Tiptoeing through the Tulips

Paris will install controversial Jeff Koons gift on the Champs-Élysées

Jeff Koons' donation to Paris, titled "Bouquet of Tulips" to be installed near the Champs-Elysées in remembrance of terrorist attacks (Jeff Koons, courtesy Noirmontartproduction)

Jeff Koons’s controversial sculpture Bouquet of Tulips was first proposed as a “donation” by the artist in 2016 and has only now found a home near the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Described as a “gift of remembrance” by the artist in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the city in the years of 2015 and 2016, the gargantuan proportions, cost, and proposed core location amongst top Parisian contemporary art institutions mired the project in controversy since its original announcement. 

Originally, the bouquet was proposed to be installed outside the Palais de Tokyo, a museum location very popular with tourists, with views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. However, the backlash from the public, including a published letter by the French daily newspaper Libération, swayed officials to rethink the plan. 

The letter listed grievances against the installation, among them arguments that the work was conceptualized as a “symbol of memory, optimism, and recovery,” but without any relation to the tragic events or their location. The 24 signatories, all professionals within the French art and architecture scenes, including a former culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, also cited that while he was a “brilliant and inventive creator in the 1980s, Jeff Koons has since become the emblem of an industrial art,” and that a work placed in an area of such high touristic visibility would amount to “advertising or product placement.” However, other factors like the 33-ton weight of the sculpture, came in to play as well, as the basement below the site may not have been able to withstand the pressure. 



Koons only donated the concept of the 40-foot-tall sculpture—a hyper-realistic hand holding 11 “balloons” resembling tulip bulbs made from stone, polished stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum—while private donations and foundations financed the actual fabrication and eventual plans for installation. The project cost an estimated $3.5 million, but French taxpayers will be tapped for the sculpture’s protection and maintenance. 

During the debates over the fate of the gift, the sculpture had been sitting finished in a German warehouse. Installation was only greenlit after a trip by Koons himself to Paris on August 23rd, where in three hours, the artist, his gallerist, Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont of Noirmontartproduction, and city officials came to the locational compromise. The bouquet is set to be installed by October 5, where it will debut during Paris’ nuit blanche, the citywide annual all-night art event. 

While photography is strictly prohibited throughout the installation process, two of the bulbs have already been delivered by Arnold, a celebrated German metal fabricator known for its polished metal works—and while that shine is a trademark of the American artist, the new tulips will have a matte finish, “out of respect for the French people.” 

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