Please note that another example of this work has been requested for the exhibition Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June-October 2014.
Jeff Koons's Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train stretches nine and a half feet, a silvery seam of industrial nostalgia: it takes the form of a vintage locomotive and its carriages. This is a subject that taps into the pioneer history of the United States of America. It channels the glamor of a bygone era, an elegy to the ages of steam and steel. Its appearance mimics that of the lavish centerpieces that would have adorned the formal table of a Duke, a Frick or a Carnegie. And yet this is not Tiffany or Fabergé silver: instead, it is stainless steel. The train is made of the same practical material that underpinned the expansion of the USA, once linked by vital arteries of steel along which trains like this would trundle. Invoking old world glamor and filled with bourbon, a piece of found cultural ephemera transformed into indestructible, immaculate steel, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train taps into many chapters of American history, from the pioneers to Prohibition to Pop.
Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train was made in 1986 and formed part of Koons's second one-man exhibition, Luxury and Degradation, held at the International with Monument Gallery in New York. As the show's title implies, Koons's train is at once a celebration and a caveat, pointing to the exploitation that lay behind the successes of the speculators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alike, be it through land sales, booze or advertising, while commemorating the heroic spirit of these frontiersmen and trailblazers. Like Andy Warhol, Koons has taken an iconic element from the cultural landscape of the United States and used it as a vehicle for a sophisticated investigation of art and society. As he explained, "I wanted to suggest how the idea of luxury, through abstraction, is used to induce a psychological state of degradation, the public is constantly undergoing a re-education, being set up for the big kill" (J. Koons, quoted in T. Kellein (ed.), Jeff Koons Pictures: 1980-2002, exh.cat., Bielefeld, 2002, p. 45).
The genesis of Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train came about when Koons was wandering down Fifth Avenue in New York and saw a plastic and porcelain decanter shaped like a locomotive with its wagons in a liquor store window. He had the original piece of Jim Beam memorabilia cast in steel. The Jim Beam company then filled the steel train with bourbon, affixing the tax stamps to each carriage.
The choice of the train may have appeared fortuitous, yet it taps into a wide range of associations, ranging from nostalgia and history to industrialization and exploitation. The train that Jim Beam had chosen for their decanter dates back to the pioneering days at the dawn of the rail network in the United States. The original 'John B. Turner' was made in Chicago in 1867 and named after one of the presidents of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company. It has been commemorated in books, in the Jim Beam decanters and on a postage stamp in Guyana.
That locomotive was clearly the kind of machine that trundled across the prairies and deserts of the United States back when the frontier was still expanding. Even in the decades after the creation of the John B. Turner, the rail network in the States was fragmentary enough that people migrating westwards would have to leave their train and travel onwards in convoys of wagons. Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train sings with a rich nostalgia for that age of nascent industrial might; and that nostalgia has a macho side: after all, this train dated from just after the American Civil War, to the age of mavericks and cowboys. With its passenger carriage accompanied by wagons loaded with freight, bourbon and timber, one can easily imagine, say, the James Gang swooping down upon this train, taking whatever loot they could gather. The frontier spirit that lies at the heart of so much of the American sense of identity is perfectly condensed within this shrine to the age in which the USA was forged. A steam engine like the 'John B. Turner' evokes an age of adventure, of derring-do, of Western gunslingers. Many of the earliest American movies focussed on the Wild West and the first brave souls who ventured into it: this was the creation of a national mythology that is encompassed in the vintage locomotive. This train evokes the heroes of that age, as well as the actors who brought it to life on the silver screen and the television in the century to come, from the era of silent pictures such as The Great Train Robbery of 1903 to the emergence of Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
The original 'John B. Turner' actually came from the West, not the Midwest. The prominent businessman after whom the train, and by extension this sculpture, was named worked for the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company, which laid much of the track outside Chicago; its initials are in the plaques and roundels on the sides of the engine. Turner sometimes worked alongside William Butler Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago, and other prominent figures from the age. Perhaps Koons, in choosing it for Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train, was showing some discreet loyalty to Chicago, where he had spent a year studying at the Art Institute with Ed Paschke as a mentor, under whose guidance he honed his eye for art and the absurd.
Trains like the 'John B. Turner' were celebrated as wonders of technology, bringing new speed and efficiency to the world. Yet in the post-war years the decline of the steam engine triggered a new nostalgia: the intense modernity that had resulted in artistic responses as diverse as those of J.M.W. Turner and the Italian Futurists was now replaced by the yearning for those simpler days of stylish carriages and the 'puff puff puff' of the steam locomotive. Those pioneering years seemed long gone. Even today, the allure of the locomotive is still alive and well, despite the steam engine being phased out. Looking at Koons's Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train, at paintings by Norman Rockwell and photographs by O. Winston Link, it is clear that for decades, the end of the age of steam has been associated with the passing of a world of clearer, simpler values. The obsolescence of these churning 'iron horses' is perceived as a loss of innocence, ushering in some more prosaic modernity. And there is no sentiment more Koonsian than a hankering for a more innocent age.
The fact that Koons cast Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train in steel was highly appropriate: steel, after all, is the material used for the trains and tracks that made America what it is. The names of the steel barons of the nineteenth century such as Carnegie, Phipps and Frick still feature on the roster of philanthropists, patricians, corporations and institutions today. They are part of America's history and its DNA. The wealth and glory of the nation was built with steel-and so too the aesthetic. The railways and the skyscrapers alike gleam with that futuristic sheen of metal, celebrations of the machine age.
Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train was the largest work in Koons's Luxury and Degradation show, which also marked the appearance of stainless steel as a medium in his work. He would turn to it again and again, be it in the Statuary series, which came shortly afterwards and included the Rabbit, the iconic 'Brancusi bunny,' or his more recent monumental Celebration series. Steel is a perfect material for Koons: it polishes to a mirror sheen that hints at luxury yet is eminently practical. This is the material upon which the modern world has been built.
Here, it is also a lure: while it may speak of practicality, its sheen appeals to our magpie instincts, to our instinctive fascination for wealth and precious materials. Koons has subverted the language of luxury in order to seduce, and therefore trick, the viewer. "It is a very seductive shiny material and the viewer looks at this and feels for the moment economically secure," Koons stated. "It's most like the gold- and silver-leafing in church during the Baroque and the Rococo" (J. Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 22). The metal Koons has used in Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train is utilitarian, yet at the same time gleams with false luxury. It resembles mediaeval reliquaries as well as the luxurious ornaments of the Romanovs and Rockefellers of the late nineteenth century.
The use of steel in Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train creates a paradox: on the one hand, it keeps the whiskey safe, preserved, at a remove from possible temptation--at a remove from the viewer. On the other hand, its reflective surface involves us directly within the fabric of the work: our endlessly shimmering reflections mean that we are directly implicated within Koons's universe, within his range of references and values. "I often use reflective surfaces in my work, starting to work with polished steel in 1986," Koons has said. "Polishing the metal lent it a desirous surface, but also one that gave affirmation to the viewer. And this is also the sexual part--it's about affirming the viewer, telling him, 'You exist!' When you move, it moves. The reflection changes. If you don't move, nothing happens. Everything depends on you, the viewer" (J. Koons, quoted in I. Graw, "There Is No Art in It: Isabelle Graw in Conversation with Jeff Koons," pp. 75-83, M. Ulrich (ed.), Jeff Koons: The Painter, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 2012, p. 78).
Koons's use of steel invokes the silver of cocktail shakers. These were products of the Prohibition: the lack of quality alcohol during the days of Prohibition, where the unregulated black market had its monopoly, led to the heyday of the cocktail and the speakeasy. Drinks were mixed with other drinks in order to mask the poor quality of the ingredients. Prohibition, and the suppression of the alcohol industry in the States, had the mysterious effect of ushering into existence whole new realms of creativity. While drinking alcohol was illegal, the sale of paraphernalia related to it was not, hence the boom in stylish cocktail shakers and other utensils whose descendents are immortalized in Luxury and Degradation, be it in the Fisherman Golfer with its various strainers and stirrers or the Travel Bar based on Koons's own memories of his father or indeed in Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train.
The tension and the balance between luxury and practicality cut to the heart of Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train and the other works from the series, continuing a theme that had made its entrance in the Equilibrium works with which he had made his true debut the previous year. There, an Aqualung and other life-preserving objects had been immortalized in incongruous bronze. They gave the appearance of support and sustenance, yet actually were lavish, dead weights. Meanwhile basketballs floated in tanks, poised like immaculate foeti. Equilibrium spoke of the contrast between balance and the tantalizing prospect of escape via sporting success. Koons was looking at the socio-economic landscape of the United States and showing what is, for most people, the seductive false promise held out by the American Dream. Sports gods who made it to the big time were presented as contemporary saints, as Old Testament prophets, hinting that such a paradise might await anyone.
