THIS BYSTANDER WAS amused to read recently of copies of the shiny stainless steel Balloon Dog sculptures made by the American artist Jeff Koons being offered on Alibaba by Vincentaa Landscape and Architect (VLA) Sculpture, a company based in Shijiazhuang in Hebei.
We filed it away as just another tale of a cheap knock-off albeit it with a wry twist given that Koons’s artistic reputation is based on the reproduction of everyday objects. But news now comes from Art Net, the source of the original story, that the company is now producing resin versions because its stainless-steel knock-offs have proved too expensive for many of its customers.
We now see this story as a parable of frugal innovation: a high-priced Western product for which there is high consumer demand being made affordable by innovation in the manufacturing process, in this case by figuring out how to make the statues out of resin. As a result, VLA Sculpture is able to offer its largest version of the statues, which is slightly scaled down from the originals, for $2,925 as opposed to the $5,850 it is charging for the ones in stainless steel. It also offers even smaller versions of the statues for as low as $550, though for the smallest ones steel appears to be cheaper than resin. (Full price list.)
Last November, a (genuine) Koons Balloon Dog – the orange one; there is also a blue, magenta, orange, and yellow — went under the hammer at Christie’s auction house for $58.4 million, a record price for a living artist. Getting the big nut out of the cost – the IP – still seems to have been done the old-fashioned way, however.