For his first solo exhibition, Equilibrium, held in 1985 at the International with Monument gallery in the East Village of New York, Jeff Koons displayed sports materials in a variety of unexpected ways. For his Equilibrium tanks, Koons suspended basketballs in water
tanks, miraculously hovering in delicate equilibrium, representing a perfect, unachievable state of being. Koons hung framed Nike posters featuring famous athletes, mainly basketball players, as models of success and social mobility. The final element of Equilibrium was a series of cast bronze sculptures of sporting equipment and other life saving devices.
Koons’s Soccerball (Bumblebee) is part of the latter grouping, though it was not exhibited in the 1985 show. The startlingly realistic bronze replica resembles a real soccer ball to the extent that it appears as if it could be light and full of air, and the properties of weightlessness and balance are two themes around which the Equilibrium series focuses. However, Koons’s bronze sculptures are deceptive; they are made of heavy bronze, and therefore their functional use value has been inverted, as the objects have the exact opposite attributes as their appearance would suggest. Works like Aqualung, Lifeboat, and Snorkel Vest cannot possibly be used as life-saving devices as ironically, if someone turned to them for safety in the water, the weight of the bronze would cause him or her to drown. One could not kick Koons’s Soccerball (Bumblebee), for it would not move, and attempting to do so would be a painful experience.
Koons’s Equilibrium might initially appear to be a shrine to famous sports stars or a supportive message for hopeful athletes to achieve their dreams, but the works in the series actually address prickly issues of race and class. Koons relates the ways in which young people of color in typically poor, urban areas fantasize sports as a way to achieve fortune and fame. In a similar way, white middleclass youth, such as Koons was, use art as means for upward social mobility. While the star athletes on the Nike posters in the series seem to send an encouraging message to their audience, for most, the end result will be failure and disappointment. For Koons, the posters were the sirens, the tanks were the ultimate states of being, and the tools for equilibrium were the bronzes. Bronzes like Soccerball (Bumblebee) that would either kill or injure the person who tried to use them lie on the floor like traps, waiting to ensnare the person desperate enough to use them.
In Soccerball (Bumblebee) and the other works in the Equilibrium series, Koons exposes the fallacy of objects; nothing is what it seems. The promise of fame, fortune, and salvation through obtaining desirable consumer goods, a long-standing area of interest in Koons’s art, is propaganda. However, there is an optimistic side to his Equilibrium series, because for Koons the works also represent a return to a pure state and one’s potential. “It was this aspect of being very womb-like, that this was, like, pre-birth and, you know, after death, just kind of this ultimate state of being that is a kind of eternity” (Jeff Koons in “Interview between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jeff Koons”, New York, March 2011).