Lot 32: Jeff Koons (b.1945)
Post War and Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
May 11, 2004
New York, NY, USA
Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train
stainless steel and bourbon
11 x 114 x 6 1/2 in. (28 x 289.5 x 16.5 cm.)
Executed in 1986. This work is number one from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTOR
The other three sculptures in this edition are in the following collections:
2/3--The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica
3/3--The Dakis Joannou Foundation, Athens
Artist proof--Stefan T. Edlis Collection, Chicago
"I was walking down Fifth Avenue and I saw in a liquor store this train that was made out of plastic and porcelain. It was a Jim Beam train. What caught my interest was the possibility to transform it and to cast it in stainless steel and bring it to a mirror finish, but to also maintain the soul of the piece, which was the liquor inside. So, after the train was cast, it was sent back to Jim Beam where they refilled each car with a fifth of Bourbon, and the tax-stamp seal was on. You can drink it and enjoy the bourbon, but you have killed the work of art because you've destroyed the soul of the piece when you break the tax-stamp seal" (Jeff Koons exh. cat. San Francisco MoMA, 1992, n.p.).
Cast in stainless steel and polished to a brilliant mirror finish Jeff Koons' Jim Beam J. B. Turner Train is a shining icon of the bright shining lie of middle class desire. Made in 1986 at the height of the 1980s economic boom when the term 'yuppie' was first coined, the Jim Beam J. B. Turner Train formed the centrepiece of one of Koons' most important and ambitious exhibitions, Luxury and Degradation held at International with Monument Gallery in New York in 1986.
Koons has explained that Luxury and Degradation was his attempt to give "a panoramic view of society". Consisting of a number of billboard liquor advertisements reproduced on canvas and a select group of liquor-related accoutrements such as a travel bar, an ice bucket, a baccarat crystal set and a pail, all cast in stainless steel, the exhibition attempted to expose the shallow artifice of the way in which advertising used abstract ideas to stimulate social ambition. "I wanted to show how luxury and abstraction are used to debase people and take away their economic and political power," Koons recalled (Jeff Koons, cited in ed. A Mathesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne. P. 21).
Following on from his exhibition Equilibrium which had also been about social mobility and survival (albeit of a more spiritual nature) Luxury and Degradation was a direct critique of the pursuit of luxury and the dangerous and inherent lie in the manipulative language of advertising. Koons chose the theme of liquor advertising because "the underlying theme" of the exhibition, "paralleled" the path of the alcoholic. "The objects and the ads here reflect different income levels," Koons told Daniela Salvioli in 1987. "You would have an ad that was directed at the fifteen-thousand-dollar and lower annual income, which was the lowest scale of alcohol marketing. And the highest was a Fra Angelico liqueur ad which was targeted at forty-five thousand dollars. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Jim Beam Train, which was seven fifths of Jim Beam bourbon" (Mathesius, op.cit p. 21).
After having witnessed the clear division in the class structure of advertising in New York while riding the subway from one end of the line to the other, Koons realized how the public was "being deceived in these advertisements on different levels of thought, because they are educated in abstraction and luxury on different levels of income." (Ibid. p. 84) Accordingly, the level of visual abstraction in these adverts was pitched to a different level of class/income. "The more money came into play, the more abstract", Koons pointed out. " It was like they were using abstraction to debase you" (Jeff Koons Pictures 1980-2002 exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2002, p. 20.).
"The upper class," Koons explained "is absent because the show is about how this class controls the class structure by propounding, through information, the desire for luxury and abstraction above people's level of education. The more people seek these things, the more they are lost in the seductive glitter, and reflectivity of everything that is luxury. It moves from an abstraction of sexuality to the dizzying heights of pure abstraction. This is a form of degradation, it is like the alcoholic who is going for something and just ends up babbling" (Jeff Koons in interview with Daniela Salvioli, Flash Art, Dec 1986/Jan 1987).
The visual nature of the show helped to induce this sense of "dizziness" through the glossiness of the objects' surface. The combination of the highly reflective surface of Koons' stainless steel "fake luxury" objects and the colourful but empty abstract language of the advertisements as they distorted and reflected in these shiny surfaces created a pervasive sense of disorientation and imbalance. This was a deliberate attempt by Koons to surreptitiously let his work get under the skin of the viewer in order to awaken them to the vacuity of the language of luxury and abstraction. "All the things that destabilize, that's the story of Luxury and Degradation. I think there's some truth in it. I paralleled the alcoholic, the desire for alcohol, and the dependence on alcohol as an underlying debasement and degradation" (Op.cit. Kunsthalle Bielefeld, p. 21.).
The Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train stood at the center of the exhibition like a magnificent silver zipper simultaneously uniting and dividing the two themes of "luxury" and "degradation". A superbly crafted artifact, the train is a highly desirable object that also, because, it is ultimately a lie, embodies a sense of the base-level degradation of the alcoholic. "The objects are given an artificial luxury, Koons explained, "an artificial value, which transforms them completely, changing their function, and to a certain extent decriticalizing them. My surface is very much a false front for an underlying degradation" (Op.cit. Mathesius p. 74.).
But, the Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train is also much more than this. A perpetual symbol of the freedom and the pioneering drive towards the future of the American West, this replica train, like the railroad itself, is an icon of America and the American Dream as well as of the ambition of upward mobility. Seen from a somewhat different angle this fake silvery jewel-like knick-knack is also merely a novelty carrier of alcohol that debases these same noble myths of the spirit of the West in order to promote its soporific product. Highly desirable, powerful but ambiguous in its symbolism and all cast in a stainless steel brought to a highly polished mirror finish - what Koons describes as a highly sensual and essentially feminine surface - the primary aim of this work is the seduction of the viewer. Stainless steel provided Koons with what he described as "the perfect co-ordination because (it) was the only metal that would keep the alcohol preserved forever" and because it is "fake luxury". Looking like silver, its polished surface appeals to the eye and to our notion of luxury and of precious metal like silver does, but, it is not silver and, as Koons has pointed out, the Luxury and Degradation works couldn't "communicate" in silver. Stainless steel also appealed to Koons because once again it related to the class system on which so much advertising depends. "Stainless steel", he said. "has always been the luxury of the proletariat." Its primary purpose in these works was to " seduce" and then reveal the illusion they had spun, to reveal their 'fakeness'. "The message," Koons has declared, is "not to be seduced. Not to give up your economic power base. At the same time anyone who bought one of these pieces would also be giving in to this seduction, (ultimately) enhancing my power." (Op.cit. A Mathesius p. 21)
Installation view, International With Monument, Luxury and Degradation, 1986.
William Hogarth, Gin Lane (second state), February 1950/51 Courtesy British Museum, London
The Saatchi Collection, London
Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Collection, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Artist or Maker: Jeff Koons (b.1945)
New York, International With Monument Gallery, Luxury and Degradation, 1986.
Barcelona, Centre Cultural de la Fundació Caixa de Pensions, Art and its double. A New York perspective = L'art i el seu doble. Panorama de l'art a Nova York, November 1986-January 1987, no.46, p.71 (illustrated in color; another example exhibited).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, July-August 1988, no.19, pp.30-31 (illustrated in color; another example exhibited).
London, Saatchi Gallery, NY art now. The Saatchi collection, September 1987-January 1988 and February-April 1988, pp.136-137 (illustrated in color).
Washington D.C, Hirshhorn Museum and Scultpure Garden, Culture and commentary. An eighties perspective, February-May 1990, p.79 (illustrated in color).
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; and Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High & Low. Modern Art and Populare Culture, October 1990-September 1991, no.32, p.395 (illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-October 1993, no.28, pl.24 (illustrated in color; another example exhibited).
Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau; and London, Royal Academy of Arts, American Art in the 20th Century. Painting and Sculpture 1913-1993, May-December 1993, no.250 (illustrated in color; another example exhibited).
Kunsthalle Zurich, Playpen & Corpus Delirium. Ein zweiter Blick Werke von Moira Dryer, Robert Gober, Noritoshi Hirakawa, Georg Herold, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, Jonathan Lasker, Sharon Lockhart, Steven Pippin, Richard Prince, Gillian Wearing, October-December 1996, pp.16-17 (illustrated).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collection, October 2001-October 2002, p.224 (illustrated in color; another example exhibited).
Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Jeff Koons, June-September 2003, pp.44-45 (illustrated in color) and p.51 (installation view in color; another example exhibited).
J. Saltz, R. Smith and P. Halley, Beyond boundaries. New York's new art, New York 1986, p.6 (illustrated in color).
J. Koons and R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London 1992, pp.66-67 (illustrated in color).
W. Beeren, Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum 1992, pp.52-53 (illustrated in color).
J. Deitch, everything that's interesting is...new The Dakis Joannou Collection, Ostfildern-Ruit 1996, pp.152-153 (illustrated in color). R. Rosenblum, Jeff Koons: Easyfun-Ethereal, New York 2000, p.34 (illustrated in color).
T. Kellein, Pictures Jeff Koons 1980-2002, New York 2002, p.21 (illustrated in color).