Bread City Basketball


Jeff Koons’ Basketball Poster Switch-Up

The Costacos Brothers’ awesome 1980s sports posters were hung on bedroom walls across the country with scotch tape and awe. And in 1985, they were also hung in a gallery by Jeff Koons, who went on to sell them for hundreds of thousands of dollars as his own work.

Call it a hostile art takeover. How else could Koons manage to appropriate six of the Costacos’ well-known basketball posters for Equilibrium, his first solo show? It was easy. He went to Nike, bought the rights for an undisclosed amount, and started printing the certificates of authenticity.

Curators can spin Koons’ conceptual power move this way and that. But here’s the real deal, straight from his 1992 Taschen book: “It’s about artists using art for social mobility…white middle-class kids have been using art the same way that other ethnic groups have been using basketball — for social mobility.”

In contemporary art and basketball, big personalities rule. Koons saw something of himself in the Costacos Brothers’ one-shot athlete mythologies. He indulged this superstar artist fantasy by finding a way to justify flipping the posters as his own product.

From the perspective of today’s age of 24/7 internet image curation, where support for authorship is zilch, the whole story doesn’t seem that shocking. The idea of cool images being re-contextualized is familiar to anyone who knows understands what “re-blog” means. But how many re-blogs have you heard of netting $150,000 at Christies?

Tracking down the Equilibrium posters on the web is difficult, these days. After all, creating scarcity is a key element of how Koons transformed them into expensive art objects. So like bedroom sunlight faded so many Costacos posters over the years, every blog hit devalues Koons’ work a tiny bit more. Enjoy.

Jeff Koons Basketball Poster

Jeff Koons Secretary of Defense



Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, by Jeff Koons

Enclosed in the watery vitrines, the basketballs become idealised objects which may refer to nostalgia or ambition – either way they are unattainable… Over a period of six months the balls gradually sink to the bottom of the tank and have to be reset. Because of this, they may be seen as representing transience, human frailty and vulnerability to change in fortune.

-Elizabeth Manchester on Jeff Koons’ seminal 1985 basketball sculpture

Jeff Koons Spalding Sculpture