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The public art differs from the gallery art in terms of being meaningful not only from the point of the artist but also from the point of the people seeing the art piece as part of their environments. In this context, Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Flower (Red)” is one of the most provocative art installations in relation to the aspects of form, purpose, and public’s perceptions. Still, Koons’s sculpture can be discussed as a good and influential piece of public art because it not only catches the public attention, but it is also discussed as attractive due to the fact the sculpture is in harmony with the surrounding objects and buildings; it responds to the community’s needs while supporting the image of New York as a modern art center; and it is practical in terms of the urban design and rather thought-provoking.
Definition of Art
In order to analyze “Balloon Flower (Red)” in the context of a good or bad art piece, it is important to formulate the definition of art, including certain criteria. From this perspective, art is an attractive, meaningful, and thought-provoking result of the person’s expression of his individual vision of the world. As a consequence, an object can be discussed as an art piece when it can attract the public’s attention and be discussed as meaningful in terms of culture and thought-provoking in terms of the impact on people and their own vision of the world.
While referring to this definition of art and provided criteria for art pieces, it is possible to state that “Balloon Flower (Red)” is fitting the proposed definition because it addresses all three criteria. Thus, this sculpture is traditionally discussed as one of the most popular art objects among the New Yorkers (Nonko par. 4). In this context, “Balloon Flower (Red)” is attractive for the public who are interested in its unusual form and elements of the glossy object.
The criterion of meaningfulness of the art is also important because the art piece should convey a certain message for the public. The bright red sculpture can be discussed as symbolizing the era of mass culture, providing references to pop-art, and focusing on the elements of banality as parts of everyday life. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that the purpose of “Balloon Flower (Red)” is to entertain the public, this sculpture can be discussed as thought-provoking because its form, color, texture, and size are striking and making people think about their meaning. From this point, “Balloon Flower (Red)” is a successful piece of art because it addresses all the criteria mentioned in the definition.
The Art Piece within the Public Space
In addition to the standards provided in the definition of art, it is also important to analyze “Balloon Flower (Red)” in terms of criteria listed by professionals and scholars for the public art. According to Fleming, the public art must be “attentive to the contextual aspect of its sitting – it is created not to stand on its own, but to augment a larger public space” (Fleming 56). Thus, much attention should be paid to the environment within which the art object is placed. “Balloon Flower (Red)” created by Jeff Koons is located in the center of the fountain that can be observed on the extended lawn in front of the World Trade Center (New).
The fountain is surrounded by the plaza with benches arranged as places for sitting. As a result, it is almost impossible for the public to avoid looking at the red, bright, and glitter sculpture. However, space and the sculpture seem to be in harmony because of the balance between the background grey colors of the surrounded buildings and the red sculpture as a bright accent. Furthermore, there is a balance in the sizes of Koons’s work and buildings near it. In addition, the red sculpture is presented as the flower of a symbolic shape and size, and the color of the red flower can be discussed as being in harmony with the green trees on the lawn. The texture of the material of which the red sculpture is made is also significant to understand its meaning because the glittering surface of the steel sculpture is associated with the mirror-polished surfaces of the surrounded buildings, like the World Trade Center made of steel and glass.
In this context, the size of the sculpture also matters because it is important to guarantee that the 9-foot-high sculpture is in balance with the sizes of surrounded structures. From this point, the 9-foot-high red sculpture seems to be large in contrast to the audience sitting around it on the benches, but it is small in contrast to the 743-foot-high building of the World Trade Center. As a result, the size of the sculpture seems to be in balance with the surrounded space in order to accentuate the existing proportions of this environment.
The shape of the sculpture also seems to be fitting the space because Koons’s work is characterized by the accentuated minimalistic forms imitating such banal objects as inflatable balloon animals. Therefore, the symbolic shape of the flower consisting of seven blossom-like elements and represented in the steel sculpture is important to add the element of the “nature” to the environment in order to balance urbanism and naturalism in the discussed location (Zebracki 304). However, the use of the artificial shape of balloon figures is associated with minimalism typical for the construction of buildings like the World Trade Center. Moreover, the minimalistic forms and mirror-polished surfaces of the buildings and the sculpture are in balance to reflect the daylight and the artificial light in the night. Thus, the sculpture seems to be effectively placed in the public space of New York.
