Koons ‘Dog’ Fabricator Carlson Shuts as Recession Hits Big Art

"Balloon Dog (Orange)" by Jeff Koons is displayed in the lobby of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York. The sculpture was produced by Carlson and Co. which has announced its closing. "Ballon Dog (Orange)," from an edition of five, is owned by the Brant Foundation. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

Art fabricator Carlson & Co., which gained fame by producing Jeff Koons’s stainless-steel “Balloon Dog,” is closing, yet another casualty of the slumping contemporary-art market.

Company founder Peter Carlson said it will be filing something “akin” to bankruptcy.

“The economic climate contributed very much to the condition we find ourselves in,” Carlson said in a phone interview. He declined to provide details on the company’s financial performance.

Carlson fired the entire workforce of 95 employees last week in anticipation of the closing.

“We had expectations that we would be able to work a solution to this problem, and ultimately we weren’t able to,” Carlson said.

The company, based in San Fernando, California, was founded in 1971. It became one of the best-known resources for artists seeking to produce complicated, large-scale and frequently costly artworks.

“Many artists trying to make work that involves high-tech and precise execution would go to Carlson and they could often figure things out that no one else could,” said New York art adviser Allan Schwartzman.

The firm fabricated some of the most technically challenging artworks created during the six-year rise of contemporary art prices which began in 2002.

‘Balloon Dog’

Carlson produced Koons’s “Balloon Dog” sculptures, now valued at more than $20 million apiece and owned by billionaires including SAC Capital’s Steven Cohen, Eli Broad and Francois Pinault.

Besides Koons, Carlson was the producer of choice for dozens of top contemporary artists, including Doug Aiken, John McCracken and Charles Ray. The company was submitting bids for projects as recently as two weeks ago, according to a dealer who had solicited a proposal.

The company probably won’t finish a number of projects. “Our ability to complete projects is limited,” Carlson said.

The use of high-end fabricators like Carlson became increasingly popular in the past decade as billionaire art collectors hunted for pricey large-scale artworks to fill private museums and foundations.

Carlson’s reputation rose along with the contemporary art market. The company was featured in a profile in the New York Times in 2007, the same year Artforum magazine devoted an issue to “The Art of Production.”

At the time, the company was engrossed in solving Koons’s latest puzzle: the construction of a 70-foot-long replica of a 1943 steam locomotive, designed to dangle from a crane, outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The work was estimated to cost $25 million, according to the Times article.

Peter Carlson is quoted comparing the Koons train to the scale of “major industrial pieces, like the Eiffel Tower.” The project is “still in the feasibility study phase,” said LACMA spokeswoman, Barbara Pflaumer.

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