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  • Provenance

    Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, A Brokerage of Desire, July 11 - August 16, 1986; Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Artschwager: His Peers and Persuasion, 1963-1988, 1988

  • Literature

    W. Hopps, ed., A Brokerage of Desire, Los Angeles, 1986, pl. 19, p. 23 (illustrated); A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, no. 11, p. 47 (illustrated), and p. 16; W. Hopps and H. Halle, eds., A Brokerage of Desire, Los Angeles, 1986, p. 23; Daniel Weinberg Gallery, ed., Artschwager: His Peers and Persuasion 1963-1988, Los Angeles, 1988, p. 45; R. Rosenblum, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London/New York, 1992, p. 152

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I’ve always loved sales, and to me, being a salesman is being very generous to the public because you’re meeting the needs of the people. When people would come into the modern, and I would make them patrons of the modern, they enjoyed this. I was really meeting their needs. I was giving them entertainment. The thing that I like about the vacuum cleaner is that it’s kind of an androgynous appliance. I like appliances that are anthropomorphic, where they have certain aspects of the individual’s states of being. It communicates to the public that they’re like breathing machines, the vacuum cleaners, and some of the openings on them are also very sexual."  (Jeff Koons, taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco) 
    Jeff Koons, perhaps more than any other artist of our contemporary age, has mastered the commerce and trade of his discipline to uncanny levels of success. His homage to the American mass consumer, in the form of the The New, sculptures created and amassed spanning his entire career, are testaments not only to Koons’s unwavering agility to create innovate, conceptual tour de force, but also to form a strong identity of his cult persona.The present lot, New Shelton Wet/Dry, 1981-1986 is a rare and exceptional example of Koons’ finest early sculptures. Displaying a single vacuum cleaner, the present lot appeals to us with a monumentality and forceful clarity. From their original conception, built off Koons’ original show at the New Museum titled The New New, the sculptures comprising The New are made up of brand-new, never been used vacuum cleaners distilled in sanitary, time-locked state of Plexiglas vitrines that seek to prevent their very newness from ever diminishing. Striking in their direct and seemingly unquestioning appropriation of banal consumer objects, these works display with sheer finesse the captivating allure present in a masterwork of Koons, as he describes, “It’s brand new, it’s in a position to out-survive you, the viewer. It doesn’t have feelings, but it is better prepared to be eternal,” (Jeff Koons, taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, n.p).
    Neon lights, evoking minimalist structures of Dan Flavin, shine brightly underneath the supports, cascading a theatrical glow onto the ‘object’ in ways reminiscent of ritualistic beautification and worship.
    “Koons first body of work was The New, conceptualized from 1980 to 1982, which consisted of vacuum cleaners, stacked one on top of the other, displayed with advertising posters.This work probes the status of the commodity in the context of advanced capitalism in general and defiantly spares not even itself, the art object, such a label.The hyper reflectivity, or self-critique, implied in The New is a shift away from conceptualism as practiced by Hans Haacke, for instance, whose art is not implicated in its internal critique…The advertisements in The New all contain the term new, setting the stage for understanding the sculptures.Thus framed, the Plexiglas-encased totems of vacuum cleaners seem endowed with an aura of extreme newness.They crystallize contemporary society’s investment in novelty and, by association, in youth and eternity. ‘The New’ is the ultimate sell: it is a crucial dynamic of capitalism (of consumerism, of fashion, and of modernism) and a fulcrum of desire (for immortality).The towering trophies of suburban middle-class domesticity, internally lit by cold neon light, seem impervious, as though on display for always. But this is not the dusty preservation of museum galleries or the aqueous limbo of formaldehyde; it is, rather, a futuristic eugenics for objects that have somehow claimed an existence of their own.The chilly, unearthly timelessness emanating from the sealed signs for modern conveniences and middle-class achievement is heightened by the wordplay embedded in the appropriated objects—a vacuum being an efficient means of conserving that which is perishable.This is Koons’ most Duchampian work, bearing strong affinities with the readymade and Duchamp’s linguistic flourishes based on puns and allusions,” (D. Salvioni, “Jeff Koons’ Poetics of Class,” taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 20).
    Clearly, these works have their origin in Duchamp’s ready-mades. The French master brought the ready-made to the world when he submitted the work Fountain, a simple unaltered porcelain urinal that he purchased from a plumbing store, to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. “If the context of Koons’ work is rooted in romanticism, in that it portrays emotions or states of being, Koons employ artistic strategies that are indebted to the cool ploys of Duchamp,Warhol and the conceptualists. He develops Duchamp’s theme of the transformation of everyday objects into art. He matchesWarhol’s knack for honing in on the pedestrian treasures of the collective psyche. And his work reflects on the context in which it finds itself, the hallmark of conceptual art.The detached, analytic approaches, coupled with the hot content, make for an unusual mix that has critics divided over which side of the fence the work finally lands on,” (D. Salvioni, “Jeff Koons’ Poetics of Class”, taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 19). Koons, much likeWarhol, is obsessed with the commercial appeal, mass distribution (seriality) and value placed on the object, so his “ready-mades” are in dialogue to confrontations with consumption.They are entirely aware that they are commodities—which Koons simultaneously exalts, relishes in, and forces us to question.
