Monumental Sculpture by Jeff Koons Debuts at Jacobs Medical Center
Patients, families and hospital employees at Jacobs Medical Center can already peruse lace-like sculptures in a garden, find a moment of solace near a wall of bright butterflies and ponder paintings of peaceful landscapes. Now, a new monumental sculpture by artist Jeff Koons debuts as part of the 150-piece Healing Arts Collection at the UC San Diego Health hospital. The artwork, titled Party Hat (Orange), was purchased 15 years ago by longtime university donors Joan and Irwin Jacobs while it was still in production. The larger-than-life metallic party hat reflects the transformative power of the healing that happens on the premises, as well as the celebration of new life at the hospital’s Birth Center.
“I wish to thank Joan and Irwin Jacobs for their ongoing generosity to UC San Diego,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. Spanning nearly five decades, their gifts have supported of a broad range of initiatives, from scholarships and art commissions to health care and the top-ranked Jacobs School of Engineering.
“Jacobs Medical Center is a world-class medical destination in great part because of the creative vision and generous philanthropy of Joan and Irwin Jacobs,” said Khosla. “We are proud to be the beneficiaries of the first installed Party Hat sculpture by prominent artist Jeff Koons. This exciting addition to the Healing Arts Collection helps elevate our efforts to foster a welcoming and healing space for our patients.”
An imaginative feat of engineering
Purchased in 2005 by Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Party Hat (Orange) (1994–2019) by Jeff Koons is one of five unique versions of the sculpture from the Celebration series. The series of large-scale sculptures and oil paintings memorializes the festive sentimental rituals surrounding events such as birthdays, engagements and holidays.
Designed meticulously by the artist and fabricated in mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating, the sculpture references a traditional party hat on a colossal scale. The artwork epitomizes Koons’s ongoing fascination with childhood experiences and childlike consciousness. By transforming a simple paper party hat into a monumental reflective form, the artist achieves a perfect tension between representation and abstraction.
“The goal of the Healing Arts Collection is to increase feelings of well-being while promoting healing,” explained Joan Jacobs. “When we saw the color of Party Hat for the first time, it was spectacular. The scale of the piece brings focus to the entire collection. It is such a jubilant, beautiful sculpture; it felt right to feature it in the hospital.”
The location of Party Hat (Orange) is ideal, situated in the main lobby of Jacobs Medical Center, where it can be viewed from multiple levels and angles. In the morning, natural light streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows, making the myriad surfaces of the sculpture appear to change throughout the course of the day. Koons was involved in choosing the best location for the work to make an impact on passersby—an especially meaningful act given that this is the first sculpture to be displayed in the public space of the hospital (which is currently accessible only to patients and staff due to COVID-19 restrictions).
“I’m delighted to see my artwork, Party Hat (Orange), installed in the entrance hall of the Jacobs Medical Center,” said Koons. “I am very grateful to Irwin and Joan Jacobs for creating this opportunity for so many people to interact with the work. I hope it will bring a sense of optimism and wonder to all who encounter it.”
This is the first version of Party Hat to be unveiled after a rigorous 25-year production period. During the creation of the work, the Jacobses visited the fabricator, Arnold AG, in Germany to witness the sculpture come to life. When it was ready for installation in San Diego in December 2020, the engineering team and hospital leadership scheduled five nighttime shifts between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. to ensure that no hospital operations were disrupted and very few people were present to maintain effective physical distancing. Additionally, all of the installers were tested prior to the start of the installation.
“UC San Diego Health is truly fortunate to be the beneficiaries of Joan and Irwin Jacobs’ philanthropic efforts,” said Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. “This is obviously a unique time, where many of our patients and their families are facing challenging medical issues. To be able to safely install Party Hat and have it become the centerpiece of our Healing Arts Collection is a testament to both the Jacobs’ commitment to creating healing spaces and the health system’s dedication to our patients. I am hopeful this new piece will extend healing beyond the bedside for all who encounter it.”
The healing power of art
Research shows that art has the ability to heal and de-stress. With this in mind, Joan Jacobs presented the idea of integrating therapeutic art throughout Jacobs Medical Center when the plans for the hospital were just beginning. The Healing Arts Collection features over 150 paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints. Many of the artists in the collection have a connection to other institutions in San Diego, while artists such as Kim MacConnel and the late Manny Farber also served as faculty at UC San Diego. In addition, artists such as Kiki Smith have also been commissioned by UC San Diego’s Stuart Collection, part of the university’s commitment to enriching campus life through art.
“Infusing art into unexpected places, such as a hospital or health clinic, is something UC San Diego has been doing for many years now,” said Dr. David A. Brenner, vice chancellor for Health Sciences. “We believe art, such as the Healing Arts Collection within the Jacobs Medical Center, can provide comfort for patients, visitors and staff. We hope the Party Hat installation will serve as a celebration of life, and we’re proud to add this new installation as an extension of our world-class patient care.”
The Healing Arts Collection has been curated by Joan Jacobs in partnership with Iris Strauss, a longtime UC San Diego donor and art collector, and Kathryn Kanjo, the David C. Copley Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Since its inception, the collection has been focused on developing an environment that is restorative. The works are intended to inspire peace and well-being while patients are receiving treatment and families are supporting their loved ones’ care.
“The collection echoes the environment,” explained Kanjo. “The design of the medical center, with its expansive windows and terraces, continuously orients patients toward the outdoors. Just as the architecture frames spectacular views, the artwork focuses on nature, light, community, and place, with imagery that is calming and lush.”
Making everyday objects extraordinary
Jeff Koons lives and works in New York City, and is known for his large-scale representations of familiar objects. He earned a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1976 and held his first solo exhibition in 1980. Koons is widely known for his iconic sculptures Rabbit (1986) and Balloon Dog (1994–2000) as well as the monumental floral sculpture Puppy (1992), which was shown at Rockefeller Center and installed permanently at the Guggenheim Bilbao. In 2012, Koons was awarded an inaugural U.S. Department of State Medal of Art for a commitment to the Art in Embassies program and international cultural exchange.
“For the past 40 years, Jeff Koons has transformed everyday objects into unexpected and arresting images by shifting scale, material and context,” said Kanjo. “Here, a simple paper hat—a leftover from so many birthday parties—is exactingly rendered in stainless steel at a massive scale. Outsized and enduring, the familiar form becomes both audacious and celebratory. With Party Hat, Koons seems to commemorate the passages and milestones that help define us.”
The Celebration series is the result of many years of gestation, experimentation and rigorous production. Works from the series have been exhibited throughout the world, at locations including the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Grand Canal in Venice, the Palace of Versailles, the United States Embassy in Beijing, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and Museo Jumex in Mexico City.
For those who would like to explore highlights of the collection virtually, please visit the Healing Arts Collection website. Due to COVID-19 public health and safety measures, access to Party Hat (Orange) and the entire collection is limited to Jacobs Medical Center staff and patients.