Executed in 1986, Jim Beam - Log Car forms part of Jeff Koons' celebrated Luxury and Degradation series. In this, Koons explored and exposed the strange hierarchies by which alcohol advertising aimed at seducing various strata of society and, in particular, salary into buying their products. The series consisted of a range of sculptures, as well as paintings that meticulously reproduced various liquor ads. Discussing the genesis of the sculptures based on the train, Koons explained:
'It was the first time I'd worked with stainless steel. I liked its proletarian quality, pots and pans are made out of it. I was walking down the street and saw this ceramic train filled with Jim Beam and I thought: 'This would be a great ready-made.' So I cast it and went back to the company and had it filled with bourbon and sealed with the tax stamp. Because, for me, the bourbon was the soul and the tax-stamp seal was like the interface to the soul. It was about creating something that you'd desire. I wanted to create work that people would be attracted to' (Koons, 2000, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 340).
The train, both as a Jim Beam commemorative product and in its reincarnation as Koons' gleaming, proletarian reliquary, taps into the history, mythology and narrative of the creation of the United States. It evokes notions of industry, of pioneering exploration, of lumberjacks, perhaps even of log cabins, of a world of honest labourers. In taking this as his source, Koons is inscrutable in his judgement: is he ironising this notion of Americana, highlighting the distance between the States then and the States now, or is he celebrating it? This shining trophy critiques the cynical way in which these myths have been manipulated in order to 'degrade', in order to convince people to buy into them by buying. And yet at the same time, Koons has unashamedly created an artwork that is playful, toy-like, overtly desirable, openly encouraging people to break down their old notions of taste and restraint and to indulge themselves, setting alight a revolution and disrupting the old hierarchies. As he has explained, 'The artworld uses taste as a form of segregation. I was trying to make a body of work that anybody could enjoy' (Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 30).