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Jeff Koons' 'Rabbit' sculpture sells for record $91 million

AFP-JIJI, AP, Bloomberg

A sculpture by the American artist Jeff Koons sold on Wednesday for $91.1 million — a record price for a living artist — at an auction organized by Christie’s in New York.

“Rabbit,” a stainless steel casting of an inflatable rabbit, was the star of the auction house’s spring sale and overtook the previous record set by British painter David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” which sold last November at Christie’s for $90.3 million.

The sculpture is one of three editions plus one artist’s proof.

It was a return to the top for Koons, 64, whose “Balloon Dog (Orange)” had held the record for the highest price at an auction for a living artist since its 2013 sale for $58.4 million.

The selling price of “Rabbit” was only $80 million, but once commissions and fees were added, the final total rose to $91.075 million.

In an unusual turn for an art auction at this price range, the buyer of “Rabbit” was actually in the room during the sale.

The buyer was art dealer Bob Mnuchin, father of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Wednesday’s milestone came two years after Christie’s in New York set the record for most expensive work of art known to have been sold: Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” for $450 million.

Created by Koons in 1986, “Rabbit” is among the best-known works by the artist, who built a reputation for challenging art world conventions.

He has exhibited his larger-than-life creations worldwide, including a 2008 showing in France’s Chateau of Versailles that so jarred French traditionalists a small group of them protested outside the event, demanding his works be sent to “Disneyland.”

At 41 inches (104 cm) in height, “Rabbit” was auctioned from the collection of deceased publishing mogul S.I. Newhouse. Before his death in 2017, his empire included Conde Nast, which published magazines like Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Alexander Rotter, chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, said after the auction that “Rabbit” is “the most important piece by Jeff Koons and I want to go even a step further and say the most important sculpture of the second half of the 20th century.”

Rotter said the sculpture is the antithesis of “the perfect man,” Michelangelo’s “David,” which was “carved by one of the greatest artists of all time with a chisel, out of one block of the purest white marble.’

“It’s the end of sculpture. It’s the anti-‘David,’ as I call it,” he said, referring to Michelangelo’s masterpiece. “You can’t go any further away from ‘David,’ still being figurative and a traditional sculpture.”

The sale was a new triumph for the controversial artist, who since his emergence in the 1980s has been the subject of endless conversation over his work’s commercial and artistic value.

He has raised eyebrows throughout his career, particularly with paintings and sculptures depicting him having sex with Italian film star Cicciolina, to whom he was married between 1991 and 1994.

Arriving in New York in 1976, Koon has built up a studio that at its height in 2015 employed more than 100 artisans tasked with meeting his exacting standards.