “I am very conscious of the viewer because that’s where the art takes place. What’s important isn’t this object that we’re looking at; that object communicates the information that you want the viewer to have a dialogue with. (..) What I care about is letting the viewer know that they’re what’s important.”


In order to implement this discourse, which brings the subjective dimension back in the artwork, Koons uses a visual language that all can understand, involving popular archetypes that are essential images stored in the collective unconscious (flowers, toys, wedding rings, hearts). The artist heightens the metaphorical power of these archetypes either by reproducing them in shiny, reflective material, as in the Celebration series, or by heightening their realism in order to enhance their credibility.


The image of Popeye, an iconic American cartoon figure created in 1929, was a natural choice for Koons as a symbol of self-acceptance, not only in terms of this character’s optimistic and self-accepting personality (“I am what I am”), but also because of his obvious link to Pop Art and, more allusively, to Surrealism, two movements based on an acceptance of the world around us.


The idea for this series begun in 2002 came from the sight of a tree growing through a chain-link fence. This image inspired Koons to dream up a series in which “living” objects – usually an inflatable pool toy featuring a cartoonish animal  – are combined with simple “readymade” objects such as a chair, a stepladder or a steel trashcan. Surrealist-like combinations of heterogeneous elements, the sculptures in the Popeye series are composite works, unlikely encounters between inflatable objects and inanimate ones, between leisure items which in our consumer society are symbols of desire, and industrially produced functional objects.


In some of these pieces, such as Monkeys (Chair), in which three monkeys (cast aluminium) hang from the ceiling while balancing a chair off the floor, the interaction between the inflatable toys and the object looks like a dance. In others, like Seal Walrus Trashcans, the inflatable pool toys are morphed into the trashcan and seem to have stopped in their movement. Inflatable objects have been among Koons’s favourite motifs since his début in 1979. Here they function as metaphors of the human body, as “breathing objects” that endow a semblance of life to the inert objects with which they are combined.


A versatile archetype, the lobster is an essential element in this series. In this exhibition it is represented by the imposing sculpture Acrobat. Synonymous with Surrealism ever since Dali transformed it into a telephone handset, the lobster here takes the form of a playful and sensual inflatable toy, its antennae seeming to form moustaches in an obvious reference to Dali’s whiskers, and to the moustache that Marcel Duchamp painted onto the Mona Lisa in L.H.O.O.Q.


The lobster also symbolises the duality of sexuality, which is something that Koons sees as an essential aspect of his work and as one of the driving forces in Western art for long. Its shape explicitly evokes this duality: from one angle, it suggests the male sexual member, from another, a woman’s gaping vulva, with its tail as the womb. In Acrobat this intrinsic contrast is extended in the contrast between the trashcan and the chair on which the lobster finds its balance.

The Popeye figure joins the lobster in the series’ narrative dimension, again suggesting a certain idea of sexuality: we have Popeye on one side and Olive Oyl on the other (shown here in the form of a mirror-like stainless steel piece with a red colour coating). Symbolised by the lobster, this bipolarity, like sexuality itself evolving between feminine and masculine poles, can be found in the image of Popeye, this cartoon character who oscillates between strength and fragility, failure and success, who goes back and forth…


The multifaceted Popeye character is an archetype used by Koons from the modern Western imagination to illustrate his discourse on the nature and the role of art in today’s world.


Like the avant-gardes, Koons is constantly aiming to redefine the function of art within society, opening it to a wider audience. By using imagery that is both popular and contemporary, Koons intends to go beyond the segregationist aspect of art and consider it, not as a pedagogical or dogmatic discourse, but as a mode of action, halfway between tradition and innovation.





A catalogue is published on the occasion of this exhibition. It will be available at the gallery, on our website and in bookshops from September 15 on.



Bilingual French / English text by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

All exhibited works illustrated on full-colour page.


Size 32,6 x 24,8 cm.

ISBN 2-912303-31-1