HUO: I wanted to ask you about collecting in the broader sense. You, of course, collect some of your own work, but you also collect art that is from the past. I always found it interesting to look at your collection with works from and Dalí. It was very beautiful one time when I asked you why you collect these amazing pieces from the past—you said the main reason was that you wanted your children to grow up seeing these works every day. Can you tell us a little about that?
JK: If you believe in the works, it’s a way of protecting them, of assuming the responsibility that they’re around for the future. The actual participation of enjoying a work or being able to find meaning in a work isn’t associated with the ownership. It’s just the possibility to interact with it. I have eight children, but I have six small children at home. My wife, Justine, is an artist. But I always wanted the children to think of us as mom and dad. I wanted the art world to always be open, that they would feel as though they can participate in that realm, that there’s a space for them. So they live with everybody’s work except for ours. They come to the studio and they’re aware of what we do. But I think it’s been very positive because they’re all very engaged with art. My youngest son, who’s five, really has a vision that he wants to become an artist; that’s what he wants to do. And it’s amazing because he’s already developed a personal iconography and it’s really powerful. But when they think of art, they’ll think of Dalí or they’ll think of
or Courbet, anybody other than mom and dad.
HUO: That, of course, leads us to the importance of children to your art. You once said that when we are younger, we are more open. We aren’t judgmental.
JK: That’s why I work with the type of imagery that I work with, because of its association with childhood. It has to do with that act of acceptance, that everything is in play and you can enjoy something just for what it is. There’s no hierarchy. You can just enjoy your materialism, the directness of texture, the visual stimulation. There’s no judgement, it’s just pure acceptance. The color blue for blue, green for green, the joy of the senses and interacting with the world.
HUO: And maybe last but not least, since we talked about children, I wanted to ask about your philanthropy? You’re very involved with children’s causes around the world.
JK: I’ve always been involved in a lot of different causes, AIDS and other issues. But I was a left-behind parent. My ex-wife abducted my son and took him to a different culture. So then I got involved in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington. I realized that I was never going to get my son home, even though I’d won custody in the States. It was never going to be enforced, so I really wanted to try and help other people. I got involved in the center and also formed the Koons Family Institute, which has helped pass over 100 laws internationally to protect the rights of children. I’m very fortunate to be in a place, like many of us in the art world, where we can experience devastating things and recreate our lives. Financially, in the mid-’90s, I was picked up and shaken upside down until I had nothing left in my pockets. I had to walk to my studio. I didn’t have a dime. But we’re fortunate enough that we can recreate ourselves. We can recreate our lives. There are a lot of people out there that can’t do that. And, so, that was really my motivating force to try to help a lot of those families.