Jeff Koons

DALLAS — Jeff Koons may be one of the most collaborative and commercial artists in history, but showing up in stores to sell the goods is not really his thing.

Nonetheless, he made the effort Monday, spending the afternoon and evening at Neiman Marcus’ downtown flagship for the U.S. introduction of his red Balloon Rabbit, blue Balloon Monkey and yellow Balloon Swan as limited-edition porcelain figures produced by Bernardaud.

“I am fortunate to have different opportunities to work with people, but I’m usually in my studio focusing on the painting and sculpture on a different scale, so when I do work with a company it’s really quite a special activity,” Koons said.

The soft-spoken artist met with media, visited with public relations managers who happened to be in town from all 42 stores, and signed cards for purchasers at a cocktail party hosted by Neiman’s chief executive officer Karen Katz and senior vice president and fashion director Ken Downing.

Rendered in a greenish yellow, the Balloon Swan has particular resonance for the artist.

“The first artwork I ever made as a child was a swan,” he said. “It was ceramic, and I had such a hard time to be able to get the curve of the neck and the symmetry of the wings. I still have the sculpture. When I decided to make the [steel balloon] swan, it took 10 years to make the large-scale one. It has all these details to give it this believability. So I think I finally got the swan right.”

Neiman’s has the three figures, which sell for $9,500, exclusively in the U.S. until June 30. In addition, the chain is also selling $9,000 pink and yellow Balloon Dog plates by Bernardaud.

Michel Bernardaud, ceo and the fifth generation of the family business, approached Koons about a collaboration back in 2000. They set about creating his Split Rocker as a vase — a project that took 10 years to engineer.

Similarly, it took at least three years to develop small versions of the shiny, blemish-free balloon animals that were originally crafted in steel.

“We had to reinvent the entire process,” Bernardaud said, citing development of a new clay, precious mineral glazes, production in a sterile environment and other processes. “It’s always important to push your limits, and the collaboration with Jeff has been a really challenging one for us because there is no room for imperfection.”

Clearly, it was worth the effort.

The Koons pieces “sell very well,” Bernardaud said.

The artist has visited Dallas only twice before, once to speak at the Nasher Sculpture Center and Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and another to take his son to the rodeo for his fifth birthday.

While Koons wears Theory shirts and canvas jeans in his studio, he invariably dons suits for public appearances. Monday’s was handmade by David August.

“And I wear Louis Vuitton and Dior,” he added.

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