New Life for Jeff Koons’s Tulips? The Artist Will Consider Alternative Sites in Paris for His Divisive Sculpture

Jeff Koons is still looking for a site to accommodate his monumental tulip sculpture, which he conceived as a gift to Paris back in 2016. But a solution may be in sight. The city’s deputy mayor for culture, Christophe Girard, has promised to put an end to the more than two-year saga. He has announced that a location for the embattled sculpture will be found “before the end of the year.”

Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, tasked Girard with resolving the controversy. At a press conference on Wednesday about the city’s museums, Girard said he will “make it a priority.”

“To be sure, he’s a controversial artist,” Girard added. “But he’s an important contemporary art figure.”

Koons gifted the 35-foot-tall, 33-ton work—which features nine colored tulips held aloft by a hyper-realistic hand—to the city as a “symbol of memory, optimism, and recovery” in the wake of the terror attacks of 2015 and 2016.

Before long, a fierce polemic erupted when it emerged that Koons was only gifting the idea for it, meaning the €3.5 million (around $4 million) cost for its execution and installation would fall to the French. Furious op-eds and open letters filled the pages of French newspapers, with artists, curators, art dealers, and even the former minister for culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, taking issue with the work’s cost, proposed location, and appearance. In February, Hidalgo described the Koons question as one that is “as diplomatic as it is artistic.”

At the conference, Girard stated publicly for the first time that the financial burden would not fall to the French taxpayers. Instead, he said, the sculpture would be financed by private money.

Jeff Koons Bouquet of Tulips (2016). © Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction.

Jeff Koons Bouquet of Tulips (2016). © Jeff Koons. Courtesy Noirmontartproduction.

Now, stakeholders are focused on resolving perhaps the most controversial component of Koons’s proposal: the location. The work was originally designed to stand in front of the prestigious Palais de Tokyo. But after the French minister of culture, Françoise Nyssen, publicly rejected the site in May, the government’s alternative proposal to install the monument in the Parc de la Villette was rebuffed by city planners.

Now, the artist and city are exploring three more potential sites in the 8th, 16th, and 11th arrondissements of the city. A spot in the Champs-Elysées gardens near the Petit Palais art museum is one possible candidate, being close to the US embassy and in a key location in the French capital.

The city’s “Place des États-Unis” (United States Square) in the 16th arrondissement has also been floated, but the French newspaper Le Parisien deems this one “unlikely” for reasons that remain unclear. 

Finally, a site in the 11th arrondissement is being explored, possibly near the Bataclan concert hall, the site of the terror attack that claimed the lives of 130 victims and inspired Koons’s gift. 

This weekend, the artist will scope out all three proposed sites in Paris with Girard. Koons’s French production company, NoirmontArtProduction, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Whatever site is chosen, technical studies will need to be carried out to accommodate the work’s sophisticated safety requirements.

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