But where appalled guests saw the loss of a $42,000 work of art, Stephen Gamson, an artist and collector who witnessed the sculpture’s fall, saw a priceless piece of history. art. He now hopes to add every fraction of the squashed “Balloon Dog (Blue)” — a 2021 work that stood just over a foot tall — to a personal collection of ephemera that includes Roy Lichtenstein’s Ruler, The Gate of the Kenny Scharf’s refrigerator and “several brush paintings by famous artists,” Gamson told The Washington Post.
“To me, it’s like a kid collecting baseball cards,” Gamson said. “I’m really into it, and when you’re so passionate, even broken parts or damaged parts are valuable to you.”
And Gamson isn’t the only one interested in acquiring the broken pieces, according to Bel-Air Fine Art, the contemporary art gallery showcasing the sculpture. In a statement to The Post on Tuesday, the gallery’s district manager, Cédric Boero, said “some collectors have offered to buy the fragments and we are still receiving offers as we speak.”
Gamson said he knew he had set eyes on something special the moment he saw the artwork atop a transparent pedestal. “Oh look, there’s a Jeff Koons balloon dog,” Gamson told a friend. “And just as I was saying that, a woman walked up to the booth, and I saw it all shatter.”
The reaction was a mixture of confusion and surprise, he said. Dozens of people with completely shocked looks surrounded the metal remains. Others pulled out their phones to record the “simply unheard of” incident, Gamson said. A refrain of “Oh my God!” echoed in the air.
“I can’t believe anyone could reverse this,” one man said in a clip from the sequel shared by Gamson.
“Now see, that’s the new art installation over there…because everything is art, isn’t it?” joked a woman.
“It’s the most popular booth at the whole fair,” added another man.
As workers brushed the porcelain pieces into dustpans, some wondered if they were in the middle of a Banksy-inspired prank or a taped-banana shenanigans, Gamson said.
Banksy tried to destroy his art after it sold for $1.4 million. The shredded version just cost $25.4 million.
The explanation was much simpler: Boero, who ran the gallery’s stand on Thursday, said the sculpture flew away after a woman “unintentionally kicked” its pedestal. The loss will be covered by insurance, he added.
“Those kinds of things happen,” said Steven Keller, Florida-based security consultant for museums and cultural sites, “and often it’s because people aren’t careful enough and because they can be incredibly naive about art.”
While outright destruction of artwork is rare, Keller said instances that produce lesser damage are not uncommon. In his 40 years of working with more than 950 institutions, Keller said he’s seen people turn historic sculptures on their pedestals to take better selfies or rub their fingers up and down the priceless masterpieces. But even then, museums tend to have systems in place to protect exhibits, unlike galleries and art fairs.
“You can put these pieces in a display case, that would be a solution,” Keller said. “But when something is for sale, they take a chance because they don’t want to diminish its spectacular appearance for someone who might be there to buy it.”
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Art Wynwood declined to comment on the incident. In a press release, he said the event featured pieces from 50 international galleries, including Bel-Air Fine Art, which always has listings for an assortment of Koons’ balloon creations, including a monkey, a dog and a swan.
But even though he won’t be able to own a (full) balloon dog, Gamson still relishes the added layers of meaning that the fall brought to the sculpture. Perhaps, he said, it would even inject some inspiration into his own pop art style pieces.
“Maybe the fact that we can still value (the sculpture) means something good comes out of every bad situation,” Gamson said. “Or maybe the crazy attention all of this is getting means people will pay more attention to the arts in our country, which can really make someone’s life better, you know?”
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Koons, who in 2019 set a record for the most expensive work sold at auction by a living artist, first conceptualized balloons as art for his 1994 “Celebration” series. The inflatable animals, which are displayed in shades of magenta, blue, red, orange and yellow, are “eternally optimistic” and representative of humanity, Koons said in 2014. But they’ve already been damaged – and also found new life.
After another balloon dog was broken in 2008, it became a feature of the Salvage Art Institute traveling museum, which has an inventory of damaged artwork. When The Post in 2013 asked the artist if broken art can still be perfect, Koons said, “You can find a hierarchy of the meaning of different things, but not the value, of being. Everything is perfect for what it is.
Now the world has one less balloon dog. Boero said the recently broken one, one of a series of 799s, was in a box awaiting review by an insurance company to pass it on to its next owner.