The artist as aggregator


From urinals and Brillo boxes to ballerinas and Polar Bears, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, artists have used everyday objects to challenge our perceptions of what art can be.

Appropriation, a term used to describe when artists use pre-existing images or objects with minimal transformation in their artworks, is a strategy that both Queensland-based Australian artist Scott Redford and American artist Jeff Koons have consistently deployed in their practice.

Artist Scott Redford giving a floortalk at ‘Warhol Up Late’, GOMA, January 2008 / Photograph: R Fulton © QAGOMA

Relatively unknown outside of Eastern Europe during her lifetime, in 2017 there was newfound interest in Ukrainian ceramicist Oksana Zhnikrup’s (1931–93) work when American artist Jeff Koons was accused of ‘copying’ her work. Critics and journalists alleged that Koons had plagiarised Zhnikrup’s Ballerina Lenochka c.1974 sculpture for his Seated Ballerina 2017, a monumental inflatable sculpture which was temporarily positioned outside the Rockefeller Centre in New York in 2017.1

While Koons initially did not acknowledge the inspiration for his sculpture, in response to the mounting criticism, a representative from Koons’s team revealed to the media that Koons had not committed intellectual theft, rather Koons had bought a licence for the rights to Zhnikrup’s work in 2010.2

Oksana Zhnikrup ‘Ballerina Lenochka’ c.1974

Oksana Zhnikrup, Ukraine 1931–93 / Ballerina Lenochka c.1974 / Porcelain figurine, 20 cm (high) / © Oksana Zhnikrup Estate / Gift of Scott Redford 2022 / Collection: QAGOMA Research Library

Seated Ballerina 2017 was not the first time that Koons had utilised Zhnikrup’s work. Koons’s Seated Ballerina 2010–15, ­a mirror-polished stainless-steel sculpture produced as part of Koons’s ‘Antiquity’ series initiated in 2008, is also directly modelled on Ballerina Lenochka c.1974.3

In the catalogue for his 2019 exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Koons outlines the rationale for his Ballerina works, stating; ‘I’ve tried to make a work that any viewer, no matter where they came from, would have to respond to, would have to say on some level ‘Yes, I like it. If they couldn’t do that, it would only be because they had been told they were not supposed to like it’. 4

Attempting to appeal to the viewer by tapping into a readily recognisable, shared visual vernacular — one that is distinct from the (often) insular confides of the art world — is a strategy that Redford also employs in his artistic practice. In the catalogue for his 2010 exhibition Scott Redford Introducing Reinhardt Dammn (QAGOMA) Redford states:

A strong streak of puritanism still lurks within both the and the right of the art world over these ‘non-essentials’, but it is important to recognise that the production and consumption of fashion, pop music, designer goods, glossy magazines, experience-oriented travel, self-help books and all the rest is a large and indispensable part of our economy. This so-called secondary realm of leisure goods new forms a huge part of the whole economic and cultural superstructure.5

Scott Redford ‘My beautiful pink polar bears’ 2005

Scott Redford (Artist) Australia b.1962 / Michael Littler (Collaborating artist) Australia b.1964 / My beautiful pink polar bears 2005 / Ceramic / Ten bears: 26 x 25 x 50cm (each) / Gift of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the QAG Foundation 2009. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Scott Redford/Copyright Agency

Like Koons’s ‘ballerinas’, Redford’s ‘polar bear’ works (illustrated), a selection of which are currently on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Pelican Lounge, were inspired by a small ceramic sculpture that the artist encountered in a Brisbane junk shop.6 The polar bears, an ongoing series of sculpture produced in an array of bright, glossy finishes, also recall the reflective sheen that Koons imbues his ballerinas. This gloss or reflective sheen recalls the surface of advertising images we our everyday lives – not only the subject of the work but also the formal attributes are taken from the everyday. Artists’ attempts to collapse the divide between ‘high art’ and ‘mass culture’ have been interpreted as a democratising gesture – a gesture that seeks to open art to a wider audience.

