The work was an immediate hit. As Kirk Varnedoe, the former curator at MoMA, recalled later to Vanity Fair: “There are just a few occasions in my art experience in New York where I’ve been sort of knocked dead by an object instantly.”
The New Yorker profile of Koons, published in 2003, cited the late Varnedoe’s reaction to the work as well. Varnedoe had said it was “one of those very rare hits at the exact center of the target.” It was, he said, “a piece where a ton of contradictions (about the artist, about the time) are fused with shocking, deadpan economy into an unforgettable ingot.”
Why exactly it was so gripping was, at first, simply due to its aesthetic power.
“Another aspect of the rabbit that makes it so iconic is the incredible balance that Koons achieves between the tremendous specificity of the casting—the fine detailing of the crimps, the puckers of the plastic—with its abstraction: the blankness of the face, the missing printing on the vinyl,” Rothkopf said. “The tension that he creates between fine detail on the one hand, and a blankness on the other, is incredibly mesmerizing.”
In a review of the 1986 Sonnabend Gallery show that ran the same month as it opened, Roberta Smith said of Rabbit: “In stainless steel, it provides a dazzling update on Brancusi’s perfect forms, even as it turns the hare into a space-invader of unknown origin.” She also noted the force of its transformation—this gorgeous, gaze-grabbing object “once made of inflatable plastic.”