top of page

Moon Phases: A Giant Leap for Art, or a Small Step Towards the Colonisation of Space?

By Millie Grainger

Jeff Koons. Photograph of Moon Phases.

‘We’ve landed!’ Jeff Koons announced to X in the early hours of February the 23rd, ‘I'm so honored to have my Moon Phases artworks be part of the Odysseus mission!’ His tweet references a collaborative project between himself and SpaceX which launched art into the cosmos, intended to take up permanent residence on the surface of the moon. Described by Pace Gallery (who represent the project) as ‘a symbol of human curiosity and the desire to achieve’, Moon Phases comprises of 125 1x1 inch stainless steel lunar phases, as seen from Earth and other interstellar vantage points, housed together in a transparent cube. Accompanying the plates is a collection of larger replicas named in tribute to influential figures, as well as corresponding NFTs each priced at $2 million. The project is not only particularly recent, but also entirely unprecedented— which is why I was surprised to hear such little coverage of it. Although there have been previous attempts, one famously being by Andy Warhol in the late 1960s, we have now witnessed the very beginning of ‘authorised’, and arguably commercialised, art-based lunar settlement. From my personal perspective, the project raises more questions than answers.

I feel that it is important to explore Moon Phases through a more critical lens, looking not only at the artwork, but the figures and history behind it.

Jeff Koons. Photograph of Moon Phases.

Media coverage of Moon Phases is predominantly positive, or at the very least, impartial. I am yet to find a single major media source criticising the artwork itself, having assumed that sending tiny moons to the moon would at least raise questions on Koon’s creative ingenuity. A comment on the project by Ted Loos for the New York Times compares the artist’s love of reflective surfaces to the myth of Narcissus — a comparison not meant to insult, but one that did humour me a little. My surprise at the absence of scalding reviews is not simply personal opinion, but rather due to Koons’ polarising status in the art world. He stands as a pillar for artistic controversy, taking a seat next to Damien Hirst at the ‘fashionable-to-hate-artists’ dinner table. The most common qualm with Koons comes from the exorbitant prices at which his art is auctioned: the $91 million sale of Rabbit in 2019 holds the record for the highest-priced work ever sold by a living artist. many, he has come to represent the commercialisation of art in a society consumed by late-stage capitalism. However, his economic dominion is beginning to show cracks; according to an article published by ArtNet this February, his sales have fallen 84% over the last ten years, dropping his spot on the annual auction revenue ranking by 52 places. Thus, it is not unjustified to conclude that the ambitious Moon Phases project could be viewed as an ostentatious attempt at maintaining market relevance. No prior endeavours have connected Koons with the concept of space travel. Ultimately, outside the context of the elitist and wealth-centric standards of art institutions, his personal participation in Moon Phases remains unexplained to me. For the first ‘authorised’ artwork on the moon—a work that presumes to represent the human creative spirit reaching beyond Earth’s bounds, I cannot claim to be entirely convinced that Koons is the ideal choice.

My second question regarding the legitimacy of Moon Phases is less concerned with Koons as an artist, and instead stems from the project’s affiliation with Elon Musk’s space exploration technologies corporation, commonly referred to as SpaceX. If Jeff Koons epitomises controversy within the art world, Elon Musk holds an equal status in technology. The many companies owned by Musk come with their own share of contention; in 2022, SpaceX was accused of unlawfully firing multiple employees who spoke out against the owner, as well as fostering a culture of workplace harassment and major gender discrimination. Conversations around equality and privilege within tech have never been more important yet Musk, a figure besieged with serious accusations of misconduct, still dominates the field. Moreover, we see similar patterns of gender, racial, and financial inequality in the industry of art. Musk and Koons as the spearheads of this project suggests little progress since the days of Apollo 11. For such a ground-breaking and unprecedented moment in the history of art, it is disappointing to witness two disreputable, wealth-hoarding men at the helm of this phenomenon. In a video for Pace Gallery, Koons asserts that ‘Moon Phases really deals with global aspiration for human kind, beyond the earth and into the universe.’ Hearing this, I have to ask: exactly whose aspiration are you effecting?

When initially reading about Moon Phases, I found myself grappling with a sense of unease that went beyond just the figures involved. It came from the concept itself; the fact that human beings (well, at least the top 1%) are now able to mark their territory on celestial bodies. It is almost as though the distance between Earth and the moon has shrank: an idea inconceivable just fifty years ago. Yet the thought brings more dread than optimism. Of course, I am not ignorant to the fact that human objects are already scattered across the moon’s surface. According to an article by the Guardian in 2019, not only does it house tonnes of dusty spacecraft remains, but also golf balls, javelins, and ‘a charming 96 bags of poo, urine, and vomit’. However, it seems to me that Moon Phases is more than just remnants of past missions. It represents an era in which private space travel has become accessible to the wealthy, and Koons is just the beginning. Our planets are at risk of becoming a commercial platform in which business giants and corporations may use as they please. It perpetuates a colonialist mindset, treating celestial bodies as empty canvases for personal exploitation rather than respecting them as unique and valuable entities. Although you may say that this reads as a little melodramatic, I would argue that, in the current era of late-stage, the monetisation, commercialisation, and colonisation of outer space is not as unfeasible as we would hope to think.


Recent Posts
bottom of page