In 1975, long before he became a household name, Jeff Koons spent a year in Chicago as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as a studio assistant to Ed Paschke.
"I believe it's really important that you're able, in art, to have kind of an anchor in personal iconography. And I was really able to have that develop and come to fruition in Chicago," Koons said by phone from his New York City studio. "I guess Ed was the first artist that I befriended that was really a professional, living his life as an artist. I got an understanding of what it would be like, and kind of a sense of the art world politics." Koons lived in Lakeview, and then in the Pilsen neighborhood at Halsted and 19th Streets.
This summer, he is back in Chicago with his super-sized metal casts of inflatable toys and balloons for an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art that opens Saturday, which also includes his paintings and porcelain sculptures.
But you won't find many of Koons' pieces displayed in his five-bedroom, three-bathroom brownstone on Manhattan's Upper East Side, home for the last 16 years. With wife Justine Wheeler-Koons (also an artist), he has four children: Sean, 6, Kurt, 4, Blake, 2, and newborn Eric. Koons also has two older children, Shannon, 33, and Ludwig, 15.
Their house has "a lot of Murano glass chandeliers, and colors of turquoise and different rich pink colors. We live with some of the art that we collect, so it's really kind of a mixture of a beautiful and amazing visual experience, to the very mundane, where the stuffing's coming out of the chairs."
His favorite piece is a Salvador Dali study for his painting, "Fifty Abstract Pictures Which as Seen from Two Yards Change into Three Lenins Masquerading as Chinese and as Seen From Six Yards Appear as the Head of a Royal Bengal Tiger." "I met Dali when I was 17 years old, and he posed for me in front of the painting. So I look at it everyday, and it's a reason to have that. There's a reason to have collected that."
Koons says his young boys are allowed in his studio. "I use some of their gestures in my painting. So if they have watercolor paintings or different marks that they made, I'll look at it and say, 'Gosh, that's great, I'd like to use that in one of my works.' I'll bring it here, scan it, and incorporate it into my paintings. So they're usually pretty proud to see their own work incorporated.
"I think the young boys at home already have an understanding that art is amazing vehicle and can really help connect them with the rest of humanity."
Most luxurious feature in your home? The artwork. It's meaningful, just feeling the different connections through our own work and where we find meaning in art.
One thing on a wall in your living room: We have a very large Thomas Struth that is a photograph from inside the National Gallery in London. It's of an early Christian-type painting, and people are viewing the artwork inside the museum. Right outside my bedroom, I have an Ed Paschke print of "Hairy Shoes." Ed gave me the print when I was a studio assistant and a student in Chicago. I guess he gave it to me in 1976.
One thing you have in your house from your childhood: I have an object that I enjoy very much which was my grandfather's — my mother's father — a little porcelain ashtray. And when you would put your cigarette in the ashtray, the heat from the cigarette and the smoke would make this woman's legs go back and forth. She's lying down in the ashtray. That had a big influence on me. The legs are broken and it's in pieces, but I have one large section of it and I hold it very, very dear. I believe that sculptures that I made, like "Woman in the Tub," come out of this little ashtray.
If we came unexpectedly, would we find your bed made? Yes. The housekeeper does it.
Favorite household chore? Getting breakfast in the morning for the children. I make oatmeal, waffles, pancakes. Coffee and tea for myself and my wife. The children enjoy soy milk and a big bowl of fruit.
Most high-tech gadget or appliance in your home? Probably our television. It's a large flat-screen Sony, about 52 inches. It's in the bedroom.
Best furniture bargain you ever got and where'd you get it? I have two chairs that I purchased in Venice, and I guess they're 17th Century. They're quite beautiful, and they were re-covered with Fortuny fabric. I imagine I got a pretty good deal on those. I probably paid about $15,000 for the pair. They probably have higher value than that. Or they may not!
Messiest room in the house? I would imagine the bedroom, because the family gathers a lot in the bedroom.
What reading material would we find in your bathroom? Usually the newspaper. My wife enjoys a lot of the puzzles from different magazines.
Biggest surprise we'd find in your closet: Probably that there are just a lot of ties there. Pretty mundane closet, but a lot of ties. And I tend not to throw anything out, so I have a lot of clothes from all times from my life. I can be a little sentimental with things like that.
Do you do any friendly snooping when visiting the homes of others? No. I mean, I like to if we're offered a tour. I like to look at everything and appreciate seeing the different things that have meaning to people.
What's on your coffee table right now? I have [the book] "Manet and the Sea," and [ Gustave] Courbet's "The Most Arrogant Man in France," a Poussin book. The kids may have a video game machine or something on there.
firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun