A towering figure in the world of contemporary art, Jeff Koons is among the best known – and certainly the most expensive – living artist.

His works, such as giant metallic reproductions of balloon dogs and rabbits, luridly-coloured tulips, a 13m-tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland terrier and a gold-plated statue of Michael Jackson with his pet chimp Bubbles, are iconic and instantly recognisable. His Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie’s in New York for US$58.4 million – a record sum for an auctioned work by a living artist.

Early next year, some of the artist’s most important pieces will go on show at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum as it holds a major exhibition of his work.

The show, which will be jointly curated by Koons and the art historian Sir Norman Rosenthal, will feature 17 works, 14 of which have never been exhibited in the UK before. They span the artist’s career and will include his best-known series including Equilibrium, Statuary, Banality, Antiquity and his recent Gazing Ball sculptures and paintings.

The artist said: “I couldn’t think of a better place to have a dialogue about art today and what it can be.”

Incredibly, the show is the result of efforts by a group of art-loving students, members of the Edgar Wind Society – named after the first Professor of Art History at Oxford University.

The undergraduates invited Koons to Oxford after naming him the first recipient of a new contemporary art prize. Incredibly Koons accepted, making a day trip from New York to the Ashmolean to receive the honour.

The visit, two years ago, may have been short, but it made a huge impression on the artist, whose recent work is based on classical statues, such as those in the Ashmolean’s collection.

The Oxford Times:

Balloon Venus Magenta (c) Jeff Koons

“It’s a real coup for the Ashmolean that Jeff Koons has agreed to work with us and it’s very exciting,” says the museum’s director Dr Xa Sturgis.

“In showing Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean, where the collections range from prehistory to the present, this exhibition will provoke a conversation between his work and the history of art and ideas with which his work engages.

Describing the circumstances of Koons’s visit, he says: “He came and gave a wonderful talk here and was incredibly gracious and charming.

“He gave students his time and came into the Ashmolean and got a glimpse of it.

“He came back some months later with a friend of his and his wife. I took them round and we chatted and asked if he’d do something with us – and he said yes. He was excited by the idea of the Ashmolean as the world’s oldest public museum.”

Koons, 63, who emerged onto the contemporary art scene in the 1980s, has been described as the most famous, important, subversive and controversial artist in the world.

From his earliest works he has explored the ‘readymade’ and appropriated image – using unadulterated found objects, and creating painstaking replicas of ancient sculptures and Old Master paintings with great precision.

The Ashmolean exhibition will include important works from the 1980s with which Koons made his name through the novel use of the readymade and the appropriation of popular imagery: One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, Rabbit and Ushering in Banality.

It will also explore Koons’s interest in ancient art and sculpture, such as Balloon Venus.

The Oxford Times:

Antiquity 1 (c) Jeff Koons.jpg

“His current work is about antiquity,” says Xa. “He calls it our cultural DNA, which can be traced back to antiquity and beyond, so, for example, his Balloon Venus is a riff on the Venus of Willendorf [a 25,000 year-old carving found on the Danube in Austria].

Xa barely conceals his excitement, adding: “I am absolutely a fan and have no doubt his work will stand the test of time. One of the joys of being at the Ashmolean is that career highlights come along all the time – from Raphael to Koons, who are quite different but also similar in their attention to detail and craftsmanship.

“The technical side of Koons’s making process is extraordinary, with teams of people working at computer modelling and painting by hand. He is reproducing great masterpieces, pixel by pixel.”

Sir Norman, also a curator of note, agrees.

“Jeff Koons’s work plays with our memories of childhood and our 'educated' cultural experiences as he blends high and low culture, inviting us to challenge the distinction as we gaze at art and at ourselves," he says.

“Putting his work in the Ashmolean – the first museum in the very heart of academia, Oxford University – we can take his experiment a step further. For those of us willing to share in his visions, Jeff Koons makes art a magical transformation.”

Jeff Koons holds his show at the Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford, from February 7 to June 9, 2019. See ashmolean.org