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Jeff Koons’ Rabbit just broke the record for a living artist

The shiny steel sculpture sold for £71m, beating the amount set by David Hockney

Is there anything more illustrative of the vast inequality in the world than the global art market? When someone decides to buy a shiny steel Rabbit for almost $100m, you’d have to argue, no. Jeff Koons, the American postmodernist that everybody loves to hate, has seen his 102cm sculpture “Rabbit” sell for $91.1m (£71m) in a record-breaking fee for a living artist.

The piece was sold at a Christie's in New York for more than $20m (£15m) over its asking price to a buyer in the audience, who is yet to be identified. The auction house described the item on their website as "cute, sinister, cartoonish, imposing, vacuous, sexy, chilling, dazzling and iconic".

Koons – who once referred to stainless steel (his preferred working material) as “pure sex” and found as a child that looking at a cereal box was a “kind of sexual experience” (been there) – rose to prominence in New York’s art scene in the 1980s, and his brand of glossy, sickly-sweet, bubble-sculpture has divided opinion in the art world ever since.

His “cheap, tonedeaf, misogynistic images” (The Guardian) have been dismissed as “Baloney” by the New York Review of Books and labelled “repulsive” by the art writer Rosalind Krauss. Not that any of this seems to bother Koons or Christie’s all that much, with a – to be fair, brilliant – ad campaign launched in the run up to the sale that confronted all of these criticisms head on.

The previous record for a living artist was set by David Hockney in November 2018 after a fierce battle between two phone-in bidders saw “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” fetch £70m.

Read our piece here explaining why the art world loves to hate Jeff Koons.