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 limits 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.
Tulips, a bouquet of multicolor balloon flowers blown up to gargantuan proportions (more than 2 meters tall and 5 meters across), belongs to the ambitious Celebration series, initiated by Koons in 1994. Focusing on the kinds of generic, mass-produced objects associated with birthday parties, holidays, and other festive events—from a party hat and a piece of cake to Easter eggs and hearts—the Celebration paintings and sculptures reflect Koons's continued engagement with the emblems of childhood. With its immaculate, reflective stainless-steel surfaces, Tulips recalls earlier works by the artist such as Rabbit (1986), which similarly transformed a banal inflatable object into something hard, gleaming, and iconic. In Tulips and in the balloon animals that populate the Celebration series, as in his towering Puppy (1992), Koons has manipulated scale, as well as materials, to uncanny ends. While Tulips might evoke the large industrial forms of certain Minimalist sculptures, the buoyant, colorful sculpture equally brings to mind a jaunty parade float.