- Jeff Koons
- polychromed aluminum and urethane coated steel chain
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2003
London, Gagosian Gallery, Popeye, June - July 2007
Exh. Cat., Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst (and travelling), Jeff Koons: Retrospective, 2004, p. 116, illustrated in color (Oslo) and p. 70, illustrated (edition 1/3)
"When I'm working with an object I always have to give the greatest consideration not to alter the object physically or even psychologically. I try to reveal a certain aspect of the object's personality. I'm placing the object in a context or material which will enhance a specific personality trait within the object..." Jeff Koons
Caterpillar Chains (2003) is an outstanding example of the Koons aesthetic. Initially deceptive in its childlike banality and its poignantly absurd iconography, Caterpillar Chains resumes the conceptual framework first applied by Koons in his early masterpiece Rabbit (1986), the cast metal readymade inflatable from the Statuary series. Yet unlike its iconic predecessor, wherein the implication of Koons´ trapped breath confers the permanent aura of the artist/creator on the work, Caterpillar Chains subverts its ephemeral appearance through the materiality of its aluminum. As with the similarly complex Lifeboat cast in bronze, Caterpillar Chains is an object that signifies buoyancy but is ironically rendered in a material of significant weight and is now suspended in mid-air with the assistance of chains. This ability to transcend an object's form while retaining its intelligibility aligns Koons to two other great protagonists of the readymade: Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.
Yet unlike Duchamp who tended to use "ordinary, everyday objects, with little association beyond their predominant function in the world outside the purview of art—a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack, a urinal...Koons uses objects that are already a little closer to art, or at least to design." (John Caldwell, "The Way We Live Now," in Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Art, Jeff Koons, 1992, p. 10) As a champion of the inherent compatibility between art and design—a notion being increasingly redefined in the first decade of the 21st century—Koons is particularly receptive to the achievement of a level of technical virtuosity heretofore unwarranted in contemporary sculpture, but necessary for the make-believe functionality displayed in highly designed objects like Caterpillar Chains.
Contrary to Andy Warhol's Pop appropriations, Koons' investigations into popular culture speak more of the mechanisms of production that pre-determine and guide consumption patterns rather than the individual consumerist impulse. Conceptual differences aside, Caterpillar Chains operates within Duchampian and Warholian practices and in so doing virtually replaces any formalist aesthetic criterion with a characteristically post-modern fusion of high and low culture.
A master illusionist, Koons playfully alludes to the desires and memories of childhood through a repertoire of mundane objects brilliantly commodified in adult-size sculptures. Floating in mid air as if attempting to fulfill its original purpose as an inflatable pool toy device, Caterpillar Chains evokes the common experience of carefree summers and the cheap plastic squeezable toys that are so dearly associated with it. Notwithstanding its undeniable charm, eight red-coated steel chains quickly dismiss any notion of naiveté introducing instead the sensual fantasies and fetishism of adulthood. The inclusion of chains, potentially selected by Koons due to their sadistic and/or sexual connotations, certainly expresses a degree of submission.
Belonging to the 2003 Popeye series, Caterpillar Chains confirms Koons eminence as le grand mediator of contemporary culture and challenger of traditional aesthetic hierarchies. More than a simple provocateur, Koons demands we confront our own aesthetic boundaries and in so doing, confidently acknowledge their banality. A work of self-deprecating humor, at once proud and content in its futility, Caterpillar Chains allows us to conceive the possibility that everything may indeed be, as proposed by the artist himself, a beautiful artwork.