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Jeff Koons, Puppy (1995)

November 3, 2012

Even as he maintains his emolient sales pitch for rich customers, it is worth bearing in mind the real world catastophe at which Jeff Koons’ puppy was at the centre.

This piece of inoffensive topiary is as cuddly as any 43ft high sculpture could ever be. Containing 60,000 plants it is said to be a piece about happiness and love .

But even as Koons declared this to be the case, pooch showed a darker side. It played a bit part in the killing of a Spanish policeman in 1997; it almost claimed the life of the Spanish king.

Joes Maria Aguirre was the unfortunate policeman who challenged three overalled gardeners, all bearing flowerpots, who appeared ready to tend to Koons’ sculpture.

One of them shot him dead. It wasn’t quite the way Bilbao officials had intended the inauguration of the city’s new contemporary art museum to unfold.

The gardeners worked for ETA. Their flowerpots contained grenades. A fire fight broke out and moved downtown. The ’gardeners’ stole three cars at gunpoint.

The episode is like something from the pages of a thriller. Art historians will no doubt love it in years to come, just as today they love the murderous life of Caravaggio.

And say what you like about ETA, but they engaged with Koons’ giant puppy with a certain wiley humour. It was a definitive rejection of the artist’s kitsch embrace.

But a friend recently told me about an interesting coda to events at the opening of the Guggenheim. The alleged triggerman turned up in 2011 in Cambridge, UK.

This to me is especially surreal as I grew up in the university town and am familiar with the Arbury estate where Eneko Gogeaskoetxea Arronategui lived.

To his colleagues at an IT firm he was family man Cyril Macq. He was also a squash fanatic and club treasurer. He never spoke politcs to anyone.

He was extradited and tried this year. But perhaps it is a measure of his popularity and rehabilitation that the graffiti pictured below was soon to crop up near Mill Road.

Free Eneko is not an artwork, not even a piece of street art. But it is a cry of resistance; it is real. It is the shadow cast by Jeff Koons’ monumental and perfectly obedient dog.

(c) Adam Woodsford.

Puppy was acquired by the Guggenheim Bilbao in 1997 where has been installed to this day in a plaza named for dead policeman Aguirre.

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