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

Jim Beam - Log Car

Details
Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Jim Beam - Log Car
stainless steel and bourbon
7¾ x 14¼ x 6½in. (19.7 x 36.2 x 16.5cm.)
Executed in 1986, this work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof
Provenance
Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles.
Private Collection, New York.
Jan-Eric Lowenadler, Stockholm.
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris.
Richard Green Gallery, London.
Private Collection, New York (1989).
Haunch of Venison, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010.
Literature
D. Cameron, “Art and its Double.”, in Flash Art, May 1987, p. 59.
G. Politi, “Interview.” in Flash Art, February 1987, p. 75.
New York in View, exh. cat., Munich, Kunstverein, 1988 (another example illustrated).
J.Koons & R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London 1992, p. 157.
A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne 1992, p. 166, no. 6 (another example illustrated in colour, p. 73).
H.W. Holzwarth, Jeff Koons, Cologne 2008, pp. 193-197 (illustrated in colour).
H.W. Holzwarth, Koons, Slovakia 2015, p. 35.
Exhibited
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Cartes Blanche / Les Courtiers du desir, 1987.
Kunstverein Munchen, New York in View, 1988 (edition unknown; illustrated, unpaged).
Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, Jeff Koons: A Survey 1981-1994, 1994 (edition unknown).
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Jeff Koons- Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine and six individual cars, 2015.
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Katharine Arnold
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Lot Essay

‘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 also to maintain the soul of the piece, which was the liquor inside’ —J. KOONS

‘This was a panoramic view of society. I wanted to show how luxury and abstraction are used to debase people and take away their economic and political power’ —J. KOONS

‘To me stainless steel is the material of the Proletarian. It’s what pots and pans are made of. It’s a very hard material and it’s fake luxury. If these pieces were in silver, they would be absolutely boring. They have absolutely no desire to be in silver; they could not communicate in silver’ —J. KOONS

‘It was about creating something that you’d desire. I wanted to create work that people would be attracted to’ —J. KOONS

‘For me, the bourbon was the soul and the tax-stamp seal was like the interface to the soul’ —J. KOONS


With the gleaming finish of their polished exteriors and pristine attention to detail, Jeff Koons’s Jim Beam – Baggage Car, Jim Beam – Observation Car, and Jim Beam – Log Car each radiates a shiny, silver desirability that lures the viewer to their surfaces, captivating them with the mirror-like reflections that shimmer across their exteriors. Visually seductive yet conceptually complex, these works were first conceived as part of Koons’s seminal Luxury and Degradation series, a group of works thematically centred on alcohol that was first exhibited in 1986 at the International with Monument Gallery in New York’s East Village. This series represented Koons’s first use of stainless steel in his artworks – a watershed moment that would have a dramatic impact on the rest of his career. The exhibition included a stainless steel travel cocktail cabinet and other renderings of alcohol related paraphernalia, as well as large-scale advertisements for such products as Gordon’s Gin and Frangelico, imbued with an exuberance that accentuated the glamorous, aspirational imagery they projected. As Koons explained: ‘It was about creating something that you’d desire. I wanted to create work that people would be attracted to’ (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London 2002, p. 340). In the ads and objects he took as his sources, Koons examined the different ways in which companies tailored their campaigns for different markets and demographics, and highlighted the inherent contradictions that often underpinned these strategies. Across the series, he sought to address the marketing and consumption of alcohol, to question the complex web of connections between advertising, class, vice, social status and art that underpinned the promotion of these products, but which often remained beyond the perception of the audience.

The train carriages that Koons immortalised in steel were based on a collectible decanter produced by Jim Beam made of porcelain and plastic, which the artist had seen in the window of a liquor store while strolling along Fifth Avenue one day. Koons believed it to be a perfectly Duchampian readymade object, and was struck by the way it transformed a cheerful children’s toy into a luxurious object, intended to sell an addictive substance to an adult audience. By casting it in steel and accentuating the shine in its finish, Koons echoes this transformation, creating a veneer of luxury that evokes associations with the gleam and glamour of silver and other precious metals, despite its practical applications. ‘To me stainless steel is the material of the Proletarian,’ Koons explained. ‘It’s what pots and pans are made of. It’s a very hard material and it’s fake luxury. If these pieces were in silver, they would be absolutely boring. They have absolutely no desire to be in silver; they could not communicate in silver’ (J. Koons, quoted in Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1992, p. 65). Thus, the materiality of the steel becomes integral to the meaning of the artwork, creating a tension between appearance and reality that reflects the disparities Koons found so prevalent in the advertising for alcoholic beverages.

Like their original source, each carriage of the train contains a fifth of bourbon, hidden in an interior cavity, sealed and covered with a tax stamp applied by the Jim Beam Company. The stainless steel thus also had practical implications for the artist, as it could maintain the quality of the bourbon as it aged. Koons proclaimed that the sanctity of the hidden alcohol was central to the spirit of the work of art: ‘For me, the bourbon was the soul and the tax-stamp seal was like the interface to the soul,’ the artist explained in an interview with David Sylvester (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London 2002, p. 340). As long as the seal is unbroken, the work remains in a perpetual state of newness, a pristine embodiment of the artist’s original intention. However, the survival of the artwork, the preservation of its ‘spirit,’ remains wholly contingent on one’s ability to keep temptation at bay and resist the lure of the liquor contained within. As Koons explains, ‘You can drink it and enjoy the bourbon, but you have killed the soul of the piece when you break the tax-stamp seal’ (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London 2002, p. 56).

Discussing the soul of the artwork in this way, the sculpture gains an almost spiritual air, akin to that of a medieval reliquary. Combined with the seductive materiality and apparent preciousness of the train carriages, their forms and mysterious spiritual value echo these religious objects, which still attract such veneration in churches today. Indeed, the viewer’s belief in the presence of this ‘spirit’ inside these sculptures requires a similar leap of faith to those of the religious worshippers. Invisible to the eye, hidden behind the sliding doors of the carriages, tucked away in secret compartments, the bourbon cannot be visually confirmed by the viewer. Shy of physically shaking the sculpture or breaking the tax seal, one must rely on faith alone that the compartments are filled with the liquor. Believing that the alcohol is there rests completely on the viewer’s trust in the artist, in Koons himself, while the alcohol, rather than offering a spiritual epiphany, promises only intoxication and disorientation.

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