On one hand as an art historian, it’s difficult to discuss this piece of “art,” but on the other hand, it truly has made an impact on the history of art, even in less than three decades. Please be aware of the mature content to follow.
Pink Panther is a porcelain sculpture that was made by Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons in 1988. It stands just under three feet tall. It is a topless woman, modeled after 1950s sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, who has the Pink Panther slung over her shoulder concealing one of her breasts and her hand cupping her other breast. Her head is tilted back, her hair is big and bright and she has a worry-free look on her face. She wears gaudy, gold jewelry and has a pink bow in her hair.
So what is the meaning of this? Koons famously once said of this piece, “Pink Panther is about masturbation. I don’t know what she would be doing with the Pink Panther other than taking it home to masturbate with.” This piece was first exhibited at a show among many other works by Koons that center around desire and sex.
This sculpture is an example of kitsch, which can be defined as mass-produced art that appeals to lowbrow taste. When Koons created this artwork, and other kitsch pieces, he knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn’t trying to create high art. Koons’s intention is to take advantage of the absurdity of the art market, and he did just this. Koons made three of these exact same sculptures and one of them sold for over $1.8 million in 1999. One edition was also auctioned off in 2011, and although it still went for less than expected, the buyer paid more than $16 million for it. Talk about absurd!
The purpose of creating Pink Panther was to make money, and that he did. In an ironic twist, Koons actually elevate his kitschy sculpture into high art because of its success and popularity in the art market. This is what makes discussing pieces such as these so controversial for myself as an art historian.
Koons is devoted to money and success. In a strategy similar to that of Andy Warhol, Koons creates controversy, which brings him success, although sometimes brings tension as well.
One of these three sculptures is now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.