Spring on the York College campus

Jeff Koons

By by Matthew Clay-Robison, M.F.A.
Jeff Koons

On Friday, May 12, world-famous artist Jeff Koons installed his latest spectacle, Seated Ballerina, a 45-foot high inflatable nylon sculpture, at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The next morning the York native gave the commencement address to York College's Class of 2017 and received an honorary degree. The trip from New York City to York, PA, and role switch from international art celebrity to low-key native son is one the artist makes regularly. While Koons' primary residence is a nearly 20,000-square-foot mega-mansion near Central Park, the artist and his family spend significant time at his family farm in Red Lion, PA, which he restored for weekend and summer getaways.Koons began his commencement address with a brief history lesson highlighting moments when York has played a key role in the story of America. He conveyed to the graduating class that they chose a place of significance in which to pursue their education. Koons also told stories of his childhood, crediting his strong foundation in York and family support with helping him succeed. He suggested that the graduates also enjoyed these same advantages in life, as evidenced by the devoted family and faculty in attendance. Koons went on to share insights into success gleaned from his own experiences, such as the importance of exhibiting readiness and eagerness to participate in a world looking for people to lead. He imparted wisdom received from his mentor, artist Ed Paschke, and spoke about him with affection and admiration. He said that Paschke had impressed upon him the importance of being consistently at the service of his work, making choices and behaving in ways that allow his work to succeed. Koons encouraged the graduates to embrace the philosophy of becoming; to remain open to change and focus on their own particular interests as a guide

Koons began his commencement address with a brief history lesson highlighting moments when York has played a key role in the story of America. He conveyed to the graduating class that they chose a place of significance in which to pursue their education. Koons also told stories of his childhood, crediting his strong foundation in York and family support with helping him succeed. He suggested that the graduates also enjoyed these same advantages in life, as evidenced by the devoted family and faculty in attendance. Koons went on to share insights into success gleaned from his own experiences, such as the importance of exhibiting readiness and eagerness to participate in a world looking for people to lead. He imparted wisdom received from his mentor, artist Ed Paschke, and spoke about him with affection and admiration. He said that Paschke had impressed upon him the importance of being consistently at the service of his work, making choices and behaving in ways that allow his work to succeed. Koons encouraged the graduates to embrace the philosophy of becoming; to remain open to change and focus on their own particular interests as a guide in their constant evolution. Koons' own evolution since graduating college took him from serving as Ed Paschke's studio assistant in Chicago to working the membership desk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He then became a Wall Street stockbroker before fully breaking into the art world in the 1980s, quickly emerging as the international art star he remains today. The $58.4 million spent on his 10-foot tall stainless steel Balloon Dog set a record for

Koons' own evolution since graduating college took him from serving as Ed Paschke's studio assistant in Chicago to working the membership desk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He then became a Wall Street stockbroker before fully breaking into the art world in the 1980s, quickly emerging as the international art star he remains today. The $58.4 million spent on his 10-foot tall stainless steel Balloon Dog set a record for price paid for a single work by a living artist. His methods are unconventional but not without precedent. While the typical concept of an artist is a solitary figure making work with their own hands, Koons employs several dozen, often more than 100, assistants and fabricators to create his work.

In 2015, Koons generously gave a personal tour of his massive, tightly organized operation to a large group of York College students, faculty, and staff. During the tour, he pointed out all of the aspects of his work that have their roots in his experience of York; from the design of the wheelbarrow in his piece Hulk (Wheelbarrow), to the use of blue gazing balls in his recent series of large-scale replicas of art historical masterworks.

It seems that part of the process of becoming for Koons involves cycling back to the place of his birth to seek inspiration and remain grounded. In 2002, he exhibited at Sonnabend Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Kunsthaus Bielefeld in Germany, Musée d'art Contemporain in France, Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil, Chosun Ilbo Art Museum in Korea, and the York College Galleries in York, PA. The title of the latter? Embrace Your Past.

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