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  • Provenance

    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Luxury and Degradation, July – August, 1986 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, pl. 8, p. 73 (illustrated);
    R. Rosenblum, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London/NewYork, 1992, p. 157; R. Emma
    Silverman, “Joint Custody forYour Monet,” Wall Street Journal Online, July 7, 2005

  • Catalogue Essay

    "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."
    For the famed 1986 exhibition Luxury and Degradation, Jeff Koons set out to make history in the art world. Following on the critically-acclaimed footsteps of his 1985 Equilibrium exhibit the year before, Koons’ new process investigated yet another aspect of contemporary society with his characteristic wit and resonance. Showcased in both LosAngeles and NewYork, Luxury and Degradation displayed life-size replicas of liquor advertisements and hand-made fabrications of alcohol-derived accoutrements.The combination sought to dazzle and belittle the very structures underlying the commodity of alcohol and its consumptive, corruptive forces.The present lot, Jim Beam – Caboose, a noted highlight from the show, displays Koons’ knack for recapturing mass-appeal in an attempt to expose the artifice behind advertising slogans and campaigns and the desires they invoke. It highlights not only Koons’ grand artistic aims of that decade but also the successful commercialization efforts gaining ground from the strength of the 1980s stock market.
    Luxury and Degradation was ultimately one of the most important and ambitious exhibitions Koons produced. The artist counterposes that which causes pleasure, through its comfortable indulgence, with dereliction of a moral and behavioral code, debasing and corrupting ones rank or character.As the artist describes, his show undertook the following themes from contemporary society: “I paralleled the alcoholic, the desire for alcohol, and the dependence on alcohol as an underlying debasement and degradation…The show was really telling people not to pursue luxury and to avoid all the dangers of degradation.” (Jeff Koons, taken from T. Kellein, ed., Pictures Jeff Koons 1980-2002, NewYork, 2002, p. 21)
    Never one to shy away from criticizing contemporary society, Koons’ Luxury and Degradation utilizes media and industry to achieve his artistic aims. As Robert Rosenblum describes, “His wish to communicate with as wide an audience as possible and his belief that the way to do it now is through the media, ‘through TV and advertising, through the film and entertainment industries’ may sound disarmingly crass, but its combination of dumb innocence and shrewd calculation is clearly, for an artist born in the 1950s and emerging in the climate of the 1980s, less affectation than just plain honesty and commonsense for someone pursuing a career in the arts, including those high-minded art critics who are ever eager to expand their own fame and power through the media but who sneer aristocratically at Koons for doing the same thing,” (R. Rosenblum, “Notes on Jeff Koons,” The Jeff Koons Handbook, London/NewYork, 1992, p. 12).
    Luxury and Degradation is focused on issues of class and the consumption of alcohol.Yet one of the most compelling works in the series, the Jim Beam – Caboose, is actually a relic of childhood, a child’s toy train, but cast in stainless steel and filled with bourbon. Koons reminds us that for Americans, the ability to drink alcohol is considered the signifier and reward for growing up with this alluring, shimmering stainless steel prize.
    The object is a physical incarnation of the longing of youth to taste what they are not allowed. The liquor-filled toy is an emblem of forbidden adult activities that would seize the imagination of a child, much as the glossy magazine and billboard liquor ads that Koons replicates do.The work itself, however, evokes and frustrates this liquor desire, as even as adults, while we are offered something psychologically soothing with the reminiscence of childhood toys, we are forbidden to drink this liquor because it is part of a work of art. “In purely visual terms the containers are icy and forbidding; rather than displaying their contents they coldly reflect us and our desires." (J. Caldwell, Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 12)
    Of all the stainless steel sculptures included in the exhibition, Jim Beam – Caboose showcases a particularly middle-class system of values, underscoring a specific level of abstraction selected by the artist in its appropriation. As the artist describes, “Coming from these wombs and the masculine color of Equilibrium, all these internal areas, Luxury and Degradation is much more sociological. I just rode the subways here in New York. And I would go from one economic area, from Harlem, to the other, Grand Central Station. I got the whole spectrum of advertising.You deal with the lowest economic base to the highest level. I realized how the level of visual abstraction is changing.The more money came into play, the more abstract. It was like they were using abstraction to debase you, because they always want to debase you.You are taking these people into the ghetto and trying to sell them booze or trying to show aggression.” (Jeff Koons, taken fromT. Kellein, ed., Pictures Jeff Koons 1980-2002, NewYork, 2002, p. 21)
