Koons to Banksy

The Jeff Koons Handbook

Banksy, Little Diver, Melbourne

Trying to take a bash at a brief history of art post 1984 when Danto wrote his essay “The End of Art”to the present. Read Arthur C. Danto The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (Columbia University Press, 1986). The pendulum of fashion swings between decades; it is kept moving by a variety of forces from the sheer perversity of artists’ efforts to the gravity of the needs that the extremes of the fashion have ignored. It is not surprising that street art, whimsical illustrations and small collectable artwork have become the current fashion after the large institutional art of the late 1980s.

Comparing two popular artists Jeff Koons and Banksy demonstrate some of the differences between these two eras. Both Koons and Banksy are popular artists who employed a prankster personality to promote a sentimental image based art. Behind their pranks and their images both are commenting about society, its values and its morals. Yet the differences between their two decades are enormous from the New York art world of the 1980s to a British internet and street-art phenomena.

Jeff Koons – “ I want communicate to as wide a mass a possible. And the way to communicate with the public right now is through TV and advertising. The art world is not effective right now.”

Banksy  – “The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.”

Jeff Koons promoted himself and his identity as part of his art. The image of Jeff Koons smiling face and slicked back hair was in the media and in many of his art works. Banksy is unidentified and shadowy. Both are clearly media savvy but use the media in a very different way and have a very different media image. Koons was as accessible and exposed as his porn star wife, Ilona. Bansky replaced Koon’s brash, proud, and media friendly image with an anonymous hoodie and mystery.

Part of the difference is that the popular media has changed from mass media to the internet. Koons specialized in magazines, posters and TV documentaries. On the internet Banksy dominated exploiting the anonymity and publicity that it provided. Eventually the establishment could not ignore the extent of Banksy’s fan base and the sales figures for his art.

The art of both Banksy and Koons exists in a wide price range, from relatively inexpensive works to beyond what any of us can afford. Jeff Koons marketed to art galleries and art collectors whereas Banksy’s market was neither of these and his prices were initially significantly lower. Koons worked within the contemporary art world and created spectacular art for the major art galleries, like “Puppy”, at the Bilbao Guggenheim. Banksy gave his art to the public on the street and it was the ordinary public that started to buy his art. Now some city councils are trying to preserve what they initially thought that they didn’t want.

Due to the differences between their markets there is a difference in the content Koons and Banksy’s art. Koons’s art generated some controversy with his plagiarism/appropriation of popular images and his sexual images. Banksy is far more subversive and his art has been described as vandalism and his images attacked the image of the police, the Israeli West Bank wall and art galleries. He is the anarchist rat, the criminal artist. The irony and confidence of the late 20th century has been replaced by an increasing feeling of doom and rebellion in the first decade of the 21st century.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “Koons to Banksy

  • devilswager

    I have never seen anyone draw this comparison before, which is a head-scratcher because now that I read it, it seems like it was crying out to be drawn. Can you please tell me the source of your Banksy quote in which he mangles Churchill? It’s very insightful.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks – it seemed so obvious that I hung onto it, unfinished, for almost a year. Then I decided to write more about recent art history and it seemed obvious to finish it.
      I think that the Banksy quote comes from his website but it was almost a year ago.

  • skull front

    nice. now more then ever artist must utilize/subvert the web. it will be soon controlled like cable channels.

  • Top heavy Donna

    Banksy’s aussie mate James DeWeaver, generation x artist, took the piss out of Koons in his 2006 “Dogs of war series”.Banksy and DeWeaver collaborated in “Banksy’s only Blue Rat with sign” in 2011(Google image it),poking fun at the Spencer Tunick “Installation” both were in some ten years earlier, pic can be seen on DeWeaver’s website,bottom of scroll!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks for pointing that out those images. I didn’t know how studied the opposition to Koons was.

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