Inspired by ideas of the readymade, Jeff Koons creates luxurious icons and elaborate tableaux, which beneath their captivating exteriors, engage the viewer in a metaphysical dialogue with history. Koons began his Gazing Ball series in 2013, consisting of subtly altered replicas of sculptures and paintings from the past combined with a blue, hand-blown glass gazing ball. For this painting, Koons appropriates Goya’s masterpiece The Forge, painted circa 1815-1820 and described by art historian Fred Licht as “undoubtedly the most complete statement of Goya’s late style.”  One of the highlights of The Frick Collection in New York, Goya’s The Forge shows three blacksmiths toiling over an anvil. Set in an ambiguous space, the painting emphasizes the muscularity of the men, who are rendered as classically heroic with thick, strong arms and heavy masculine backs. Their faces are exaggerated such as to indicate a coarseness of temperament, a device Goya used to identify the common man absorbed in labor. It is likely the painting was originally intended as an allegory of the Spanish people hammering out, as in the then-popular saying, “in the anvil of history,” an illustration of the efforts of humankind to reshape history according to higher ideals.
Koons did not simply copy or duplicate The Forge. Rather, the painting was meticulously remade by hand in Koons’s studio by his assistants under the artist’s supervision, down to details of cracks and damage. There are however certain crucial differences between Koons’s Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge) and the original painting with regard to both their size and texture. Like in other paintings of the series, Koons did not aim to conserve the exact dimensions of the original artwork, but rather altered them slightly, to a size similar to other Gazing Ball Paintings. His replicas of vastly different pictures, such as Altdorfer’s The Battle of Alexander at Issus, Courbet’s Sleep and Dead Fox in the Snow or Gauguin’s Delightful Land, among many others, repeat the exact width of this painting, adapting the height according to the original’s proportions. He also did not include the brushwork and impasto of Goya’s hand, which is looser and more painterly in his late period, opting instead for a uniformly flat, pristine surface. These changes dispel the illusion of Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge) as a straightforward “reproduction” and serve to transform the rough bravura of Goya’s brush into the clarity and playfulness of Koons’s vision.
Like the remade painting, the gazing ball is not simply a found object, but a handmade and carefully fabricated article. Each is handblown by a skillful craftsman in Pennsylvania, where Koons was raised, and where he and his family keep a farm. About the personal connotations of this object, Koons has said:
The gazing ball really represents to me my childhood, my background of experiencing the world and looking at the world. I grew up in Pennsylvania and people would put gazing balls in their front yard. Gazing balls are a yard ornament, but people put them there for their neighbors. 
A vast gamut of other possible associations adhere to these gazing balls: their origin dates to trecento Venice, where local glass blowers produced by hand exquisite and somewhat magical looking glass spheres (the Florentine priest and chemist Antonio Neri referred to them as “spheres of light”); and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, an art connoisseur and devoted patron of Richard Wagner, was known to have scattered them as ornaments throughout the gardens of his lavish castle Herrenchiemsee.  Thus, like the paintings, the gazing balls are at the same time elevated and ordinary, a ubiquitous “readymade” and a sumptuous object.
Koons considers the reflection of the gazing balls essential in establishing a viewer’s relationship with a particular space and object. As he has observed, “Because a gazing ball reflects in 360 degrees, so it’s about here, and it’s this enheightenment of the senses, a reflection and you become affirmed, the viewer looking at it. You see yourself.”  The cold, shiny surface of the gazing ball is directly related to Koons’s earlier Statuary and Celebration series, a body of work involving metal reproductions of archetypal figures cast and molded through cutting-edge fabrication technology. In works such as Rabbit and Balloon Dog (Blue), faceless inflatable animals are transformed into stainless-steel symbols, the gloss of their surface mirroring the space around them, absorbing and enfolding both the viewer and the location. In contrast, the sphere in Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge) is not representational but a condense emblem of Koons’s polished surfaces. It is a pure mirror that punctuates rather than envelops the presence of the viewer, and embraces the painting, the aesthetic of the past, into its present reflection. Throughout the Gazing Ball Paintings, as in this example, Koons positioned the gazing ball at the same height and width, resting on a shelf that projects from underneath the center of the canvas. In this way, Koons aimed to create for the viewer a distance and pause from the immediate impression of the artwork and to redirect the attention towards their own private aesthetic experience. Koons believes that this act of self-reflection completes the artwork and opens the possibility for the viewer to be profoundly transformed by the act of looking:
It’s about the beholder’s share, that the art takes place inside the viewer. That art needs you. Art is about your transcendence. That’s what art is. It’s not about an object having some special power. Certain objects can be great transponders and they can motivate you and put you in a position for experience, but the art is your transcendence. 
