American artist Jeff Koons, famous for his large scale cartoony sculptures, was commissioned to create a piece to be displayed at Bad Arolsen in Germany in 1992.
The resulting creation was named “Puppy,” a 43-foot-tall living plant sculpture of a West Highland terrier. Koons utilized computer modeling to construct his outlandish version of topiary sculptures common to eighteenth-century formal gardens. Koons created the piece to inspire optimism and to instill, in his own words, “confidence and security.”
In a powerful example of how life doesn’t imitate art, Puppy facilitated a potentially disastrous security breach at the Guggenheim Bilbao. A few days before its inauguration in 1997, the museum was nearly bombed by three ETA Basque separatists posing as gardeners working on the sculpture. In addition to their incognito dress, the men carried flower pots like those on Puppy filled with 12 remote-controlled grenades. A firestorm and pursuit ensued, claiming the life of policeman Jose María Aguirre, though their plot was ultimately foiled. The plaza in which Puppy currently resides has been renamed in honor of Aguirre.
After traveling the globe at exhibitions in Germany, Australia, and the United States, Puppy found its final home in Spain. While the original Puppy topiary sculpture is a part of the Guggenheim Bilbao’s permanent collection, media mogul Peter Brant and his wife, model Stephanie Seymour, commissioned Koons to construct a second, duplicate Puppy for their Connecticut estate.
The combination of its size and imposing reputation in the art world, as well as the live bedding flowers covering Puppy, ensure the sculpture’s legend literally and figuratively continues to grow by the day.
Know Before You Go
Puppy is located on the grounds of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, and therefore available for viewing at times unrestricted by the Museum's hours of operation.