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Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
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Jeff Koons (b. 1955)

Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor)

Details
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor)
glass, steel, sodium chloride reagent, distilled water, two basketballs
62¾ x 36¾ x 13¼ in. (159.4 x 93.3 x 33.7 cm.)
Executed in 1985. This work is number two from and edition of two.
Provenance
Feature, Inc., Chicago
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985
Exhibited
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Painting and Sculpture Today: 1986, June-August 1986.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospektiv, November 1992-April 1993, no. 15 (Aarhus, not illustrated; Amsterdam and Stuttgart, another example illustrated in color).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jeff Koons, December 1992-February 1993, p. 131, no. 15 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and an addendum, both signed by the artist, certifying the authorized replacement of the Wilson Aggressor and Dr. J Silver Series basketballs with the Wilson Home Court and Dr. JK Silver Series basketball.

Jeff Koons' Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) dates from 1985 and comprises two basketballs, which appear suspended in the middle of a glass, water-filled tank. These balls seem to be hovering impossibly within the water. They are intangible, and even a little unnatural. The balls look like they are defying gravity. Hanging like planets within their watery cosmos, they have a stillness that is at odds with the frantic movements of basketballs when they would be in play. Instead, Koons has presented them as though they were specimens, invoking the visual language of science through his use of the aquarium-like vitrine. At the same time, he appears to have taken a wry swipe at the aesthetic of Minimalism, which he has gleefully disrupted by placing these hovering, branded basketballs within the geometric, right-angled, rational framework of the tank.

Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) formed a part of one of Koons' earliest series of works, which was entitled Equilibrium. He had already made an impact upon the art world with his series The New, in which many of the works featured vacuum cleaners presented within Plexiglas cases with fluorescent bulbs illuminating them. In the Equilibrium series, Koons created One Ball, Two Ball, and Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tanks as symbols of an ultimate state of being. As a symbol of another state of being, he also made 50/50 Tanks, as a reference to Kierkegard's Either/Or. Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) shows the evolution of this aesthetic in this next series: the balls appear pristine and immaculate, as did the vacuum cleaners. However, in creating the Equilibrium, Koons pushed even further the perfectionism that was already in evidence in The New and which has continued to be a feature of his works, for instance in the later Celebration sculptures with their meticulous finishes. Koons has often explained that he wants his works to be "trustworthy." Accordingly, rather than use, say, silicon or another thick liquid in order to suspend the basketballs in the tanks of his Equilibrium works, he researched other means to balance them in water. In this way, he assured that Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggressor) and its fellow works were "honest", showing what they appeared to show and thus creating a covenant of reassurance between the artist and the viewer.

In order to create this effect in the Equilibrium series, Koons carried out extensive research, famously consulting the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, who died only a few years later. Koons recalled, "He was very supportive. I would call him a couple of times each week. For the Equilibrium series--you know my tanks were only this big--he kept pushing me, telling me that I could solve the problem" (J. Koons, quoted in R. Koolhaas and H-U. Obrist, "Interview,",Jeff Koons: Retrospective, exh.cat., Oslo, 2004, pp. 82-83). Eventually, Koons developed a deceptively simple system: the tank in Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) is mostly filled with water mixed with pure sodium chloride, or salt; the balls themselves are filled with distilled water. This means that the balls are essentially floating on the salt water that dominates the lower portion of the tank while the lighter distilled water lies above. Because they are in the water, the balls are sometimes able to move according to external conditions, a factor that adds a sense of life to the works:

"To me they start to become like the beginning of artificial intelligence, because of the movement that occurs due to vibration and even the sun. Just the sunlight in a Total Equilibrium Tank can generate enough heat in the molecules that it will move the balls from one side of the tank to the other, as the sun crosses the sky. I always think of it as thought patterns, the way the balls will configure themselves - information is carried back and forth differently through them" (J. Koons, quoted in H. Werner Holzwarth (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 146).

The finished effect has an almost spiritual quality: the ball is suspended as though in some moment of apotheosis. Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) is an elegant and eloquent reliquary, and it is no surprise that sculptures such as this have influenced a range of artists, not least Damien Hirst in his own vitrines filled with preserved animals, as well as in the balls that hover in space, sustained by a jet of air, such as his 1991 work, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always Forever, Now.

In a sense, Hirst's works approach similar territory as Koons', yet from the opposite end: where Hirst's precariously hanging ping-pong ball hints at death and mortality because of its fragile balance, Koons' tanks such as Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) are filled with promise, with life: "The basketball hovering in the tank is like a foetus in the womb, it's an ultimate state of being" (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 340). These balls, removed from the hurly burly of the basketball courts, are unmoving, untainted, pure. They are visions of innocence.

While the basketballs in Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor) are in reality filled with water, they give the impression, as is the case with the balls that are played on courts throughout the United States, that they contain air. And air, after all, is breath. It is one of the most elemental requirements for our survival. This is a theme that has recurred throughout much of Koons' work, from his early inflatables, The Pre-New, to the vacuum cleaners of The New and on to the metal balloon sculptures and pool toys of the more recent Celebration and Popeye series. In Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor), the balls introduce a notion of survival; they also encourage us to seek equilibrium in our own lives.

As well as the basketballs suspended in glass tanks, the Equilibrium series also comprised sculptures that involved concepts of breathing and of floating, for instance his Lifeboat and Aqualung. Cast in heavy bronze, they have been granted a great artistic dignity, yet clearly have had any practicality or functionality removed. Alongside these sculptures, Koons also sought permission to reproduce several Nike ads showing basketball players in various poses and guises. This added the dimension of socio-economic equilibrium to the works, a theme that would be further explored in Koons' subsequent Luxury and Degradation series. In Equilibrium, Koons explored the idea that sports, and in particular basketball, are sometimes seen as a way for people from ethnic areas in particular to escape the confines of poverty in many cities throughout the United States. This is a dream for many people and is sustained by the publicity and reverence that successful figures such as the Nike-sponsored players immortalised in Koons' posters receive. They appear as contemporary saints, urging their followers on from the vantage-point afforded by success. However, in reality such transcendence remains elusive, the exceptions only ever proving the rule. In Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series, Wilson Aggresor), that promise of escape through basketball hovers, tantalizing and intangible, within the glass tank, a mirage-like, yet impossible, vision of salvation rooted, as is the case in so many of Koons' greatest works, in the vocabulary of product placement and consumerism.


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