PRINT February 2003

Jeff Koons

Whenever I’m asked about whose work influenced me, I always say Martin Kippenberger. It’s hard for me to let go of the fact that he isn’t here any longer. When I was involved with him, he was painting every day, but painting very rapidly. I love the hotel drawings. There is a certain tenderness that’s almost surprising. I had one of Martin’s large underwear paintings in my living room.

I first met Martin in 1986 through Max Hetzler. The gallery thought it would be interesting to show some New York artists in Cologne; Bob Gober, Jon Kessler, and I were invited to be in a group show. I felt completely at home. It really seemed that Martin made an effort to embrace the artists, taking them under his wing in this environment. Whenever he came to New York, we’d get together, but most of the interaction was in Europe.

I always enjoyed Martin’s abstract side. Twentieth-century art seems very much about dislocating imagery, and Martin plays a lot with dislocation. Some people have a lot of anxiety about making a gesture, and that anxiety confines them. Martin’s art is really the opposite: It’s about removing the anxiety around the gesture. Martin was very open to everything around him. I always loved his bent lampposts. He understood a certain aspect of the readymade, just taking the information at hand and removing options. Martin’s work is specific; its specificity comes from his being able to look at whatever is directly available. He really kept himself razor sharp at every moment. Martin’s work strives to let viewers feel good about themselves. It’s trying to give the viewer a sense of self-empowerment. Also, it gives a sense of independence and possibility. Through art, people have a more positive sense of their own possibilities.

I know the ’80s have always been labeled as cynical, but I never found it that way at all. I thought that artists were very generous and they felt a moral responsibility to their audience. Martin believed that art could have an impact and an effect. The idea that one person can achieve something and do something that can help other people—it seems to me that Martin believed in that. I think that’s something we shared.

Jeff Koons is a New York–based artist.