    “Carefully designed to represent attitudes and experiences common to large numbers of people in our society, the messages of advertising and consumer products are both familiar and relevant.That is, whether or not what they present is actually in accordance with reality, it has been presented so often that we accept it as a sort of fact, a reality at least in our consciousness. It will be true in some sense, and so appealingly designed and presented as to seem desirable,” (J. Caldwell, “Jeff Koons:TheWay We Live Now”, taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 11).
    What is more,The New sculptures also take conceptual art to a new level. The objects themselves, theoretical models onto which Koons places huge emphasis on their mass appeal, are also highly stylized models of the artist’s imagination and cunning at work. For their placement and context also conjure imagery of subverted sexuality and machine-age technology: “In one sense they [the vacuum cleaners] are the closest Koons has ever come to producing work that looks like conventional modernist art, since they bear associations with the machine-age sculpture ofTheodore Roszak and the minimalist fluorescent tubes of Dan Flavin.Yet what they really look like is gadgets, the sort of thing a teenager might want to assemble for a science fair. Even here, however, there are hints of submerged sexuality, a teapot designed to whistle, a vacuum cleaner with upright hose ending in a cleaning tool with its opening surrounded by short bristles.
    “In the world of advertising, of course, the vacuum cleaner is Mom’s special attribute, and we can see these objects – standing above their banks of fluorescent lights that seem to try but fail to produce the lift-off into the sublime that a really enormous blast of light would provide – as bits of earthbound, failed magic, the tired Mom, the too-hardworking mother.Yet the objects themselves are ambiguous in their gender. Invariably presented so that the hose protrudes from the front midsection of their bodies, these respiring machines, sometimes with lung like vacuum bags, often also bear orifices that suck in addition to holes that expel air. Encased in plastic, they at once, like the basketballs, dead relics and a mechanically alive, threatening army of robots or like the household implements that in children’s stories come to life. Both commodities and people, these objects have a nightmare life of their own, seeming in their repetition to reproduce themselves, since after all, in actuality, one never sees two identical vacuum cleaners side by side, ”(J. Caldwell, “Jeff Koons:TheWayWe Live Now,” taken from F. Simpson, ed., Jeff Koons, San Francisco, 1992, p. 11).
    In the end, the artist’s infatuation with the pristine, commercial arrangement of brand-new, dust-free factory products has a counterpart in the shelf displays of Haim Steinbach. Similarly, Koons’ obsession with the technological gear and appararati show parallels to the artwork of Ashley Bickterton, whose canvasses ignite with science-fiction explorations and fantastical equipment. One is never quite sure where to expect these sculptures to reside: whether on the moon or on our earth they seemingly hover in a dual atmosphere evoking space travel, yet ironically, of course, placed very firmly in the context of some of our most mundane and earthly preoccupations.The vacuum cleaner’s sole purpose, after all, is to pick up dirt and clean our terrestrial floor. In the artist’s own words, “They’re very virginal and very frightening. I mean, they’re dealing with the immortal.The vacuum cleaners are being displayed for their newness.They are displaying their integrity of birth. They never function.
    “The pieces were never about the design, the style.That’s why I picked something as banal as a vacuum cleaner. Also, its function is to clean, but my pieces are non-functioning, so, if they’re taken care of properly, and kept encased, they’ll last forever. I went around and bought up all the vacuum cleaners I could before they stopped making a certain model. I wasn’t showing them with indifference, I was being very specific. I was showing them for their anthropomorphic quality, their sexual androgyny.They are breathing machines. But when they do function, they suck up dirt.The newness is gone. If one of my works was to be turned on, it would be destroyed! One machine I used was the Shelton Wet/Dry. I like the phrase ‘Wet/Dry’. It is similar to either-or, being and nothingness.These works present ideal newness.The whole philosophy of my work maintains that the individual just needs self-confidence in life. Self-confidence that cleverness is enough—that they can display themselves, use the abilities that they have.They can do it with a new car.They can do it with a vacuum cleaner. They can do it with a chair.They can do very well in life.They just have to do it with themselves,” (Jeff Koons, in an interview with Anthony Haden-Guest, taken from A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 17).


New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon

1981 -1986
Vacuum cleaner, neon fluorescent tubes in Plexiglas vitrine.
41 x 28 x 28 in. (104.1 x 71.1 x 71.1 cm).
This work is from an edition of three.

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $2,673,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York