Luxury and Degradation focused more on the markers of socio-economic differences than Equilibrium. "All the things that destabilize. That's the story of Luxury and Degradation," he said. "I think there is some truth in it. I paralleled the alcoholic, the desire for alcohol, and the dependence on alcohol as an underlying debasement and degradation" (J. Koons, quoted in Kellein (ed.), op. cit., 2002, p. 21). In modern advertising, Koons perceived a siren call that would lead to people playing the parts that posters demanded, falling into line, allowing themselves to be pigeonholed and mind-controlled. He explored this in Luxury and Degradation by juxtaposing his steel sculptures such as Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train and its fellows with a group of pictures which that, in fact, alcohol adverts reproduced mechanically with lush oil inks on canvas. These ads had originally been designed to appeal to various different economic groups, ranging from a low income target audience to a relatively high one. Koons had noticed the correlation between the use of abstraction and high income target audiences while looking at the posters placed in different parts of New York as he traveled from Harlem to Grand Central, seeing the geographical stratification of society.
Similarly, "the sculptures represented a range of economic levels. Within these levels there were different temptations--luxury in different strengths. Eventually degradation would set in, and your economic and political power could be taken away from you. So it was a warning: Don't be a fool, keep your eyes open" (J. Koons, quoted in K. Siegel, "80s Then: Jeff Koons talks to Katy Siegel," Artforum, XLI, no. 7, March 2003, p. 253). In its entirety, and in each individual object, in Luxury and Degradation Koons attempted to steer his viewers away from being the pawns of commercial pressure. The release that Koons offered was encapsulated in his use of steel for all the sculptures: the same material, regardless of class associations. It was a democratizing, unifying material, as would be the case in the Statuary series, which featured steel sculptures of an inflatable Rabbit and Louis XIV alike.
Koons has long been very conscious of ideas of class and the way that aspiration can be used to control and degrade. In this sense, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train is a booby-trap, a poisoned chalice, participating in the economics of luxury while criticizing them. For Koons, the art market itself provided another important parallel to those industries that thrived so much on the aspirations of their customers. Looking at the various sculptures and pictures in Luxury and Degradation, the viewer becomes keenly aware of the social spectrum that is evoked through the various associations.
Taste and so-called sophistication are used as markers that allow society to stratify itself; for Koons, participation in this process is a form of expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a loss of innocence. The Luxury and Degradation series, Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train included, marked the grand entrance of kitsch into Koons's visual arsenal, a watershed that would see his entire oeuvre change direction. When considering the subsequent Statuary series, or Banality, or even Made in Heaven with its explicitly sexual dimension, it becomes clear that already in Luxury and Degradation Koons was provocatively thrusting elements of kitsch under his viewer's nose in order to challenge the notions of taste prevalent in the art world and in society at large. As he would say of his Made in Heaven series, "The artworld uses taste as a form of segregation. I was trying to make a body of work that anybody could enjoy" (J. Koons, quoted in Muthesius, op. cit., 1992, p. 30). Nostalgia and kitsch were key triggers in this: the taste that we discard as we grow, as we become more "sophisticated," is flaunted gleefully before us in the form of trinkets and gewgaws that have been transformed into porcelain or carved wood or, as is the case with Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train, cast in steel, the very fabric upon which our age is founded. Koons gives this giant toy train the affirmation of its reincarnation in steel, and thereby gives his viewers affirmation too.
Jeff Koons (B. 1955)
Sold to Benefit a Foundation
Jeff Koons , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, United States of America, Contemporary
Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Luxury and Degradation, August 1986 (another example exhibited).
New York, International With Monument Gallery, Luxury and Degradation, October 1986 (another example exhibited).