Koons has explained that the Gazing Ball Paintings are not intended to be “a Manet” or “a Titian,” but rather to act as references: they aim at being “the idea of Manet” or “the idea of Titian.”  In this way, Koons both assumes and transforms Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the readymade.  Koons had begun his love affair with the readymade early in his career by presenting real things, like a vacuum cleaner or a teapot, in a gallery setting [in his Pre-New and The New series]; then he shifted to depicting representations, like in his alcohol advertisements and stainless-steel Jim Beam train car models [in Luxury and Degradation], paradoxical replicas of the real objects. Here with the Gazing Ball series, he presents real things representing real things, representations standing in for representations–a doubling down on his freeplay of symbols that catches within its crosshairs the ultra-thin distinction between an object and an artwork. Koon’s The Forge is the image of an image, which unlike his Jim Beam models, no longer references everyday life but the aesthetic realm of art history. In contrast to Rabbit and Balloon Dog (Blue), the gazing ball, although a crafted item, does not represent another object but itself. Just as Duchamp used the context of art to make us reconsider the value of ordinary objects, Koons’s combination of Goya’s painting and the gazing ball liberates both objects from the ideological burden of their original historical meaning, prying open their aesthetic potential and inviting us to look anew.
In the manner of Duchamp’s “rectified ready-mades,” in particular his irreverent appropiation of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in the piece L.H.O.O.Q, Koons’s approach stems both from an ironic instinct as well as from a deep fascination with things. Whether he works with industrial articles or historical artworks, Koons’s principal problem has remained the same: how to preserve the “integrity of the object,” or in the words of curator Scott Rothkopf, “how to catch them like fireflies in jars that might set off rather than extinguish their inner light.”  But this preservation also entails the conversion of the original surface into a homogenous reflection, absorbing the traces of Goya’s craft and thought into the spectacular finish and precision of the ball’s ideal beauty. Like Duchamp’s mustache and goatee, the gazing ball intrudes into the original with the irreverence and playfulness of Dada. Similar to the vacuums and appliances Koons showed in freestanding acrylic cases in the 1980s, Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge) furnishes the old masterpiece with an aura of newness, an almost paradoxically everlasting purity that sets it out of time. Koons’s endeavor is thus contradictory in essence. Through careful craftsmanship and playful alterations, Koons idealizes the older painting in order to authorize the enjoyment of its new sensuous qualities and its emotional and psychological appeal.
Koons’s choice of motifs for the Gazing Ball Paintings might be considered a subjective one: these are all works he is drawn to, and in the case of Goya’s The Forge, that he could have visited any day in New York where the artist is based. His selection constructs a personal dialogue, a community of artists that nurture his art and life. From the magnificent design and colorism of the Renaissance, the distortions of Mannerism, and the dynamism of the Baroque, to the abstraction of modernist painting, Koons’s motifs also takes us cautiously through the history of European painting and the countless ideas this history offers today. In Goya’s work, the labor of the blacksmiths is mirrored by the labor of the artisans who produced the gazing balls, the careful craftsmanship of Koons and his team, the viewer’s active participation. While all the pictures of this series are grounded in their own distinct narratives derived from art history, the fragile and delicate gazing ball reestablishes a sense of uncertain equilibrium that exists between history and fantasy, magic and materiality, mass culture and exclusive beauty. Together they reveal the continuous flux of images passing through history as reflections, disembodied of time and place, paradoxical objects of aesthetic enjoyment in the present.
1. Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge), 2015-17. Oil on canvas, glass, and aluminum, 77 1/2 x 53 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches.
2. Gazing ball ornaments store, photgraph taken by Koons in 2010.
3. Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Goya The Forge), 2015-17.
 Fred Licht, Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art (New York: Universe Books, 1979), p. 269.
 Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball Series,” Audio guide, Whitney Museum of American Art, accessed February 1, 2023. https://whitney.org/media/1077
 Joachim Pissarro, The Gazing Ball or the Eye of Janus (Bruxelles, Paris: Almine Rech, 2014), p. 17.
 Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball Series,” Audio guide.
 Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball Series,” Audio guide.
 Quoted in Joachim Pissarro, Jeff Koons: Gazing Ball Paintings (New York: Gagosian, 2017), p. 5.
 Koons has long accorded Duchamp pride of place as an influence on his career: “My process of distancing myself from subjective art continued through the late 70s, which included exposure to Marcel Duchamp. He seemed the total opposite of the subjective art I had been immersed in. It was the most objective statement possible, the readymade.” Quoted in Scott Rothkopf, “No Limits,” in Jeff Koons: A Retrospective (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014), p. 17.
 Scott Rothkopf, “No Limits,” p. 18.