Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2017 © Jeff Koons. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging.


Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2017 © Jeff Koons. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging.

Jeff Koons Upon Reflection
May 29, 2017

Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina, 2017 © Jeff Koons. Photo by Tom Powel Imaging.

BY Alison McDonald

May 29, 2017

With each new partnership, each new initiative, we take another step toward our goal of making the world safer for children.
—Maura Harty, President and Chief Executive Officer at International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

International Missing Children’s Day was May 25. President Ronald Reagan originally set the day aside in 1983 for recognition in the US, and in 2001 it expanded to twenty-two countries as an international tribute. Every year the movement continues to grow. It is a global way to honor and respect children who have gone missing, celebrate those who have been recovered, and raise awareness.

Jeff Koons, who has worked tirelessly as an advocate for children’s rights for over fifteen years, has created a 45-foot tall inflatable version of a Seated Ballerina sculpture for Rockefeller Center to mark the occasion. This is his third monumental presentation at New York’s iconic landmark since Puppy (1992) premiered there in 2000, followed by Split-Rocker (2000) in 2014. While a stainless steel version of the sculpture from Koons’s Antiquity series is currently on view at Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery, it premiered in April 2016 outside the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires. In fact, the outpouring of support from that first presentation was so inspiring that Koons decided to enlarge the figure as an inflatable for this occasion.

This work marks a first for Koons, as he has never before colored his highly reflective mirrored surfaces with gradations of tones rather than solid, saturated hues. Koons himself has said, “I hope the installation of Seated Ballerina at Rockefeller Center offers a sense of affirmation and excitement to the viewer. The aspect of reflectivity emulates life’s energy; it’s about contemplation and what it means to be a human being. It’s a very hopeful piece.” This spirit of positivity is a quality the artist often seeks, which can only be amplified, at this scale and in this most public of places.

It is well known that Koons’s work has strong ties to art history, and in fact those connections are very direct with this Antiquity series. Yet this particular sculpture, which has been described as a “contemporary iteration of the goddess Venus,” also has very clear ties to more readily accessible objects of beauty. In fact, the immediate source for the Seated Ballerina sculpture is not a work by Leonardo or Bernini but rather a turn of the last century porcelain figurine, not unlike the kind that many young children collect and keep precious.

An affinity for childhood is well documented as a theme that is prevalent throughout Koons’s oeuvre. Perhaps that theme resonates most strongly in his Celebration series and, since this installation at Rockefeller Center is being hosted as an effort to raise public awareness about positive work being done internationally to protect children, it is important to note that Koons’s Celebration series was borne out of an intense desire for him to reconnect with his son, who was abducted to Italy by his mother in 1994. The incident was clearly difficult and emotionally charged, to say the least. At that time there was no international agency in place to help Koons navigate the complex legalities involved between countries, as jurisdiction over a custody case that was split between the US (from where the child was taken) and Italy (to where the child was taken) was absolutely unclear. Koons used his artwork as a way to communicate and maintain a belief in humanity.

Koons’s life and art was changed forever. And now, over twenty years later, it’s also clear that his own personal tragedy as a left behind parent has directed Koons to passionately advocate for the rights of children around the world, to raise funds and heighten awareness.


We are so lucky to have Jeff and Justine Koons as a large part of our organization. They and their network of friends have been incredibly philanthropic—we simply couldn’t do the work we do without their support.
—Leah Fraley, Director of Marketing and Development at International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

Jeff Koons has long been exceptionally dedicated to the work being done by the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC). In 2002 he became a board member and in 2007 he founded the Koons Family Institute, which is the critically important research arm of ICMEC. In short, the research done by the Institute provides the map that guides ICMEC strategy and helps them determine how, where, and when they can be most effective. For the past eighteen years, since it was founded in 1999, ICMEC has worked tirelessly to combat child exploitation, and to protect children from heinous crimes. Most recently they have focused efforts on global problems related to children who go missing. They have established partnerships with over 122 countries and worked to enhance communication, share successful methods of outreach, educate first responders, support law enforcement, and advocate for a legal system that can respond swiftly.

The project is presented by Kiehl’s and Art Production Fund and hosted by Tishman Speyer. Koons has also created a limited edition Seated Ballerina tin for the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Collection. Kiehl’s will donate 100% of its net profits from the collection, up to $100,000, to directly benefit ICMEC. This will be the fourth partnership between Koons, ICMEC, and Kiehl’s, and their collaborations have raised approximately $700,000 in an effort to create safer, sustainable, and positive environments for children. Real change.

The message here is: Hope. Through his art Koons always aims to make a connection that draws the viewer into his work. But that potential for connection is echoed here by his wide reaching efforts to help protect children all over the world.

Jeff Koons's Seated Ballerina is on view at Rockefeller Center, New York through Friday, June 23, 2017.