Jeff Koons rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as part of a generation of artists who explored the meaning of art in a media-saturated era and the attendant crisis of representation. Drawing on the visual language of advertising, marketing, and the entertainment industry and with the stated intent to "communicate with the masses," Koons tested the boundaries between popular and elite culture. His sculptural menagerie includes Plexiglas-encased Hoover vacuum cleaners, basketballs suspended in glass aquariums, porcelain homages to Michael Jackson and the Pink Panther, and glass depictions of himself coupled with his then-wife Ilona Staller, also known as La Cicciolina (a former adult-film star and member of the Italian parliament). Extending the legacy of Marcel Duchamp's readymades, and integrating references to Minimalism and Pop, Koons presents art as a commodity that cannot be placed within the hierarchy of conventional aesthetics.
With Puppy, Koons engaged both past and present, employing sophisticated computer modeling to create a work that references the 18th-century formal European garden. A behemoth West Highland terrier carpeted in bedding plants, Puppy employs the most saccharine of iconography—flowers and puppies—in a monument to the sentimental. Imposing in scale, its size both tightly contained and seemingly out of control (it is both literally and figuratively still growing), and juxtaposing elite and mass-cultural references (topiary and dog breeding, Chia Pets and Hallmark greeting cards), the work may be read as an allegory of contemporary culture. Koons designed this public sculpture to relentlessly entice, to create optimism, and to instill, in his own words, "confidence and security." Dignified and stalwart as it stands guard at the museum, Puppy fills viewers with awe, and even joy.