The Art Piece’s Response to the Community’s Needs
Manhattan is traditionally discussed as the cultural and social center in New York City. In this context, the World Trade Center is the place that attracts thousands of visitors monthly, and the sculpture in front of it is viewed by millions of people annually. From this point, it is important to understand how Koons’s “Balloon Flower (Red)” can serve the community’s interests and needs in terms of history and culture. Today, the World Trade Center is perceived by New Yorkers as a symbol of renovation and a look in the future along with the accent on consumerism and mass culture. Therefore, “Balloon Flower (Red)” installed on the lawn in 2007 can also be discussed as the symbol of the art of the future with the elements of objects known for everyone, as it is in the case of the red mirror-finish sculpture.
Although Jeff Koons was born in York, Pennsylvania, he can be considered as a typical New Yorker who understands and loves the rhythm of the city that is oriented to the latest trends in the art and can even influence the cultural trends (Phifer and Dzikowski 25). From this point, “Balloon Flower (Red)” seems to be as provocative as the works by Salvador Dali and as banal and controversial as the works by Andy Warhol. On the one hand, the sculpture reflects the tradition of New York art to focus on banal, every day, and lighthearted objects. On the other hand, this sculpture adds one more art accent to the public place of the city that is traditionally full of remarkable art pieces and locations. In this context, according to Fleming, this sculpture can be associated with the art “that finds its inspiration in a certain contextual rigor” (Fleming 76). The reason is that the sculpture fits the context of the New York policy regarding placing art pieces in public spaces.
The Artwork as a Practical and Challenging Piece
“Balloon Flower (Red)” is an example of both practical and challenging pieces because it serves to unite the public round it and make people think about the reflections they can see at the surface of the flower’s elements. In spite of the fact that it is rather difficult to understand the practical significance of the piece, at first sight, it is possible to reveal the benefits of the sculpture while focusing on the behaviors of persons walking or sitting near it.
Those people who attend the World Trade Center or nearby buildings usually have to rest in a small park zone near the fountain. In this context, the fountain with the red sculpture in it becomes the meaningful center of the small park zone. The sculpture is bright and attractive, and it is appropriate for people to sit around the fountain while looking at the sculpture as a piece of art.
Koons’s sculpture can also be discussed as challenging because its symbolic character makes people think about their own reflections on the surface of the artificial flower, the reflections of buildings and green trees, as well as about the role of such balloon objects like representations of the modern mass culture. In this context, each aspect of “Balloon Flower (Red)” makes people think about its meaning (Salmon par. 2).
First, the public visiting the World Trade Center or sitting on the benches can focus on the attractive color of the sculpture. Second, the shape and texture of the “flower” are also unusual, and it is possible to find symbolism in the number of elements or their resemblance with balloon objects. Finally, it is also possible to think about what such a controversial but vivid object can say about the culture of the New York community. Additionally, the sculpture can be discussed as interacting with people because everyone can see his or her reflection on the sculpture’s surface.
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Having focused on the criteria for the art objects and pieces of the public art, it is possible to state that “Balloon Flower (Red)” created by Jeff Koons is an example of a good piece of art that is in balance with the surrounding objects but reveals a certain meaning. In this context, the red sculpture is not only an attractive art piece but also an influential representation of the artist’s vision of the modern cultural trends that are correlated with the public’s ideas. Therefore, the art piece is attractive and practical, as well as meaningful and challenging.
Fleming, Ronald Lee. “Public Art for the Public”. The Public Interest 159.1 (2005): 55-76. Print.
Nonko, Emily. 8 Spectacular Public Exhibits from Distinguished Artists. 2013. Web.
Phifer, Jean, and Francis Dzikowski. Public Art: New York. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
Salmon, Felix. Jeff Koons: A Master Innovator Turning Money into Art. 2013. Web.
Zebracki, Martin. “Beyond Public Artopia: Public Art as Perceived by Its Publics”. GeoJournal 78.2 (2013): 303–317. Print.