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, p. 71, no. 46 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons: Works 1979-1988, July-August 1988, pp. 30-31, no. 19 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
London, Saatchi Gallery, New York Art Now: The Saatchi Collection, September 1987-April 1988, pp. 136-137 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Washington D.C, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Culture and Commentary: An Eighties Perspective, February-May 1990, p. 79 (another example exhibited and 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 Popular Culture, October 1990-September 1991, p. 395, no. 32, (another example exhibited and illustrated).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-October 1993, pp. 70-71 and 131, no. 24 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Denmark, Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospektiv, November 1992-April 1993, Amsterdam and Stuttgart, pp. 52-53 (illustrated in color); Aarhus, no. 13, pp. 42-43, (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau; London, Royal Academy of Arts and London, Saatchi Gallery, American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1913-1993, May-December 1993, no. 250 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Athens School of Fine Art; Copenhagen, Museum of Modern Art and New York, Guggenheim Museum SoHo, Everything That's Interesting is New: The Dakis Joannou Collection, January-April 1996, pp. 152-153 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
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 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Santa Monica, Eli Broad Family Foundation, Group Show, December 1997-July 1999 (another example exhibited).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Center for Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons - A Millenium Celebration: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection 1979-1999, December 1999-May 2000, pp. 26-27 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Age of Influence: Reflections in the Mirror of American Culture, April-June 2000.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collection, October 2001-September 2003, p. 224 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Jeff Koons, June-September 2003, pp. 44-45 and 51 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation Centre for Contemporary Art, Monument to Now, June-December 2004, pp. 207, 425, 429 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
New York, C&M Arts, Jeff Koons: Highlights of 25 Years, April-June 2004, pp. 50-51 and 81, no. 15 (illustrated in color).
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Re-Object: Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Merz, February-May 2007 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art and Helsinki City Art Museum, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, September 2004-April 2005, pp. 44-45 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and London, Hayward Gallery, Universal Experience: Art, Life and the Tourist's Eye, February-June 2005 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Re-Object: Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Merz, February-May 2007, pp. 110 and 120-121 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
London, Gagosian Gallery, Pop Art is, September-November 2007, no. 101(another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons, May-September 2008, pp. 48-49 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, Inaugural Installation, 2008 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chateau de Versailles, Jeff Koons, Versailles, October 2008-January 2009, pp. 81-82, 83, 156 and 166 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Frankfurt, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Jeff Koons: The Sculptor, June-September 2012, p. 172 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
11 x 114 x 6½ in. (27.9 x 289.6 x 16.5 cm.)
J. Saltz, R. Smith and P. Halley, Beyond Boundaries: New York's New Art, New York, 1986, p. 6 (another example illustrated).
J. Siegel, 'Jeff Koons: Unachievable States of Being,' Art, October 1986, p. 67 (another example illustrated).
Art and its Double: a New York Perspective, exh. cat., Madrid, Fundación Caja de Pensiones, 1987, p. 71 (another example illustrated).
J. Koons and R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, pp. 66-67 and 157 (another example illustrated in color).
W. Beeren, Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, 1992, pp. 52-53 (another example illustrated in color).
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, pp. 21, 68-69 and 70, pl. 1 (another example illustrated in color).
J. Deitch, everything that's interesting is...new, The Dakis Joannou Collection, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1996, pp. 152-153 (another example illustrated in color).
Jeff Koons: Easyfun-Etheral, exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2000, pp. 32 and 34 (another example illustrated in color).
T. Kellein, Pictures: Jeff Koons 1980-2002, New York, 2002, p. 21 (another example illustrated in color).
M. Woltmann, Jeff Koons: Retrospektiv/Retrospective, exh. cat., Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, 2004, pp. 44-45 (another example illustrated in color).
M. Maneker, 'Early Birds,' New York Magazine, 2 May 2004.
'Notable Prices, the Year in Review 2004,' The Art Newspaper, 2004, pp. 36-37 (illustrated).
S. Cosulich Canarutto, Jeff Koons, Milan, 2006, pp. 44-45 (illustrated in color).
A. Landi, 'How Jeff Koons Became a Superstar: Kelly Devine Thomas tracked the way an artist shaped his own career (Top Ten),' ARTNews, November 2007, p. 187.
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, New York, 2009, pp. 187-188, 193-198 and 206 (another example illustrated in color).
L. Molzhahn, 'Jeff Koons Exhibition Opens at Museum of Contemporary Art,' Chicago Tribune, 30 May 2008.
P. Schjeldahl, 'Funhouse: A Jeff Koons Retrospective,' New Yorker, 9 June 2008.
M. Nakamura, 'USA: Jeff Koons,' Art Actuel, July/August 2008, p. 75 (another example illustrated in color).
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale which may include guaranteeing a minimum price or making an advance to the consignor that is secured solely by consigned property. This is such a lot. This indicates both in cases where Christie's holds the financial interest on its own, and in cases where Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold successfully and may incur a loss if the sale is not successful.