The project – which coincides with the 130th anniversary of France gifting the Statue of Liberty to the United States – came together after discussions between Koons and the US Ambassador to France, Jane D. Hartley. According to the artist, Bouquet of Tulips symbolizes ‘the act of offering’ as well as the ‘remembrance, optimism, and healing’ Paris needs so it can move forward after the tragic events of last year. The hand of his proposed sculpture, he said, is also a direct reference to ‘the hand of the Statue of Liberty holding the torch’ and a reaffirmation of the friendship between the two countries.
The meaning behind the placement of the sculpture – in the plaza of the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris – is more significant than the fact that these are museums of contemporary art. The spot overlooking the Avenues du Président Wilson and de New York – just a few hundred meters from the Flame of Liberty at the Pont de l’Alma, the site commonly mistaken as a memorial to Princess Diana – is steeped in Franco-American history. It is also just upriver from the Île aux Cygnes and the most famous of the Statue of Liberty replicas in Paris.
Balloon flowers of this sort first appeared in Koons’ work as part of his Celebration series (1994-2011) which, as is his custom, took banal objects – this time associated with parties, holidays, and other causes for jubilation – and manipulated them in terms of scale and materials used. At two meters tall and five meters wide, Tulips will be dwarfed by the new polychromed bronze, stainless steel, and aluminum statue which, along with its base, will stand at over 11 meters tall with a diameter of approximately 10 meters.
At a press conference to announce the project, Koons identified Pablo Picasso’s Friendship Bouquet as well as the Impressionist flowers of Claude Monet and the Rococo floral renderings of François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard as inspirations for this new work.
Speaking on behalf of the City of Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo suggested that Bouquet of Tulips would ‘become a part of Paris’ heritage as the Statue of Liberty is part of New York’s heritage.’ Perhaps more importantly, given the slump in visitor numbers this summer, she said it would ‘participate in the influence of our city throughout the world and prove once again how attractive Paris is for contemporary art.’
Provided that €3 million can be raised from private donors in the US and France, the sculpture will be unveiled at some point in 2017. It is not yet clear whether this might coincide with the second anniversary of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket, and a police officer in January 2015 – which incidentally occurred while the first major European retrospective of Koons’ work was taking place at the Centre Pompidou – or those on the Bataclan concert hall, restaurant terraces, and the Stade de France on November 13th of that same year.