Jeff Koons - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1987

  • Exhibited

    New York, Marianne Boesky Gallery, Salvatore Scarpitta: Trajectory, May 7- June 18, 2011 (another example exhibited)
    New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Jeff Koons: Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine and six individual cars, February 2 – March 28, 2015 (another example exhibited)

  • Literature

    Hans Werner Holzwarth ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne: Taschen, 2009, p. 197 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 1986, Jim Beam – Passenger Car is part of Jeff Koons’s Luxury and Degradation series. A related artwork depicting the entire train with its engine and six cars debuted in the artist’s seminal show at the International with Monument Gallery in New York’s East Village in October 1986. Koons’s Luxury and Degradation series includes sculptures and paintings, a collection of both advertisements and depictions paraphernalia used to consume alcohol. Koons testifies as to its origins, “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 to also maintain the soul of the piece, which was the liquor inside. So after the train was cast, it was sent back to Jim Beam where they refilled each car with a fifth of Bourbon, and the tax-stamp seal was put on. You can drink it and enjoy the bourbon, but you have killed the work of art because you've destroyed the soul of the piece when you break the tax-stamp seal.” (Jeff Koons in, Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992, n.p.) The artist succeeds, in Jim Beam - Passenger Car, in taking an iconic image from American culture and re-purposing it as a vehicle to deliver deeper concepts regarding art, popular culture, and Americana.

    The use of the train identifies Koons’s work as distinctly American. Symbolizing America at the height of its expansion, the train car is one of the most perfectly established metaphors for the American dream: an ever-expanding force of uncertain origin but untold destiny. By utilizing the train, Koons presents a loaded metaphor, one that extends far beyond the reach of its original intent, to sell alcohol. The concept of Luxury and Degradation is a simple one at first—elevating the mundane to the realm of “high” art, but Koons’s willingness to imbue his work with a litany of associative powers and allusions eclipses the simplicity of the project. In place of an elevated sculpture, we behold a representation of America past and present: its vices, its origins, and, of course, its truths that lie below the surface.

    The series marked the first instance Koons engaged with stainless steel in his practice, a watershed moment that would go on to inform the direction of his sculpture for decades to come. As visually enticing as gold or silver, but with a much sturdier composition, and more utilitarian function, stainless steel served Koons’s purpose perfectly – a blend of seemingly rich material that is, ultimately at best aspirational. Its high polish and resistance to corrosion would perfectly suit his later explorations in sculpture, as evidenced in his more recent monumental Celebration series. By casting his train in steel, Koons brings forth a range of allusions from historic nostalgia to notions of opulence. Koons brilliantly both circumvents and emphasizes the quaint nature of his referent – the decorative train is catapulted out of the realm of modern showpiece and into the realm of artistic sculpture. His final twist of adding actual bourbon, mimicking the original train set decanters, lends the piece a functional quality. As such, Koons’s Jim Beam – Passenger Car stands as an eloquent coalescence of many of the most important recurring themes in his practice from Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to the ideas of newness, desire, and the American dream.

Property from a Prominent New York Family Collection

Ο ◆23

Jim Beam - Passenger Car

stainless steel and bourbon
8 7/16 x 6 3/4 x 16 1/8 in. (21.4 x 17.1 x 41 cm)
This work is number 1 from an edition of 3 plus 1 artist's proof.

$900,000 - 1,400,000 

Sold for $965,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016