18 Wooster Street
Jeffrey Deitch: Jeff Koons is the artist with whom I’ve had the closest dialogue and the strongest friendship during my four decades in the art world. In December 2004, Justine Koons asked if I might consider hosting Jeff Koons’s fiftieth birthday party. There were a number of people who offered to host a party for Jeff, but Justine thought it would be most appropriate for me to be the host, in recognition of my long friendship with Jeff.
In keeping with the gallery’s tradition that everything is an art project, we decided to create a party that would also be an art performance. Inspired by the art of Jeff Koons, we put together a plan that would transform our gallery space into “Koons World.” We arranged to get the original inflatable models for Jeff’s current sculptures from the studio and hung lots of lobsters and Incredible Hulks from the gallery ceiling. We brought in Jeff’s famous sculpture Bear and Policeman (1988) from my own collection and displayed it at the entrance of the gallery, and we installed an image of Jeff’s famous piece The New Jeff Koons (1980) on the entrance wall. On the largest wall of the gallery, there was a projection of images from Jeff’s history, starting with baby pictures. We invited two hundred of Jeff’s artistic colleagues and the great dealers, collectors, and curators who had worked with him over the years. And it was a surprise party! That was the biggest challenge—Jeff was completely unaware that two hundred of his closest friends, colleagues, and family were at the gallery waiting to celebrate him.
Suzanne Geiss: Justine and I arranged that she and Jeff would book a hotel room at the SoHo Grand for the night. Before going to dinner to kick off their special night together, Justine recommended that they visit Jeffrey at the office. Little did Jeff know, we had spotters with walkie-talkies all along the street trying to ready the guests inside for his arrival. We organized all of his favorite music—mostly Led Zepplin and classic rock—to be played by a jazz band the moment he walked in. He was completely stunned—or at least he pretended to be! I heard that somebody leaked a “See you tomorrow night” the day before—I think it was David Salle. We also had Jeff’s favorite food.
JD: Yes! We went to the Lure Fishbar in SoHo and asked if they could create a menu based on Jeff’s favorite food: tuna burgers. The tuna burgers were so successful at the party that they were later added permanently to the Lure Fishbar menu.
SG: And we had some very special guests, too.
JD: One significant partygoer was the legendary dealer Ileana Sonnabend. It was one of the last times she attended a public event.
SG: And we had one unexpected well-wisher. We couldn’t hear the gallery telephone over all the dinner noises. During the speeches, I walked over to the telephone and I saw that it was ringing incessantly, which is unusual for 10 PM. I picked up the phone, and I instantly recognized the voice yelling at me: “I’ve been ringing this number over and over again, no one is picking up. I need to speak to Jeff Koons!” It was Robert De Niro! So, in the middle of the speeches, I ran over to Jeff and told him that Robert De Niro was on the phone and seemed really anxious to say “Happy Birthday.” We scrambled to get him on speakerphone, but it didn’t work, unfortunately.
JD: I didn’t know that happened. Wow.
SG: It was exciting! But then the surprise got even better.
JD: Two really special elements of the dinner were the Jeff Koons–style cakes.
SG: First, we had a cake by Sylvia Weinstock—she’s the most incredible cake maker in New York, and she made a one-to-one, perfect rendering of Jeff’s Cake painting (1995–97). It was huge! That was element number one. Next, Justine stood up after the speeches and announced that there was one more surprise. The 18 Wooster Street garage door opened and in walked a full marching band from New Jersey led by miniature ponies. The band was playing Jeff’s favorite song, “Kashmir.” And he loves mini ponies! Following this wild procession, an enormous sculpture of a Koons-style birthday cake rolled in through the door. As the band transitioned from “Kashmir” to “Happy Birthday,” a woman in a skimpy outfit jumped out and balloons dropped from the ceiling!
JD: Marc Jacobs, who was at the dinner, appropriated the marching band for his next runway show.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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