Ballon Rabbit (Red)


There’s a red balloon rabbit sitting in the lobby of 51 Astor Place, but that is not its proper name.

Its proper name is Balloon Rabbit (Red).

Balloon Rabbit (Red), as you may know, was both created and named by the sculptor Jeff Koons. A small silver plaque displays its exact dimensions, which are 168 inches x 104 inches x 81 inches. This means it is 14 feet tall, which is very tall. The plaque offers the dates 2005-2010, which presumably means it took Mr. Koons five years to make this stainless-steel balloon animal. I don’t know how long it took him to make the 999 one-foot-high replicas you can buy online for $15,000 each.

Balloon Rabbit (Red) has siblings, including Balloon Rabbit (Magenta), and cousins, such as Balloon Dog (Orange). Balloon Dog (Orange) is a very expensive dog. Its owner adopted it at auction for $58.4 million, which set a record for an art work by a living artist.

Balloon Rabbit (Red) is in a great location. It sits on a white platform inside a fully-occupied thirteen-story office building which features, among other amenities, a CVS, an Orange Theory Fitness, a self-service Shake Shack with “Hospitality Champs” who will answer your questions but not take your order, and, supposedly, a team of scientists building a billion-dollar supercomputer. That’s pretty cool.

Another appealing part of Ballon Rabbit (Red) is its shininess. It is really a very shiny sculpture. And it is reflective. You can see yourself in it! First, I saw myself in it five different times all at once. Then I took a few steps and I was in it six times. A few more steps: eight times. As I slowly worked my way around the sculpture, I started to realize I was in it even more times! There were skinny versions of me and fat versions of me and totally distorted versions of me and versions of me that went like this: head, neck, shoulders, chest—then upside-down—chest, shoulders, neck, head. Each time I saw another me I felt a little twinge of excitement. Like finding Waldo, but way more times than you think you will, and all the Waldo’s are you!

I slowly circled Balloon Rabbit (Red), studying it: its phallic curves, its smooth gloss, its layer of dust. I was the only one paying it any attention. People walked by on the street. People walked into the building. People walked out of the building. No one stopped to look at Balloon Rabbit (Red). No one even looked as they were walking, even though this wouldn’t have taken any extra time.

I was there for a long while, moving a few steps every couple of minutes so as to appear to have some purpose. Nobody bothered me, including the mustachioed doorman, who wore a shirt and tie and jacket, a small insignia placed tastefully on his lapel. He stood behind the long reflective desk and laughed at a video on his phone during a moment of solitude between visitors.

At long last, on my second or third trip around the perimeter, I saw a man walk through the revolving doors, into the granite lobby, and over to the sculpture. He put down his stuff and leaned over to read the small silver plaque. Then his eyes scanned slowly up the sculpture. “That’s amazing!” he said to no one at all.

His enthusiasm was un-self-conscious. I instantly liked Balloon Rabbit (Red) more. This man, I later learned during a conversation outside, was named Jimmy. He was a delivery guy who liked art. He was covered in tattoos and carried a messenger bag and walked with a limp. His voice was soft and authentic and kind. Jimmy had seen the sculpture before, but had never really stopped and looked at it until today. “Artwork is something that someone takes their time doing, so it should be appreciated,” he said. “But then again, not everybody sees it that way.”