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Jeff Koons Gives France A Giant Bouquet Of Flowers, But It Comes With A Price


Now, the artist Jeff Koons is honoring the victims of the attacks in France last year with a giant outdoor sculpture for the city of Paris. Construction is already underway for a bronze, stainless steel and aluminum sculpture called Bouquet of Tulips. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Koons is donating the work, but it does have a price.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The idea started with the American ambassador to France, Jane Hartley. Last year, after the Paris attacks, Hartley says, the embassy was inundated with cards and emails.

JANE HARTLEY: What I wanted to somehow get across was what the public was feeling and the support the public felt for France and also, really, the history of the two countries.

BLAIR: So she called Jeff Koons and asked him if he would donate a work. Koons is one of the most expensive living artists in the world. One of his stainless steel balloon dogs sold for $58 million at auction. He's donating the design, but not the cost to fabricate and install the work. That will cost about 3 million euros, or $3.2 million. Benjamin Sutton, who writes for the arts website Hyperallergic, says that's not unreasonable.

BENJAMIN SUTTON: In terms of pushing technology forward and pushing the limits of art fabrication and sculpture making, he's really at the forefront. And so I think part of what that 3 million euro price tag is simply the extremely high costs of making an extremely complex sculpture.

BLAIR: A French-American non-profit hopes to raise that money from private donors in both countries. This will be Jeff Koons largest outdoor sculpture yet, standing 34 feet high. A hand emerges from the ground, holding a fistful of brightly colored tulips. Koons is one of those love-him-or-hate-him artists, and his design has gotten some pushback from critics. Le Monde called the gift a cadeau empoisonne, meaning more a curse than a blessing. The cultural magazine Telerama questioned who really would benefit from the public sculpture - Paris or Koons? Sutton, who was born in Paris, thinks it looks like something you'd find in a suburban mall.

SUTTON: I just think it's pretty gaudy.

BLAIR: Jeff Koons says the hand holding a bouquet of tulips is partly a reference to the Statue of Liberty holding a torch. Liberty was a gift from France to the United States in the 19th century. The money to pay for it also came from people in both countries. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.