Lot 17
  • 17

JEFF KOONS | Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
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  • Jeff Koons
  • Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine 
  • stainless steel and bourbon
  • 27.9 by 43.2 by 16.5 cm. 11 by 17 by 6 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1986, this work is number 1 from an edition of 3, plus 1 artist's proof.


International With Monument, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986


Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ends and Exits: Contemporary Art from the Collection of LACMA and The Broad Art Foundation, February - August 2013, n.p., illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
New York, Craig F. Starr Gallery, Jeff Koons: Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine and Six Individual Cars, February - March 2015 (edition no. unknown)
London, Newport Street Gallery, Jeff Koons: Now, May - October 2016, p. 41, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)


Alan Jones, 'Jeff Koons: Et qui libre', Galeries Magazine, October 1986, p. 97, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Jeanne Siegel, ‘Jeff Koons: Unachievable States of Being’, Art Magazine, October 1986, p. 67, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Roberta Smith, ‘Rituals of Consumption’, Art in America, May 1988, p. 168, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Anthony d'Offay, Jeff Koons and Robert Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook: A Catalogue Raisonné, London 1992, p. 157 (text), (edition no. unknown)
Angelika Muthesius, Ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne 1992, p. 71, no. 2, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Burkhard Riemschneider, Jeff Koons: 30 Postcards, Cologne 1992, n.p., illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Mark Kremer, Atelier HSL, Amsterdam 2001, p. 12, illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Stephanie Barron and Michael Draguet, Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, New York 2006, p. 220 (text), (edition no. unknown)
Hans Werner Holzwarth, Jeff Koons, Cologne 2007, p. 197, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Hans Werner Holzwarth, Koons, Cologne 2015, p. 35, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Ken Johnson, ‘Jeff Koons: Jim Beam - J. B. Turner Engine and Six Individual Cars’, The New York Times, 5 March 2015, n.p., illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, ‘Review: Visual Art – Jeff Koons: Now at Newport Street Gallery, SE11’, The Times, 13 May 2016, n.p., illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Farah Nayeri, 'Damien Hirst to Open a Jeff Koons Show at His London Museum', The New York Times, 16 May 2016, n.p., illustrated (edition no. unknown)
Mark Hudson, 'Does this new show reveal Jeff Koons’s greatest contribution to art?', The Telegraph, 18 May 2016, n.p., illustrated (edition no. unknown)


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the illustration fails to fully convey the reflective nature of the surface. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“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 also to maintain the soul of the piece, which was the liquor inside.” Jeff Koons cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, 1992, p. 65.

Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine, executed in 1986, is emblematic of the artist’s landmark Luxury and Degradation series. Revolving around the seductive yet simultaneously destructive nature of the alcohol industry and the perils of luxury, this body of work appropriated slick advertisements for Bacardi Rum, Gordon’s Gin, Martell Cognac and Hennessy Whisky, making them into paintings and installing them alongside gleaming chrome sculptures of associated drinking paraphernalia. Of the latter, Koons cast an ice-bucket, a Baccarat Crystal set, a Travel Bar and a Fisherman Golfer cocktail shaker in reflective stainless-steel; the centrepiece of the series, however, is the Jim Beam Turner Train. Based on a ceramic locomotive-shaped decanter produced by Jim Beam in the 1970s, Koons’s sculpture took the object’s already valuable status as a collector’s item and ramped it up a few notches. Containing the same ingredient – like the ceramic original, each carriage contains a fifth of bourbon that is sealed and tax-stamped – Koons’s high-art mirror-sheen sculpture, though infinitely more valuable, retains, to quote the artist, “the soul of the piece, which is the liquor inside” (Jeff Koons cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, 1992, p. 65). This body of work made its debut in 1986 as Koons’s second solo exhibition. At both the International With Monument Gallery in New York and Daniel Weinberg Gallery in Los Angeles, the Jim Beam train was installed pride of place at the centre of each show. Indeed, while the full set of seven carriages undoubtedly encapsulates the heart of this series, it is the train’s Engine, presented here, which drives the point of Koons’s artistic inquiry home. Although outwardly seductive, heroic, pioneering, trail-blazing and evocative of America’s gleaming railroad history, when you strip away the mythologizing and notice the work’s phony luxury, you get to the core of the matter: Koons’s stainless-steel container of cheap liquor is a metaphor for the seductive false promise of the American dream.

By choosing a range of different advertisements and objects as source material for this series, Koons looked to present a cross-section of America’s socio-economic climate. When travelling from Harlem to Grand Central, Koons had noticed how the liquor advertisements changed; the demarcation of different economic classes and their targeted advertising appeared to stratify the geography of New York as measured by income. In a similar vein, Koons made sculptures from objects that spoke to the widest possible social remit: “The sculptures represented a range of economic levels. Within these levels there were different temptations – luxury in different strengths. Eventually degradation would set in, and your economic and political power could be taken away from you. So it was a warning: Don't be a fool, keep your eyes open" (Jeff Koons cited in: Katy Siegel, ‘80s Then: Jeff Koons talks to Katy Siegel’, Artforum, No. 7, March 2003, p. 253). With this body of work, Koons commented on the perils of being manipulated and seduced by commerce and capitalism. By casting a wide gamut of objects in stainless-steel, varying from the lowest to the highest manifestation of luxury – from a bucket through to a Baccarat Crystal set – Koons offers a democratising antidote that simultaneously participates in the economics of luxury, and criticises it.

Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine, and the wider Luxury and Degradation corpus significantly marked the first appearance of stainless-steel in Koons’s oeuvre. Considered “the material of the Proletarian”, for Koons, stainless-steel is the perfect material: an ersatz precious metal that is readily available and universally affordable (Jeff Koons cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, op. cit., p. 65). It is practical and cheap and yet can be finished to a reflective high-sheen that hints at luxury; this is stuff that Modern America was built on. Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Engine and the suite of stainless-steel Luxury and Degradation sculptures represent the very foundation that has established the most significant works of Koons’s career. Shortly after the present sculpture was made, Koons created perhaps his most iconic work: Rabbit. Belonging to the second series of 1986, Statuary, Koons’s Brancusi-esque stainless-steel cast of an inflatable rabbit sits next to a similarly mirror-sheened bust of Louis XIV: democratised by Koons’s proletarian metal, all facets of culture are thus created equal. Going back to Koons’s stainless steel debut, however, the overriding message of Luxury and Degradation is somewhat darker in tone. By appropriating the arena of mass marketed spirits, Koons’s Jim Beam decanter and its sister works deliver a powerful message, one that is perhaps the most biting and satirical of the artist’s career to date. A world of facile sophistication and faux luxury is an easy sell when pitted against the harsh reality of excessive drinking. In essence, what Koons is saying is: beware of false promises.