In Paris on Friday, Jeff Koons finally unveiled Bouquet of Tulips, his public monument to the 130 people killed in the 2015 terrorist attack carried out in the French capital. The project was delayed by three years due to quarrels over its location. Now that the 34-ton, sculpture is finally in situ, like much of Koons’s oeuvre, Bouquet of Tulips is provoking strong opinions.
The 41-foot bronze, stainless steel, and aluminum sculpture delivers Koons’s signature kitsch style as it depicts a massive Caucasian hand holding 11 balloon tulips. The bouquet is one shy of a dozen, as the missing twelfth represents the victims of the attacks.
In January of 2018, the French daily paper Libération published an op-ed signed by 24 French cultural figures denouncing the sculpture and noting that it had no symbolic connection with the Paris attacks. The strongly-worded letter refers to the work as “opportunistic” and “cynical.” The former is most likely in reference to the fact that Koons only donated the idea of the work; while the €3.5 million ($3.8 million) needed to fund the sculpture were raised by private, tax-free donations. That said, when the project went $1 million over budget, Koons paid that tab out of pocket. The artist also promised to donate 80 percent of all royalties received from commercial products depicting the sculpture to the victim’s families, with the other 20 percent going toward maintenance of the work.
The BBC gathered many of the opinions expressed about Bouquet of Tulips, noting that the work has been called “awful,” “grotesque,” and “pornographic.” While some have compared the tulip bulbs to colorful marshmallows, the philosopher Yves Michaud compared them to “eleven coloured anuses mounted on stems” in the French paper L’Obs.
However, not all reactions have been negative. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called the work a “beautiful gift” and “a magnificent symbol of freedom and friendship.” Patricia Correia, whose daughter was killed in the attacks, told the Associated Press that she views it as “a very strong testament between the two countries,” adding that it “represents the colors of life, the roots which are here and continue growing despite all the tragic events we went through.”
For more extreme interpretations, look no further than Twitter.