In Which We Ask 42 Art World Types — Including His Wife — “What’s Your Favorite Jeff Koons?”


Gallerist Jeffrey Deitch and honoree Jeff Koons

How do you recall a moment as unexpected as the National Arts Club’s presentation of its 2009 Gold Medal Award to controversial pop artist Jeff Koons? It was an over-the-top, earnest embrace of a celebrated contemporary artist in an old world setting. (View a photo gallery of the evening here.)

The National Arts Club has honored 56 artists, architects, patrons of the arts, and arts organizations since the initial Gold Medal Award in 1958. In most regards, the club still reflects the times of the first award, or an even earlier period. New York Times literary and art critic Charles de Kay founded it as a gathering place for artists, patrons, and audiences of the arts in 1898. Although it has aesthetically evolved over the years, it maintains an art salon ambiance, which relates to its beginnings; but it’s an atmosphere that’s totally charming. Paintings in gilded frames, sculptures on period pedestals, and plush sofas with broken springs create a cozy atmosphere for considering culture, both old and new.

Arriving early, we felt a little out of place, surrounded by a bunch of swells, dressed to the nines and anticipating a momentous affair. Before we could finish a glass of champagne, the ornate sitting rooms and old school bar were overflowing with patrons. Jeff Koons arrived as the excitement was building and quickly became the center of attention. Cameras flashed, members fawned over the honoree, and the crazy crowd of fashionable patrons grew larger and larger, until moving from one room to the next was like trying to board a subway train during rush hour.

When the doors finally opened to the dining rooms, there was more space to roam, but confusion about where to sit. The National Arts Club had never had such a turnout. Since dinner placement is all about power, there was a lot of jockeying. After a simple meal of salad, seafood, vegetables, rice, and cherry pie, the speakers took their turns at the podium. National Arts Club vice president Dianne Bernhard shared her excitement of learning about Koons’ art via Google; guest speaker Jeffrey Deitch, a longtime friend and supporter, offered a fascinating history of the artist with slides and anecdotes; National Arts Club president Aldon James expressed his joy over having a fresh face in the club, and Jeff Koons accepted the award with humility — talking about art as transcendence, and sharing stories about his first visit to the National Arts Club and the enthusiastic embrace that he was now receiving from Bernhard, James, and other club members.

After the ceremony, Koons was surrounded by fans hungry for autographs and book signings, which he obliged until no one was left with a card or book in hand. A DJ started spinning music, people danced, Koons and his posse relaxed, and everyone savored the amazing mix of the present and the past.

While photographing the eccentric crowd, we asked, “What’s your favorite Jeff Koons?” Here are some of the responses:

1. I. Michael Danoff, director of art programs at Neuberger Berman: the triple-decker vacuum piece that I acquired for the Des Moines Art Center

2. Ted Vassilev, art dealer: the sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles

3. Suzanne Crocker, artist: the Popeye painting

4. Guy Frazier, patron of the arts: the Heart, “genius at its simplest”

5. Marissa Soroudi, artist: the Puppy sculpture

6. Les Levine, artist: the stainless steel train filled with Jim Beam whiskey

7. Catherine Levine, packaging designer: the porcelain puppies

8. Phoebe Hoban, artscribe and Basquiat biographer: the Balloon Dog sculpture on the roof of the Met

9. Hans D’Orville, Unesco rep: the Lobster sculpture

10. Collette, artist: the Heart

11. Anoush D’Orville, Internet executive: the Puppy sculpture

12. Countess Alex Zapak, punk rocker: the sex paintings of Jeff and Cicciolina

13. Lisa Smith, graphic designer: the Heart

14. Mark Noe, graphic designer: the Cicciolina pictures

15. & 16. Peter and Amy Tunney, socialites: the floating basketballs and vacuum cleaners

17. Dianne Bernhardt, National Arts Club VP: the Flowers, “the ones like the balloon displays we have in the dining room”

18. Renee Radel, artist: the Bunny

19. Kevin Radel, son and art adviser: the Heart

20. Walter Robinson, Artnet magazine editor: any picture of Jeff nude

21. Lisa Rosen, art restorer: the vacuum cleaners

22. Antonio Honem, director of Sonnabend Gallery: Jeff himself

23. & 24. Andrew Andrew, DJs and cultural purveyors: Banality ads in Artforum and virginal vacuum cleaners

25. Milton Esterow, ARTnews publisher: the Puppy

26. Aldon James, National Arts Club president: “It’s like a litter of kittens, the Lobster, the Puppy, I love his optimism and courage, that we’ve never needed more than today.”

27. Lily Alexander, artscribe: “I’m not a fan of the work”

28. Alison Chernick, filmmaker: Puppy, Balloon Dog, Cicciolina

29. Michael Portnoy, artist: Equilibrium pieces

30. Terence Koh, artist: Rabbit

31. & 32. James and Kyung Turrell, artists: Michael Jackson and Bubbles

33. Justine Koons, wife and muse: the Puppy

34. Gary McCraw, Jeff Koons Studio manager: “the one that he is going to think of tomorrow”

35. Siri Kuptamethee, fashion designer: Justine stole my answer, the Puppy

36. Alexandra Peers, artscribe: the Bunny

37. Bryan Maake, does nothing: Jeff and Cicciolina pictures

38. Nancy Ozelli, model: between the Balloon dog and the flowers

39. Anthony Haden-Guest, artscribe: the Bunny

40. Adam Berman, art advisor: the 2005 show at Gagosian in London

41. Babak Hamidi, art collector: the Cicciolina pictures, “because I met her in Amsterdam and we took a picture together.”

42. Stacy Engman, National Arts Club chief curator of contemporary art: the Versailles project

If you have a favorite, please let us know in the comments.