A basketball arena, Jeff Koons, and $8 million were at the center of one of the country’s most energetic recent public art debates.
In early March, the Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve an $8 million Jeff Koons sculpture to be installed outside the new arena for the Sacramento Kings. The piece, from Koons’ Coloring Book series, was commissioned by the basketball team, which also contributed $3 million to the project. The artwork is made possible through the city’s percent-for-art program, which allocates two percent of city capital improvement project budgets for public art.
The sculpture will make Sacramento the first municipality to acquire a Koons piece- or depending on your perspective- to have a Koons piece inflicted on it.
For city leadership, buying the sculpture was a no-brainer, in no small part because $4 million in private funding supported the purchase. The Sacramento Bee quotes Mayor Kevin Johnson as calling the artwork “a good investment for our community” based on Koons’ status as an artist. Minutes before the City Council’s vote on the sculpture, Council Member Jay Schenirer said, “people will come down to see it, and then they will go eat lunch, and then they will hopefully go to an event at the arena … That’s where we want to get to as a city.”
By voting in the Koons sculpture, the City Council also snagged $1.5 million to support local art. The gift came from local arts patron Marcy Friedman, and was contingent on the sculpture’s approval. ArtNet has her input:
“We have a rare opportunity for Sacramento to snare an extremely important piece of art by an internationally acclaimed artist,” Friedman said at the meeting. “It’s destined to become the most photographed image in Sacramento history.”
So Sacramento gets a big deal piece of public art from a big name, presumably bringing many tourists, Instagrammers, and wallets to its new basketball arena.
But the piece’s critics don’t appear to agree that this should be the endgame for public art. According to several reports, opposition was swift and loud, and came largely from local artists who felt that the opportunity to create highly visible, well-funded art should have been offered to someone Sacramento-based.
David Garibaldi repeatedly criticized what he seems to view as the outsourcing of creative talent by the city.
You don’t need to buy, what you can create to be great! #SacArtsProud
— David Garibaldi (@garibaldiarts) March 9, 2015
Commenters took to Garibaldi’s various social media posts to similarly call for artwork that would be more representative of the local arts community. Many argued that buying a Koons would send a message that Sacramento needs to piggyback on the East Coast arts elite, rather than producing its own landmark art.
At the apparently raucous public meeting preceding the City Council’s vote, local gallerist Barbara Range said, “we do have the artists that are here who are very capable to do a project of that stature.” ArtNet reports more heated words from an earlier public meeting:
“You’re telling the world we’re not good enough!” screamed an irate Marco Fuoco, a local artist. “You’re telling the world and all of California we need Koons!”
Editor’s note: the idea of my tax dollars going towards Jeff Koons’ fucking bank account would probably make me irate too.
Meanwhile, the horde of nameless art students who make Koon’s stuff has already started toiling away on the sculpture, according to the Bee.