An $8 Million Arena Sculpture to Usher In Civilization 3.0

Art installations have long been a requirement for developers who want to show off their panache and good taste.

Whether the art takes the form of a 15-story nest of staircases or an oversized polka-dotted pumpkin, the aim is the same: to endow brand-new real estate with an alluring aesthetic experience. Like burning sage, but with curators instead of holistic healers.

It should be no surprise that owners of sports arenas want in, too.

Last week, the artist Jeff Koons was in attendance outside the Golden 1 Center, the new home of the N.B.A.’s Sacramento Kings, for the unveiling of his 18-foot-high sculpture “Coloring Book.” The artwork, which was jointly purchased by the city and the Kings organization for $8 million, is made from mirror-polished stainless steel with a transparent color coating. Another version of the work was displayed on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.

“I think of Jeff Koons as the 21st-century Michelangelo,” Vivek Ranadivé, the majority owner of the Kings, said in an interview.

Tom Garfinkel, chief executive of the Miami Dolphins, left, touring the art installation at the Hard Rock Stadium along with Dan Marino.

And Sacramento isn’t the only place aiming to make it to the art-world playoffs. A week earlier, Hard Rock Stadium, the newly refurbished home of the Miami Dolphins, revealed a dozen sprawling murals commissioned from street artists, with plans for more to come. On Sept. 8, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta named 53 artists who will provide work for the home of the Falcons. And last year, U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, chose 34 local artists to build what it described as a “museum-quality” art collection.

The granddaddy of these ventures may be the collection at AT&T Stadium, home since 2009 of the Dallas Cowboys, which includes site-specific commissions from international art stars like Jenny Holzer and Olafur Eliasson. (Last year the Cowboys added an Ellsworth Kelly work, shortly before the artist’s death.)

Visitors to Sacramento’s new technology-packed arena, which officially opened on Friday, will be free from the expectations typical in a museum or gallery, Mr. Koons said. The setting, he said, “communicates that the world is large and vast.”

Mr. Koons is well acquainted with that vastness. His works are in the collections of dozens of museums around the world. And Mr. Ranadivé, the Kings owner, said that he first connected with the artist at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr. Ranadivé, who made a fortune in Silicon Valley, pledged when he took control of the team in 2013 to build a new home to keep the Kings rooted in Sacramento. He has huge ambitions for the arena project, which cost more than $530 million to build, including $255 million in public funds. The goal is to revitalize the city as it enters what he referred to grandly as “a new era” of history, which he called Civilization 3.0.

“Arenas, downtowns, art, culture, sports, entertainment, they are all part of this 21st-century city,” he said, “and I’m a huge believer in cities.”

“Coloring Book” is made of mirror-polished stainless steel with a transparent color coating.

“In the old days we had these communal fireplaces,” he added. “And then we had cathedrals, and so the arena is kind of the communal fireplace of the 21st century. It’s the new cathedral.”

Mr. Koons offered a slightly homier take on civic religion. He recalled visiting the top of City Hall in Philadelphia as a child, and being inspired both by the sweeping view and Alexander Milne Calder’s 37-foot-tall statue of William Penn.

“It made me feel tied to history, tied to my community,” he said. “I think it changed my life.”

“Now, ‘Coloring Book’ is not that William Penn sculpture,” he said, “but if in some way you can touch the life of somebody, and add just a little bit of curiosity, a little bit of wonder — you can’t ask for more.”

The Golden 1 Center also includes work by local artists. Despite that, some residents in Sacramento have been critical, arguing that the city’s arts commission, which helped pay for “Coloring Book,” should focus on supporting artists from the area. (One man who protested the arena project last month by hitting the mayor with a pie was charged with assault.)

Mr. Ranadivé stood by the plan. “We put in millions of dollars to make this happen, and we’ve done it without compromising on our commitments to local art.”

You could say the city got a bargain: Another version of “Coloring Book” brought 12 million euros (about $13 million) last year at an auction in France. And Mr. Koons’s “Balloon Dog (Orange),” a pneumatic-looking sculpture in similar mirror-polished steel, sold in 2013 for $58 million, an auction record for a living artist.

Installed on the plaza outside the arena doors, “Coloring Book” stands out for its scale and vivid colors. Its polished surface is so reflective that from a distance it can appear transparent.

But while Mr. Koons’s sculpture will bring the gleam of high-end art to the 21st-century agora at the middle of Civilization 3.0, you probably won’t find the artist cheering in the stands. He enjoys watching basketball, he said, but “I’ve never followed sports.”
Correction: January 27, 2017
An article on Thursday about a decision by the artist Christo to abandon a planned project over the Arkansas River in Colorado as a protest against President Trump misidentified the highway that runs through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. It is U.S. Highway 50, not Interstate 50.

Excerpt from The New York Times, “An $8 Million Arena Sculpture to Usher In Civilization 3.0” Interview by Daniel McDermon, September 29, 2016