Koons is most expensive living artist at auction

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The Independent US

Jeff Koons overtook Damien Hirst to become the world's most expensive living artist at auction when his Hanging Heart sculpture fetched £11.3m at a Sotheby's sale in New York yesterday.

The 9ft-tall sculpture was created in stainless steel and consists of a giant heart, weighing 3,500lbs (1,600kg), suspended from the ceiling by two delicate gilded strands and hovering 16 inches (40cm) from the floor. The sculpture took 10 years to complete and was bought by the United States-based Gagosian Gallery. It is one of five uniquely coloured versions of the work from Koons' Celebration series.

The previous auction record was for Hirst's pill cabinet, Lullaby Spring, which sold for nearly £10m at Sotheby's in June. Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, entitled For the Love of God, remains the most expensive creation by a living artist. It was sold for £50m in a private sale in August.

Koons, a Pennsylvanian who has gained as much notoriety as adulation for his artwork over the decades, is seen by some to have provided inspiration for the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s.

Gaining prominence in the 1980s, he set up a factory-like studio in the SoHo district of New York and employed more than 30 staff for help in producing his work, in a similar style to Andy Warhol's famous "Factory".

Much like Hirst's work would do a decade later, Koons's early conceptual sculptures shocked and delighted in equal measure, including his large stainless steel blow-ups of toys and a series entitled Banality, which culminated in 1988 with Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a life-size, gold leaf-plated statue of the singer cuddling his pet chimpanzee, which was apparently the world's largest ceramic. It sold in 1991 for $5.6m, tripling Koons's previous sale record. This technique for enlarging mundane objects has also emerged in aspects of Hirst's work, including Hymn, an 18ft version of a 14-inch anatomical toy.

Cheyenne Westphal, the chair of contemporary art of Sotheby's in Europe, said it was clear that Hirst was an admirer of Koons' work. In an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, which showcased highlights from Hirst's own art collection, there were several pieces by Koons. "If you look at Koons' early work, such as his Hoovers and tanks, there is a direct correlation between this and Damien Hirst's work with formaldehyde. There's a very strong affinity between the two artists," she said.

In an era when artists were not regarded as "stars", Koons went to great lengths to cultivate his public persona by employing an image consultant and placing advertisements in international art magazines featuring photographs of himself surrounded by the trappings of success.

During personal appearances and interviews, Koons began referring to himself in the third person. His personal life continued to create controversy when he married the Hungarian-born porn star Ilona Staller and worked on Made in Heaven, a series of paintings, photographs and sculptures that portrayed the couple in explicit sexual positions.

His work has been bought by galleries and collectors around the world as well as Hollywood celebrities. His sculpture of a West Highland terrier is displayed outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and other works have been bought by the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

At the same sale, Francis Bacon's painting Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1, which he completed at the Royal College of Art in London in 1969, sold for £22.1m, more than £5m higher than its estimate, and his Self Portrait, painted when he was 60, sold for a £16m, more than double its estimated value. The total value of the sale was £152m.

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