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Inside the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night, a sold-out crowd enjoyed a rather unusual conversation between John Waters and Jeff Koons, two artists whose careers have made waves among the so-called arbiters of taste (whomever they may be) since their humble Baltimore beginnings many decades ago.
Here are 10 bizarre facts we learned at Monday night’s discussion, the latest in the “Un-Private Collection” series hosted by the Broad Foundation and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.
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1. Jeff Koons gives all credit for his artistic ambition to Led Zeppelin.
When Waters asked Koons about his early life as an artist, Koons could not recall any visual artists who inspired him. “When I heard Led Zeppelin, it was a changing moment for me in my life,” he said. “I learned a lot about feeling through Zeppelin.”
2. Koons was an art student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore — the same time Waters was there shooting Pink Flamingos (1972).
They never met, but they did window-shop at the same furniture store, Stanley’s, which inspired the aesthetic of Pink Flamingos and possibly — Waters’ hypothesis — Koons’ Wishing Well mirror sculpture.
3. As a child, Koons was aroused by a porcelain ashtray in his grandparents’ library that depicted a woman lying down with her legs in the air.
“The experience of enjoying that little ashtray was as wonderful in its own being as the Pieta,” he said, as the crowd tittered at the comparison.
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4. Koons sometimes feels “sexually stimulated” when looking at his own art.
When discussing his well-known work Inflatable Flower and Bunny, for example, Koons observed that “a carrot to the mouth is like an orator, like how I’m speaking into a microphone, but it’s also a symbol of masturbation.”
5. When Koons looks at a vacuum cleaner, he sees sexual orifices.
The first Koons work that Waters ever saw was Flourescent-Lighted Vacuum Cleaners at an exhibit in New York City’s Soho. Though Waters said he appreciated the piece, he did not offer his own take on household-appliance-as-sex-object.
6. Waters does not approve of people riding dolphins (except in art).
“I’m against people riding dolphins,” he proclaimed when discussing the Koons piece Antiquity 3. “Get your lard ass off those things!”
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7. Waters’ mom and Koons’ aunt were in the same retirement community, until they both passed away recently.
Not only were the ladies friends, they were bridge partners too, who enjoyed swapping stories about their colorful son and nephew.
8. Koons likens DreamWorks’ The Croods to Plato.
After seeing the Oscar-nominated film, Koons fired off a fan letter to Jeffrey Katzenberg, linking The Croods to “the philosophy of Plato‘s cave,” which was then reprinted in The Wall Street Journal. The artist is apparently very big on Plato. When a question came from the audience asking who are his favorite literary figures, Koons cited Plato and Kierkegaard, which elicited a few snickers from the audience.
9. Lady Gaga told Koons she used to smoke pot in Central Park and talk about his art.
Apparently Gaga approached Koons, who was seated with Miuccia Prada at the Met Gala several years ago, to tell him this story. Next thing he knew, Koons was designing the artwork for her album ARTPOP.
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10. Waters has figured out what success means.
“Buying all the books you want without looking at the price, and never having to be around assholes.”
Hopefully, he considered this evening a success.
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