Jeff Koons on the Culture of Abu Dhabi


Today, the inaugural Abu Dhabi Art Fair opens in the United Arab Emirates. 50 art dealers, including powerhouses Gagosian, Acquavella, White Cube and Pace Wildenstein are represented. Many of these galleries are setting up booths in the Middle East for the first time.

Artist Jeff Koons is on the “international patron’s committee” for the fair and we caught up with him beachside at the edge of the Persian Gulf. While he ducked some of our questions—among them, “Are you buying at the fair?”—and answered others obliquely (“Plato?” Really, Jeff?) he did discuss the culture in Abu Dhabi, and how one of his most famous pieces, a work for sale here, is often misunderstood.
ALEXANDRA PEERS: Is this your first time here?
JEFF KOONS: I was on a panel here [in March 2009, with Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer]. I was thrilled to come back. I brought my family so my children are able to see the culture.
PEERS: What’s it like to be a member of the “International Patrons Committee” of the Abu Dhabi fair (a group that includes Francois Pinault and architect Norman Foster)? LEFT: PHOTO BY CRAIG MCDEAN.
KOONS: It’s wonderful… It’s about future possibilities.
PEERS: In Larry Gagosian’s booth is one of your seven-foot diamond rings, made from stainless steel. Another in the series sold for $11.3 million at Christie’s auction house in 2007. Tell us about the piece.
KOONS: There is an interpretation that pop is about money and self-interest. I never viewed it that way. My goal was to make a work that is very profound. Pop, and that artwork, are about generosity. Anything else is a populist take… it’s silliness.
PEERS: How much is it on sale for?
KOONS: I do know, but I’d rather not say.
PPERS: You have several pieces at the fair (including multiples), more than almost any other living artist. Why does your art speak to this culture?
KOONS: My art is work that empowers. It’s about empowerment.