    Koons’ choice to incorporate steel reflects a preoccupation with yet another American commodity; the material ultimately allows the artist to conjure other associations such as the material value intrinsic with the medium. Steel, of course, provides both a sense of security in its durability and longevity, but when polished to the high sheen that Koons employs with these series the material also mirrors reliquary statuary and therefore exudes a particular religious bent. However, the work is made from a very common material that only fools the eye into thinking it is grand by the shine of the surface.The material is a false luxury. Koons’ Jim Beam – Caboose enables a new interpretation through its medium and allows the artist to vocalize his statement to a wider mass appeal by incorporating the everyday into this body of work. “In ‘Luxury and Degradation’ the objects are given an artificial luxury, an artificial value, which transforms them completely, changing their function, and, to a certain extent, decriticalizing them. My surface is very much a false front for an underlying degradation.”  (Jeff Koons, taken from R. Rosenblum, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London/NewYork, 1992, p. 64)
    What is more, Koons’ preoccupation with these splendid objects of consumerism and American society parallels fellow American artist Richard Prince. In the celebrated Marlboro series, Richard Prince rephotographs the cigarette campaign’s advertisements and in so doing highlights the very facets of American society and consumerism that drive us to covet this well-documented and appointed male archetype. Through the same effect and means of expression, the liquor advertisements selected by Koons expose facets of the American dream at once obvious, but all the while startling, in their exposure of our own misgivings and tendencies toward degradation.
    In an attempt to contextualize works such as Jim Beam – Caboose within a larger spectrum of Koons’ artwork, it becomes clear that he owes much in the way of artistic heritage to the Duchampian method of the readymade. But he is also a direct descendant of American Pop, having grown up on the footsteps of AndyWarhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and James Rosenquist; all famed for appropriating advertisements and America’s commercial hegemony in their artwork in the spirit of the times. “Koons often resurrects, as do many artists of his generation, the spirit of the 1960s Pop, which enthusiastically embraced the visual pollution of the crass world out there as if to say, ‘If you can’t lick it, join it.’ Of course by the 1980s this battle had already been won, and Koons and his contemporaries, unlike Warhol and his, no longer had to fight their way through the elitist assumptions of abstract art and could stand comfortably in the triumphs of a now venerable tradition of wallowing in, rather than shielding themselves from, the facts of daily life in a civilization bombarded by commercial come-ons. So it is, for example, that Koons’ five-foot wide clones of liquor ads update in a less rebellious and ironic way Rosenquist’s innovative recreations, in the 1960s, of the overscaled, textureless consumer bait dangled on American billboards.” (Jeff Koons, taken from R. Rosenblum, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London/NewYork, 1992, p. 18).
    Jeff Koons’ career is noteworthy not the least of which for his ability to fuse art, publicity, and commercial success to his highly articulated aims. As he says, “Art can, and should, be used to stimulate social mobility. I envisage the formation of a total society where every citizen will be of blue blood. In such a society the individual will exist in a state of entropy, or rest, and will inhabit an environment decorated with object art that is beyond critical dialogue,” (ibid, p. 32). In the end, Jim Beam – Caboose lies within Koons’ direct critique of the pursuit of luxury and the dangerous misgivings lying nascent within advertising and consumerism.The artist succeeds in communicating his message to a wide appeal, by incorporating the readymade with new interpretations and ultimately staging a preemptive model for future conceptualists following in his footsteps.


Jim Beam – Caboose

Stainless steel and bourbon.
9 1/4 x 14 1/2 x 6 5/8 in. (23.5 x 36.8 x 16.8 cm).
This work is from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,385,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York