Numéro: How much of your kitschiest work is irony?
Jeff Koons: The term kitsch makes people jump to conclusions. Its negative connotations are used by those who use art as a form of segregation. I don’t believe in kitsch because I don’t believe in exclusion. Art’s vocation is to encourage an acceptance that is both universal and transcendental, beginning by accepting oneself.
When your Cracked Egg (Blue) was selling in London last year, cheques below $3.5 million weren’t accepted. Why?
If the artist’s value goes up, it’s also to make sure that the demand never surpasses the supply. The selection happens naturally: the piece will go to the person who pays the most and the collectors aren’t upset if they don’t get it.
Is exposing one’s own work at home bad taste?
A sufferance more like! I’d never inflict that on my family or myself. At my home my collection of 20th century art – Dalí, Magritte, Man Ray and Lichtenstein – hangs on the walls along with a few contemporary works by Elizabeth Peyton and Thomas Struth. My wife Justine is also an artist and we’ve got several of her paintings and photos up.
Has Michael Jackson ever tried to acquire the life-size porcelain effigy?
Jackson implied that he was keen on seeing the piece develop in my New York studio. I tried to explain that the sculpture was being made by artisans in Europe but he made out he didn’t hear a word. Every time he made an appointment to come by, he’d always stand me up. When I went to Neverland to visit him he vanished. Silence. I didn’t bother anymore.
Did he file a complaint against you for violating his image?
There was once a time when Picasso, Warhol and Duchamp borrowed from others with impunity. In the 1980s American artists were treated like greedy social climbers who only thought about their bank accounts. Postcard photographers deployed armies of lawyers to file suit against them for copyright violation. You always have to look out for yourself, even though I’m still convinced that artistic appropriation is honest.
And you haven’t been greedy and social climbing yourself?
The money I earn provides my family with security, sure, but it has never been my main motivation. Art is above all a visceral experience and it comes from deep inside me like a chemical reaction that helps me transcend my limits.