Part II: Pittsburgh, Pa., has The Warhol. Can York, Pa., secure The Jeff Koons?
The cameras are reversed as internationally known pop artist Jeff Koons photographs his 1972 Dover High School yearbook. He is joking with his old principal Carl Nelson and friend Nora Halpern. The moment came before the 2009 Governor’s Awards for the Arts. Also of interest: Part I: Pittsburgh, Pa., has The Warhol. Can York, Pa., secure The Jeff Koons? and Start Your Engines: World-renowned artist Jeff Koons drives into center of York’s art community and York County native Jeff Koons’ work raises question: But is it art?
Marianne Clay, a former York Daily Record reporter known to many people in York County, read a recent yorktownsquare.com post pushing the idea for a permanent museum of Jeff Koons’ artwork in York.
Koons’ pop art has been compared to Andy Warhol’s, and I suggested York land a Koons’ museum as Pittsburgh did with native son Warhol.
Marianne suggested that someone immediately apply brush to canvas:
“Certainly there are Yorkers who are personal friends who could contact him and gauge his interest. Do you know anyone who could do this? That would be a start.”
Clearly, a Koons museum would be a tourist attraction and would serve as a magnet for other high-profile traveling exhibits… .
And it’s a chance to educate visitors from here and elsewhere about pop art. As with many art forms, it’s often difficult to decipher.
I mean, in the Warhol museum, artwork that included a strip of metal once covered with urine is hard to look at, much less understand.
And museum curators would have to figure how or whether to show some of Koons’ art to patrons of all ages.
Those, of course, are details.
One thing York has going for it is that Koons clearly has invested in his home county, literally.
He’s buying land in southeastern York County.
A York Daily Record/Sunday News story (3/13/11) tells about that Koons’ interest in ancestral land, in the context of its proximity to a recent proposed hydropower plant:
In Chanceford Township, there’s a place by the river where fields for corn, wheat and soybeans blend together, punctuated by rustic farmhouses and narrow country roads.
To some, it’s a work of art, crafted by generations of farmers, people of the land. It’s one reason some residents cringe at the recent proposal by Free Flow Power Corp. to erect a dam across nearby Cuffs Run, flooding a reservoir for a pumped storage hydroelectric project spanning 1,300 acres next to the Susquehanna River.
On the cusp of the proposed site sits Old Bridgeville Road. Residents there point to a gated-off cross path, Eagle View Lane, where a millionaire artist from New York City, they say, sometimes descends by helicopter to his weekend escape.
In 2006, Jeffrey Koons, an internationally known contemporary sculptor, began scooping up what now totals nearly 600 acres in Chanceford Township, tax records show. He’s on a mission, he said, to preserve the agrarian heritage of the county in which he was raised and shield it from development.
He isn’t fond of the Massachusetts company’s idea to nestle a 700-foot-long, 95-foot-high dike near his rural, natural oasis. He described it as almost artistic persecution.
“We already have a dam in the area. We already have a landfill in the area. Enough’s enough,” Koons, 56, said Thursday from Portugal. “If you want people to come to Pennsylvania, you have to keep it an attractive place.”
Though he stopped short of saying he’d actively fight the hydropower plant, Koons said he wants to learn more about it.
It’s one of several things he refers to as “exploitation.” Just across the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, the two white wind turbines at Frey Farm Landfill at Turkey Point are visible to motorists on Old Bridgeville Road.
Koons doesn’t like that, either.
“I’d have to say, in general, the exploitation of the land taking place is bothersome,” he said. ” . . . The exploitation is making this an unattractive place.”
Koons hopes to own parts of that place — jagged-shape plots scattered along Douglas, Green Branch and Furnace roads — for the rest of his life.
“This could be something tied in with my own legacy,” he said. “We would just like to have a nice cushion around the place so we can protect it, preserve it, and have it be a beautiful place to go. Someday, possibly, this area could be part of some foundation. It’s part of my cultural history, and I’d like to continue to share it with people.”
| ‘A special place’
The neighborhood landmarks in Koons’ slice of Americana — a few mobile homes and Camp Echo Trail Girl Scout camp — aren’t shiny or glamorous.
But they’re fitting, perhaps, for an artist known for finding beauty in the ordinary. His works, some reproductions of everyday objects, often sell for millions at auction. In 2007, his “Hanging Heart,” inspired by a Christmas ornament, sold at Sotheby’s New York for $23.6 million. At the time, it was the most expensive auctioned work by a living artist.
Since 2006, he’s spent about $9.6 million on a farmland deed collection, according to county tax records.
In May 2009, for example, deed records show Koons paid $2.5 million for four parcels totaling 167 acres. Those properties are valued at $148,470, according to tax assessment data.
Locals, many of whom are farmers, scratch their heads at the lofty price tags.
“We’re trying to figure that out ourselves,” said Randall Patterson, who lives on Old Bridgeville Road. Koons, Patterson said, has made offers on his more than 400-acre farm, parts of which are inside the Cuffs Run project area and similar hydropower plant proposals before it.
“He’s been buying up property all over the place. He pays outlandish prices for it,” said Jim Jones, who owns a 67-acre farm, including a vineyard south of Eagle View Lane on Old Bridgeville Road and Kaiser Road.
“He started buying property, and I said to myself, ‘How does this guy know? How did he find this little place out in the boondocks?'”
Koons has known for a while. Some of the land he’s acquired, including a homestead, once belonged to his maternal grandfather, Ralph Sitler, who owned a millinery store on North George Street, he said.A one-time city treasurer, Sitler, Koons said, retreated each weekend to the 40-acre country getaway, Stone Fence Acres, where he rode horses, tended cattle and coveted the solitude.
In 1959, Sitler sold the farm. Koons was 4 years old.
Years later, Koons was in the market for a farm of his own. He and his wife, Justine, looked “all over,” he said, in New York and elsewhere.
The search brought him home to York County.
Since then, he’s expanded his lands, buying property under a name close to his heart. And Stone Fence Acres L.P., he said, isn’t done yet. He’s always looking to add to the portfolio.
Meanwhile, Koons leases his land to its previous owners, so they can continue the agricultural tradition, enjoyed frequently, he said, by his seven children and two grandchildren.
“Eventually, we’d like to learn how to farm the land properly ourselves,” Koons said. “We’re in the process of learning. The interest is really to protect the environment and heritage. It’s a special place to celebrate and rejoice in nature.”
Also of interest
Jeff Koons’ sculpture brings record for a living artist’s work
Here are other celebs from York who have gained prominence on the national arts and entertainment stage:
– Actor Craig Sheffer.
– Country music’s The Dixie Chicks (or at least the two members with local ties).
– Bluegrass artist Del McCoury.
– Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth.
– Screen writer Laurice Elehwany.
– The voice of “Law and Order” Steve Zirnkilton.
– Playwright Ken Ludwig.
– Author Rita Mae Brown.
– The Drifters Charlie Thomas.
– Local band The Magnificent Men.
– U.S. Mint artist/engraver Don Everhart..
– Composer Dominick Argento.
– Rocker Ed Kowalczyk.
– Best-selling author Jonah Lehrer.
– All York Town Square posts from the start. Then use “find” function on browser to search for keywords.
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square posts on Google. For example, when you search for yorktownsquare and Jeff Koons, you get this.