On November 12, 2013, Christie’s in New York City hosted a Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale which became one the most expensive auctions in art market history. Art collectors and enthusiasts from 35 different countries competed for pieces by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Among these works was Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (Orange), a 12 foot sculpture of an orange balloon dog, as its name suggests. It sold for $58.4 million, above its estimated price, to an anonymous bidder via telephone. This made Balloon Dog (Orange) the highest paid piece of art at an auction by a living artist.

Balloon Dog (Orange) is one of five balloon dogs in Koons’ Celebration series. They are seen as beloved for the nostalgia they bring, but also controversial due to their bold and flashy nature. In fact when Balloon Dog (Magenta) was showcased in Versailles, the exhibit was met with criticism for disrupting the flow of the historical palace.

What might seem like random or silly objects are actually a product of influence. Marcel Duchamp, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, H.C. Westerman, and Salvador Dali are among the artists Koons names as his influences. These influences are visible through his work too, as many of Koons’ pieces are whimsical and beyond the typical. Once you know an artist’s history, their work comes into focus.

Koons majored in painting at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He worked as a studio assistant in Chicago where he met Ed Paschke, an expressionist known for vibrant and enlarged recreations of popular culture such as the Mona Lisa and Elvis Presley. Paschke quickly became an influence to Koons as his works produced are very vibrant and large.

The larger-than-life sculptures of Koons can also be compared to a number of Claes Oldenburg’s and Coosje van Bruggen’s works. This husband and wife duo are known for their large sculptures of ordinary items such as Flashlight, Binoculars, Apple Core, Torn Notebook, and Dropped Cone.

Although Oldenburg and van Bruggen were part of and influenced by the pop art movement, their work was at its core influenced by surrealists. Where most pop artists produced mostly two-dimensional and flat pieces of art, Oldenburg and van Bruggen produced enlarged, three-dimensional pieces. In fact, the three-dimensional work was their legacy, and had set a new precedent for what pop art could be.

And that is essentially what art history is: an artist looking to other artists that come before them.

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