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

Snorkel Vest

Jeff Koons (b. 1955)
Snorkel Vest
21 x 18 x 6 in. (53.3 x 45.7 x 15.2 cm.)
Executed in 1985. This work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, acquired directly from the artist
By descent from the above to the present owner
Art and Its Double: A New York Perspective, Fundacion Caja De Pensiones, exh. cat., 1987, p. 68 (another example illustrated).
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 66 ( another example illustrated in color).
H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2008, p. 48 (installation view), p. 151 (another example illustrated in color).
S. Rothkopf, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, New York, 2014, p. 80 (another example illustrated).
New York, International With Monument Gallery, Equilibrium, 1985 (another example exhibited).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, December 1992-February 1993 (another example exhibited).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Denmark, Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Jeff Koons Retrospektiv, November-April 1993 (another example exhibited).
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 (Athens), (another example exhibited).
Paris, Jeff Koons. Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, September-November 1997 (another example exhibited).
Athens, DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Jeff Koons: A Millennium Celebration, December 1999-May 2000, p. 43 and 46 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Monument to Now, June 2004-March 2005, p. 207 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Athens, DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, A Guest + A Host = A Ghost, May-December 2009 (another example exhibited).
Frankfurt, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Jeff Koons: The Sculptor, June-September 2012 (another example exhibited).

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Jennifer Yum
Jennifer Yum

Lot Essay

Executed in 1985, Snorkel Vest is an important bronze from Jeff Koons’ iconic Equilibrium series. Aesthetically alluring and meticulously fabricated, this sculpture speaks to the heart of Koons’ relationship with inflatables, while lending itself to a dark commentary on the notion of salvation. At first glance, Snorkel Vest points in its subject matter towards conventional ideas of recreation, vacation and travel, while acting as a monument to safety and the practical application of scientific knowledge. Worn on the chest and strapped at the back, inflated and deflated through an oral inflation tube, this type of flotation vest is most popular among recreational snorkelers. As Koons related in a 2008 interview, “When I was younger, I bonded, I think, with my father swimming in the ocean. If I look at old vacation films of us, I see that my dad was always with me out in the water. What gave me a sense of confidence, eventually, was a float that I would wear on my back, it was like an air canister. It gave me such a sense of independence” (J. Koons, quoted in conversation with R. Lopex, Chicago, June 2008; [accessed 4/2/15]).

Koons came to public attention with his important 1985 show at International With Monument Gallery, in New York City, where Snorkel Vest was originally exhibited. This solo exhibition debuted the artist’s first bronze sculptures, an array of Nike posters, and the now-famous Equilibrium tanks containing basketballs floating in water and sodium solution. Writing about the Equilibrium series for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Daniela Salvioni aptly states that “Koons manipulates objects into metaphorical embodiments of society’s dysfunctions. This poetics of objects recalls Jasper Johns’ 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” (D. Salvioni, “Jeff Koons’s Poetics of Class,” in Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992, p.20)

The dark commentary on dysfunction is apparent Snorkel Vest when considering that the flotation device, cast in bronze, no longer floats. In fact, the allure of sculpture resides in its juxtaposition of material and form, and the result of this juxtaposition is an extremely tactile work of art that almost begs to be touched. With its attractive folds of vinyl and nylon cast in bronze, one cannot help but wonder whether the vest is in fact solid or soft. The apparent contradiction of a bronze inflatable leads then to the startling realization that Koons has created a work of art that is the functional opposite of its archetype. The light has become heavy, the life preserver now sinks, and we are left to understand that the devices meant to save us may in fact drown us. As Salvioni writes, “The contradiction between the purpose of the original objects—to keep one afloat and thus preserve life—and the massive tonnage of the actual sculptures transforms the objects into a devastating metaphor of impossibility and unsustainability” (ibid., p. 20).

Impossibility and unsustainability are essential themes in the artist’s Equilibrium series, and Snorkel Vest embodies these themes with undeniable sprezzatura. The meticulous cast and the rich color of bronze arouse our curiosity and create a unique viewing sensation that is simultaneously solemn and buoyant, exciting and somber. At the same time, Snorkel Vest operates intellectually by allowing us to question, through the medium of sculpture, the act of preservation, as well as the heavy ideals preserved in monuments. Koons’s various attempts at preservation (in bronze, behind glass or in tanks of water) render all of the objects in his Equilibrium series useless. The basketball can no longer be dribbled, the bronze lifeboat cannot float, but by rendering these objects physically immutable, they are kept from decomposing and deflating. This is the state of equilibrium or balance toward which the entire Equilibrium series aspires, as the artwork is harmonized for the present, existing in stasis, almost inaccessible.

Snorkel Vest is also an important bellwether in Koons’s use of fabricated inflatables. Moving away from the readymade sculptures used in his earlier work and in the Pre-New and The New series, Snorkel Vest debuted in the Equilibrium series as one of the artist’s first cast sculptures, and presaged the artist’s later use of inflatables, most notably in the Popeye series and Celebration series. “Inflatables, of course, are metaphors for people,” Koons says, “and they are metaphors of life and optimism for me. The most deathlike image I know is of an inflatable that has collapsed” (J. Koons quoted in conversation with R. Lopex, Chicago, ibid.). Snorkel Vest will never collapse. This iconic sculpture exists in a state of preservation and equilibrium; a flotation device permanently inflated but prepared to sink anyone who might try and wear it; a deep meditation in bronze on the perils of salvation.

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