As French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard outlines:

‘…the revolutionary idea of contemporary art was that any object, any detail or fragment of the material world could exercise the same strange attraction and ask the same insoluble questions as those formerly reserved for a few rare aristocratic forms called art’.7

Gallery staff installing My beautiful lipstick red polar bears 2010 for ‘Scott Redford Introducing Reinhardt Dammn’ exhibition, November 2010 / © Scott Redford/Copyright Agency / Photograph: R Fulton © QAGOMA

Scott Redford ‘My beautiful lipstick red polar bear’ 2010

Scott Redford, Australia b.1962 / Installation view My beautiful lipstick red polar bear 2010, ‘Scott Redford: Introducing Reinhardt Dammn’, November 2010 / Fibreglass with polyurethane coating / 186.5 x 353.2 x 156.3cm / Gift of Dr Paul Eliadis through the QAG Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Scott Redford/Copyright Agency

This impulse of democratisation continues to motivate Redford’s current artistic practice. As part of the Gallery’s ‘Living Patterns: Contemporary Australian Abstraction’ exhibition, Redford staged ‘Abstraction for the People’ an event held at the GOMA Forecourt, where Redford gave away more than 500 of his paintings to the people of Brisbane. Similarly, Redford’s generous gift to the Research Library, a gift composed of more than 700 items — posters, books, records, and artist multiples — is a comparable gesture of art democratisation. The gift is accessible to all; available by appointment at the QAGOMA Research Library for anyone to access.

A patron receives their Iso Painting as part of the ‘Abstraction for the People’ event, September 2023 / Photograph: C Sanders / © QAGOMA

Savana Woodley is Librarian, QAGOMA Research Library

1 Emma Gatteb, ‘Jeff Koons accused of copying Ukrainian artist’s work’, The Telegraph, 25 May 2017,  < Viewed 22 August 2023. 
‘Art industry news: Jeff Koons may have copied his ballerina from a Ukrainian artist + more must-read stories’ Artnet,  25 May 2017, <> viewed 22 August 2023.
2 Sophia Kishkovsky, ‘Meet the artist behind Jeff Koons’s ballerinas’, Art Newspaper, vol. 26, issue. 292, p.12.
3 Larry Gagosian, Jeff Koons [exhibition catalogue], Gagosian, Beverley Hills, Calif., 2017.
4 Xa Sturgis, Norman Rosenthal & Jeff Koons, ‘Seated ballerina’ in Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean [exhibition catalogue], Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 2019, p. 54.
5 Scott Redford & Julie Ewington, ‘Emailing: Scott Redford/Julie Ewington, Brisbane, August – September 2010’ in Scott Redford Introducing Reinhardt Dammn [exhibition catalogue], Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, South Brisbane, 2010, p. 25.
6 Francis E Parker, ‘From appropriation to aggregation’, in Scott Redford Introducing Reinhardt Dammn, p.48.
7 Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art, Semiotext(e), New York, 2005, p.92.

QAGOMA Research Library

The gift from Scott Redford to the QAGOMA Research Library is a treasure trove of items that can inspire and enrich, support scholarship and engage artists, visitors, researchers and students. 

The QAGOMA Research Library is located on Level 3 of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA). Open to the public Tuesday to Friday 10.00am to 5.00pm. visit us in person or explore the Scott Reford gift through the online catalogue. Access to special collections is available by appointment.

Featured image: Oksana Zhnikrup, Ukraine 1931–93, Ballerina Lenochka c.1974, Porcelain figurine, 20 cm (high), © Oksana Zhnikrup Estate / Jeff Koons, United States b.1955 and UNIQLO, Seated ballerina T-shirt 2010–15, Cotton T-shirt, © Jeff Koons / Jeff Koons [exhibition catalogue], Gagosian, Beverley Hills, Calif., 2017, Artwork © Jeff Koons / Gifts of Scott Redford, 2022 / Collection: QAGOMA Research Library