Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
27 x 17½ x 17½ in. (68.6 x 44.5 x 44.5 cm.)
Cast in 1985.
This work is number two from an edition of three.
The Saatchi Collection, London
Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
D. Cameron, NY art now: The Saatchi Collection, London, 1988, p. 130 (illustrated in color).
F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p1. 10 (illustrated in color).
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, pp. 66-67; pp. 57 and 65 (illustrated; installation view).
R. Rosenblum, Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, pp. 58-59 (illustrated in color). Jeff Koons Easyfun--Ethereal, Berlin, 2000, p. 31 (illustrated in color).
A. Roshani, Schöne Liebe. Sechs Museumswärter erzählen, wie die Kunst ihr Leben verändert hat, Berlin, 2003, p. 22-23 (installation view illustrated).
T. Kellein, Jeff Koons: Pictures 1980-2002, New York, 2003, p. 19 (illusrated in color).
New York, International with Monument Gallery and Chicago, Feature Gallery, Equilibrium, 1985 (another cast exhibited).
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Jeff Koons, July-August 1988, p. 22, no. 12 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Denmark, Aarthus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospective, November 1992-April 1993, p. 21 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Jeff Koons, December 1992-October 1993, p. 53 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zeichen und Wunder, Jeff Koons, March-June 1995, no. 50 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color). Spain, Santiago de Compostela and Centro Galego de Art Contemporánea, Signs and wonders, July-October 1995, no. 50 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Jeff Koons, June-September
2003, p. 41 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
New York, C&M Arts, Jeff Koons: Highlights of 25 Years, 2004, n.p. (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art and Helsinki City Art Museum, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, September-April 2005 (another cast exhibited, illustrated in color).
London, Tate Modern (on extended loan).
Aqualung is a standard scuba device recast as an irresistible object of desire and a machine of life-giving intention. A seminal part of Koons' first show at the International with Monument Gallery in 1985, Aqualung was exhibited there as a part of Equilibrium, a series of works about the futile impossibility of balance in life and the inevitability of death. Included in Equilibrium were Koons' basketballs perfectly suspended in tanks of water, posters of basketball stars, and bronze casts of other aquatic life-saving devices such as Snorkel and Lifeboat. Seen collectively, Equilibrium sardonically reminds us that dead freefall is the only eternal state, and all flotation or upward movement is but a tragic detour on the way down. Indeed, a basketball player may rise up out of the poorest of ghettos, may float in celebrity for a time, but, like all shots, he can only go through the hoop so many times before he will fall into his rightful place in the deep.
Equilibrium is the great turning point in Koons' career and Aqualung is the key piece from that series. Having explored the capitalistic connotations of the ready-made with his vacuum cleaners under glass and the inflatable toy rabbits (allowing us to see everyday object not only in a new light as Duchamp had with his urinal, but in a specific shadow of contemporary consumerist condemnation), Koons here casts the machine that allows people to breathe - to inflate and deflate their lungs - under extremely deep conditions. Aqualung is reminiscent of Jasper Johns' bronze sculptures of mundane objects and Meret Oppenheim's recoverings. As Daniela Salvioni writes, "Koons poetics of objects recalls Jasper Johns's cast-bronze beer cans, in which an ordinary object becomes endowed with a surplus of meaning, and the surrealist tactic of juxtaposing unexpected elements, as in Meret Oppenheim's fur-covered teacup...."(C. D. Salvioni, "Jeff Koons's Poetics of Class," Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, pp. 20-21).
Speaking to the mortal seduction of Aqualung, Koons is very instructive: "This is one of the bronzes that was there to seduce as a tool for equilibrium, and this always reminded me of the venus of Willendorf. Very voluptuous with all of these curves just like the Venus, and if you turn it around in the back you have your emergency ripcord so, if you go for equilibrium and you panic, you can resurface. Now if somebody did go for equilibrium and they had that lifevest on, and for some reason they panicked but were able to get it off and resurface, then they would see the lifeboat waiting. But if they got in thinking that they had found their salvation, they would only find that there is no salvation because the bronze lifeboat weighs over six hundred pounds and it's just going to take you right back down," (J. Koons, "Equilibrium," Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 67).
This is also, of course, a piece about consumer desire. Like the Venus of Willendorf, one wants to touch it, to tactilely explore its clasps, pouches, pockets, hoses, knobs and tanks. The interior looks like a strange womb and every detail is fetishized. Here, Koons replicates the way in which desire is produced and packaged in our capitalistic, consumer-oriented world. Indeed, Koons has said that Aqualung is "involved with... the difficulty of maintaining one's psychic equilibrium (or balance) in a commodity oriented world." Everyday, there is a new vacuum cleaner, basketball star, model, or car that we pine for. Aqualung speaks to the chimerical nature of these phony strongholds in a valueless world of mortal freefall.
The very title of this piece, Aqualung, is about the inevitability of mortality in our artificial and material world. We need a constantly refreshed balance of air inside and outside our lungs to survive. On the ground, we are somehow able to maintain this equilibrium for some years. But we are not meant to have an aqualung. We are not fish. We are not supposed to be able to explore the depths by transgressing nature. And yet, somehow, we have invented tools that allow us to be so pompously decadent. By recasting this aqualung in bronze, Koons reminds us that "...death is the fundamental state of being," (Angelika Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 20).