The year was 1997 or ’98, Jeff Koons said. He had the idea for his first “Balloon Dog” sculpture: a Pop piece shaped like a kid’s birthday party favor — except made of mirror-polished stainless steel and measuring nearly 12 feet long.
The problem: The cost of fabricating the dog kept growing, inflating like a balloon — doubling, then doubling again.
In stepped a savior: art collector Eli Broad.
“Eli stood by the piece and paid for the production, and that’s how the first ‘Balloon Dog’ came into being,” Koons said Friday, the day Broad died in Los Angeles at age 87. “He stood by the work and made sure it would be finished. Now the blue ‘Balloon Dog’ is at the Broad.
“I say all this because he was a very fair person — accomplished in business but fair. We were under a certain contract for production, but when the cost kept getting increased to get the type of finish we wanted for it and on that scale. He stood by the work. And I’m grateful to him for that.”
Koons, one of many art-world figures sharing their remembrances of Broad on Friday, also recalled a time he was returning from Washington, D.C., to New York.
“Eli had his plane and asked if I’d like to ride back with him to the city, and I said I would,” Koons said. “He really wanted me to sit in one of the seats up front, like an assistant pilot. And he was sure to sit me in there and put the seat belt on. It was such a quirky moment.”
Koons found humor in being buckled in by a billionaire. “There was a tremendous warmth with Eli,” the artist said. “He could be very structured within his business world, but he really had a warmth and compassion for people that was bar none.”