koons-popeye-m koons-popeye-m
Fine Art

Some Lucky Person Will Pay $25 Million Tonight For Jeff Koons’s Popeye [UPDATED]

Tonight in New York City, Sotheby’s will auction a stainless steel, 2000-pound, six-and-a-half-foot-tall Popeye sculpture by Jeff Koons that is estimated to sell for between $25-35 million. Koons, who is already among the top three richest living American artists not to mention an avowed lover of Croods, made three of these Popeye sculptures, which probably represents the number of people who he thinks are dumb enough to pay between $25-35 million for a Popeye sculpture.

RELATED: Did Jeff Koons Just Make $28 Million By Plagiarizing A Dark Horse Popeye Toy?

Here’s what Sotheby’s has to say about the piece:

Alex Rotter, Co-Head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Contemporary Art Department, commented: “The history of Pop Art begins and ends with Popeye. From his first representations by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in the 1960s, to the present three-dimensional crescendo by Jeff Koons a half century later, this ultimate American hero and self-made man has remained a true icon of both art history and popular culture.”

Originally conceived in 1929 as part of a newspaper comic-strip, Popeye grew to the status of cultural phenomenon amidst the adversities of the Great Depression. Resolutely ordinary, yet tough, resilient, confident and super-strong, Popeye personified the American dream in a time of worldwide hardship, which helped propel the character to national fame and popularity. Though now over 80 years old, the all-American cartoon hero remains universally famous across the globe.

While Koons began referencing Popeye in his work in the early 2000s, it was not until 2009 – amidst a new financial crisis nearly a century following the Great Depression – that Koons would re-appropriate this American champion in heroic sculptural form, as an icon for the new millennium. Herculean in stance, with outrageously proportioned muscles and a proud cleft-chin, the resulting Popeye is three-dimensional and over-life-size, incarnated in Koons’s signature material: stainless steel.

Click for larger version.

Note that the subtitles on the auction video above are in Chinese. Sotheby’s and Koons, who is a celebrity in China, are targeting nouveau riche Chinese as buyers for the piece. Everything from the incongruous Dixieland music at the end of the video to the curator’s comments trumps up the notion that Popeye is a 100% American symbol:

“He’s the David that challenges Goliath so it was very easy to associate yourself with the little guy that becomes very powerful and beats up the big guy and saves the girl. He’s the ultimate American hero; it’s the ultimate American dream.”

The underlying subtext is, of course, highly anti-American. To a potential Chinese buyer who views himself as the David of the world, he sees Popeye ephemera as the opportunity to take symbolic ownership of the American dream. A cartoon hunting trophy, if you will. When you think of it that way, the price of the sculpture is actually quite reasonable; Koons is selling off the American dream for a mere $25 million.

Let’s just hope the buyer doesn’t find out that Popeye hates Asians.

Here’s a few more close-up views of the piece:

Click for larger version.
Click for larger version.

UPDATE #1: Popeye was kept out of Chinese hands by casino owner and art destroyer Steve Wynn who paid $28.2 million for the Koons sculpture. He was the sole bidder and plans to display the piece at one of his Las Vegas hotels.

  • Mike

    Looks like something you’d see in Sky Mall.

  • julian

    besides the price and “theory” about it… the thing looks preety well done! and by some one who understand what cartoony is. I doubt it was crafted by the guy who put the signature on it though…

    • TStevens

      Koons has a large group of artisans working for him. Last I heard, he basically did the designing and left the manufacturing to his team. Here is a link to an Art21 episode that goes into his studio.


      He tries to avoid the moniker “factory” but it seems pretty obvious.

  • Mark C

    What’s up with that pose? Popeye gonna turd or what?

  • Emperors new Clothes.

    Koons is a scam artist. Who in their right mind would pay for this crap?

    • Derpy

      Yeah, because surely when someone buys it there’s going to be no chance to make a return on that money. And of course there’s no chance for this to be an investment of any kind, because, you know, life is simple and things are ‘crap.’

      • Yep.

        You got it Derpy.

      • Rufus

        Life is complicated and simple at the same time, and this is certainly crap.

  • Chicken McPhee

    Now I’ve seen everything.

  • Joe

    It seems weird to me that every animated clip they chose is not of Popeye in his traditional sailor suit.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Given the clips alone, they went the safe “Public Domain” route here. They could have used “The Paneless Window Washer”, “I Never Changes My Altitude” or “A Date To Skate” instead.

  • AC

    DANG! That’s an insane amount but I’m happy to see Popeye is that appreciated, ha.

  • rufus3698

    I’ve seen much worst “art” sold for outrageous prices. I just don’t know if this piece has 25 million worth of ironic content or not.

  • Mortimer

    Koons, I’ll gladly pay you tuesday for a Popeye today (hey, maybe he’ll fall for it).

    I like the sculpting of it. The pose is great and the forms are spot on. I would pay around $25-35 for a nicely painted figurine of this.

  • Kris Åsard

    Whenever pop-artists do this sort of comics “appropriation” schtick, we should investigate weather they’ve actually licensed the likeness of the character from a syndicate, or if they’ve just pirated it.

  • Jack

    This is ridiculous.

  • Vic

    28 million to Steve Wynn. So it will end up in a casino restaurant or lobby, where it should fit right in.

    • richardstarr

      Copyright laws might prevent public display since its not license by the copyright holders AFAIK.

  • For the price it is worth contemplating is entirely possible.
    The image of a familiar character and that’s what it’s power as manifested.

  • Mathias

    I would have a hard time paying $25 for this.

  • PRicey

    I would love nothing more than to hear Jeff Koons justification for the price.

  • OtherDan

    So, who owns the rights to receive all that mula?

  • AmidAmidi

    When did those figurines come out? It’s impossible to tell without seeing both the figurine and sculpture in person, but it certainly looks like a 1:1 copy with zero deviation. Koons did a painting in 2008 called “Triple Popeye” (below) which uses the same pose. Do these toys predate 2008?

    • AmidAmidi

      I’m going to answer my own question: the set came out in 2002! http://www.darkhorse.com/Products/11-672/Popeye-PVC-Set

      • Chris Sobieniak

        At least the internet’s there for us to find out!

    • Rufus

      That is the single laziest ‘painting’ i’ve ever seen.

      Selling sand to gophers. This Koons is not only a lazy hack with no taste, he’s also an intellectual property thief.

      Are you sure that’s a ‘painting’ and anot a 2 minute photoshop montage?

  • JodyMorgan

    People consistently underestimate Derpy’s intelligence.

  • JodyMorgan

    Plagiarism? A lowly cartoonist like Steve Des–whatshisname should be honored to have his work transformed into fine art by such a genius as Jeff Koons!

    Sarcasm aside, I wonder if this is legally actionable, and who would be in the best position to act if that is the case. Also, how the heck did I miss this set when it came out? The only way it could’ve been better is if it also included the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon!

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Character rights still belong to King Features/Hearst technically.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    This is typical of the art world I’m glad not to be a part of (yet).

  • George Comerci

    Even if it wasn’t plagiarized, I definitely wouldn’t buy it. And I definitely wouldn’t spend $28 million on it…who would?