Peter Lee Credit: Jeff Koons

When Jeff Koons was 17 years old, he mustered up all his courage and telephoned Salvador Dali to ask if the two could meet. His mother had read in the newspaper that each winter the eccentric surrealist took up residence in an opulent suite at the Saint Regis Hotel in New York, where he’d walk his pet ocelot up and down the halls on a leash. The concierge put him straight through to the artist. “Sure,” answered Dali, “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” The two spent an icycold afternoon on the Upper East Side looking at paintings. The young boy snapped a couple of photos. He remembers Dali twirling his moustache and reprimanding him: “I can’t hold this pose forever, kid.”

This fall, Koons returns to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which he attended in 1975 and ’76 to lecture about art. Today he is the most expensive living artist, his Balloon Dog (Orange) having fetched $58.4 million in 2013. Praised and derided for elevating kitsch to the level of high art, he’s infamous for sensational works such as a stainless-steel cast of an inflatable bunny; a gilded white porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles; a 43-foot floral sculpture of a West Highland white terrier created from marigolds, begonias, impatiens, and petunias; and a ten-foot-tall hyperrealistic replica of a lump of Play-Doh that the self-proclaimed “idea man” titled Play-Doh.

Koons’s lecture is part of the School of the Art Institute’s celebration of its 150th academic year.

9/21, 6 PM, Art Institute of Chicago, Rubloff Auditorium, 230 S. Columbus, Free for SAIC students, faculty, staff, alumni, and AIC museum staff; the general public can register for a limited number of free tickets beginning at 8:30 AM on 9/10 by visiting