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Jeff Koons Sculpture for Victims of Paris Terror Attacks Met With Reservations

Last November, Jeff Koons announced that he wanted to gift the city of Paris with a memorial sculpture, Bouquet of Tulips—a giant human hand holding aloft balloon flowers—to honor the victims of terrorist attacks in the city throughout 2015. The idea for the gift came from Jane D. Hartley, the former US ambassador to Paris and Monaco under the Obama administration. Sentiments around the work are complicated, however, writes Rachel Donadio of the New York Times. The funds needed to fabricate and install the sculpture—about $3.9 million—are not being provided by Koons (the artist only donated the idea for the piece, not the money for its construction). There will also be many logistical issues surrounding its installation, as it will weigh about thirty tons, which will require major structural reinforcement to the area where Tulips is expected to stand, a plaza that is shared by the Palais de Tokyo and the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris.

Isabel Pasquier, a French art critic, said, “They presented this bouquet as a symbolic present to Paris, but then we realized it wasn’t exactly a present, since France had to pay to install it. Whether you appreciate his art or not, Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.” Many within the Parisian art community, even those who find the work tasteless, are reluctant to be openly disdainful of the work for fear of offending Hartley, the city, or François Pinault, a major collector of Koons and a very wealthy businessman and art patron. Fabrice Hergott, the director of the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, seems supportive of the project: “It speaks to our era. I think it will be much less kitsch in several years and people will find it very appropriate for the location.” Jean de Loisy, president of the Palais de Tokyo, “grew silent and smiled” when he was questioned about the work. He was then asked if his silence meant that he had no comment. “Just silence,” he said, and smiled once more. France’s ministry of culture is overseeing much of the planning around the work—they did not respond to requests for comments. The American Embassy in Paris said that it has no involvement in the affair, but “welcomes the mayor of Paris’s strong support expressed at the project’s unveiling at the ambassador’s residence last year. The project exemplifies the strong cross-cultural ties between our two nations and has not caused any strains between the US and France.”

Funds for Paris, an agency that locates private money for public works, says that it has raised $3.3 million for the Koons, and requires another $556,000 for construction work, which can begin once the permits are approved. According to Emmanuelle de Noirmont, the artist’s French dealer, the support Funds for Paris has drummed up for the Koons comes from companies in France and the United States. Hartley, who is now a private citizen, also plans on financing the project. A representative from the foundation says the piece could be installed as early as this year.