VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
“One machine I used was the Shelton Wet/Dry. I liked 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 the body of work I called “The New,” I was interested in a psychological state tied to newness and immortality...[The] gestalt came directly from viewing an inanimate object—a vacuum cleaner—that was in a position to be immortal.” Jeff Koons
In Jeff Koons’s New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker, executed in 1981-86, the domestic universe has been enshrined and immortalised within a crisp, contemporary reliquary. Encased within a museum-style vitrine, suspended above fluorescent lamps that throw a cool, clinical glow, are four vacuum cleaners, pristine trophies to cleanliness and the immaculate. New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon Doubledecker forms part of Koons’s iconic group of works entitled The New, the series that launched his career back in the early 1980s. It is a tribute to the importance of these works that a number of them are now in museum collections throughout the world, including New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, Doubledecker of 1981, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which shows similar models of the vacuum cleaner, a single example on each level.
Ready-made and Minimalism are referenced in New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker, with the fluorescent tubes recalling Dan Flavin and the use of found objects taking their cue from Marcel Duchamp. But where the latter’s appropriations were often transformative, here the vacuum cleaners are shown as vacuum cleaners, celebrated in their own right for properties that they themselves encapsulate. In their new context, despite minimal intervention on the artist’s part, these vacuum cleaners have nonetheless adopted new functions, purposes and meanings. In Koons’s universe, the vacuum cleaner carries a range of meanings that are intended to allow the viewer to accept themselves as themselves: they are a form of encouragement, or even therapy. These vacuum cleaners are shown as inanimate secular saints, fetishes, utensils from modern life that have transcended their origins and that hint at a path to salvation. “In the body of work I called The New, I was interested in a psychological state tied to newness and immortality,” Koons explained. “[The] gestalt came directly from viewing an inanimate object—a vacuum cleaner—that was in a position to be immortal” (J. Koons, quoted in S. Coles & R. Violette, ed., The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 48).
For Koons, the vacuum cleaner is an intriguing palimpsest, touching upon a wide range of the subjects that have subsequently been revealed as cornerstones of his entire artistic philosophy. Years before the works in his Banality series touched upon the subject of sexuality, or indeed the more explicit Made in Heaven, Koons was already discreetly introducing related themes through works such as New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker. Koons has discussed how he “chose the vacuum cleaner because of its anthropomorphic qualities. It […] displays both male and female sexuality. It has orifices and phallic attachments. I have always tried to create work which does not alienate any part of my audience” (J. Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 49).
Continuing this anthropomorphic theme, Koons has described these vacuum cleaners as “breathing machines,” explaining that he “always liked that quality of being like lungs. When you come into the world, the first thing you did is breathe to be able to live” (J. Koons, quoted in H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 112). This notion of breath, already apparent in the 1970s readymade Inflatables that comprised his first canonical series, has been a constant thread in Koons’s work, from the breathing apparatus and basketballs of Equilibrium to the balloon flowers and animals of the more recent Celebration sculptures. Breath sustains us, it is integral to our existence—and so too, in Koons’s philosophy, is art. At the same time, air is invisible, weightless, intangible, ephemeral—as encapsulated in Duchamp’s 50cc of Paris Air of 1919, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a work that provides an intriguing parallel to New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon Doubledecker and its sister-sculptures in its incorporation of glass, of air and of the readymade.
As an extension of the notion of the breathing machine, the fact that vacuum cleaners inhale dirt, helping to purify our living space, provides a parallel to Koons’s own self-declared artistic aspirations. Presented unused New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker, these immaculate appliances invoke the Garden of Eden, the world before sin, short-circuiting the notions of taste and class which pigeonhole and constrain society—which have been themes explored by Koons throughout the years. These vacuum cleaners could breathe, yet it is important that they do not: ‘I thought that for the individual to have integrity, the individual has to participate in life, and for the machine it is really the opposite. When they do function, they suck up dirt. The newness is gone. If one of these works were to be turned on, it would be destroyed’ (J. Koons, ibid., p. 112).
This theme of the immaculate and the virginal, celebrated in The New, has endured in Koons’s work, for instance in the Jim Beam sculptures from his Luxury and Degradation series which contain bourbon—the artist has explained that if the seal is broken, the soul of the work has gone. So too with New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker: the minute they come into contact with the dust they were designed to remove from our world, these vacuum cleaners will fall from the state of grace that is newness: “they’re dealing with the immortal... They are displaying their integrity of birth” (J. Koons, quoted in A. Haden-Guest, op. cit., p. 16).
For Koons, this integrity was a crucial development within The New. In some of his previous works, he had taken domestic appliances such as toasters or a Hoover and afixed them to acrylic which were lit by fluorescent lights. However, Koons wanted to delve the readymade further. By contrast, for the works in The New, Koons developed strategies for avoiding altering the found objects, later placing them in cases but initially using appliances that could be hung on hooks without recourse to any drilling or gluing.
This was most prominently encapsulated in the works shown in the 1980 window display Marcia Tucker invited him to create for the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. This installation featured a number of vacuum cleaners shown against fluorescent bulbs, as well as a Duratran light box emblazoned with the words ‘THE NEW’—this work also lent Koons’s series its name.
Referencing advertisements which all included the word “new” in the title, the series also included works such as New 100’s Merit Ultra-Lights, 1981; New! New Too!, 1983; New Rooomy Toyota Family Camry, 1983; The New Club Smirnoff Bloody Mary, 1983; and the portrait, The New Jeff Koons, 1980. The artist was tapping into the fetishization of the new that is such a bedrock of consumerism—an indeed the contemporary art world. With the objects behind glass at The New Museum, Koons revelled in the glorious ambiguity of the display, which straddled the worlds of art and marketing, as Tucker recounted: “It was completely confusing to viewers, because people on the street came in looking for the vacuum cleaner store, and when we said it was an art work, they were puzzled, angry, confused, amused—the whole gamut” (Marcia Tucker, quoted in H. W. Holzwarth, The Jeff Koons Universe: A Concise History of his Art, Cologne, 2015, p. 22).
This was art as mass communication, using the visual language of commerce to get a foot in the door of the viewer’s mind. It was an early demonstration of a crucial foundation of Koons’s artistic mission, and in particular the genesis of The New. The mercantile history of the United States, of the Western world, and his own experiences selling gift wrapping paper door-to-door as a child, all informed the decision to use vacuum cleaners as in New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker “…there used to be a time when a salesman would go door to door; in America, the knock on the door meant the Hoover man was there. One of the reasons I did my vacuum-cleaner pieces was the door-to-door salesman,” Koons explained. “I feel salespeople are on the front line of culture” (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, pp. 344-345).
Koons’s window display at The New also paved the way for another development—the encasing of the objects that is seen in New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker. It was only a short leap from the shop-front to the vitrine, yet this transition became pivotal in the forming Koons’s aesthetic. “Once I encased it, that’s when I think it really happened for me,” Koons has said. “I was starting to make art” (J. Koons, quoted in H. W. Holzwarth, op. cit., p. 108). Crucially, despite presenting the viewer with readymades, Koons was demonstrating both his own hands-on activity and his exactitude in The New. Koons commissioned the display cases and acquired the vacuum cleaners, yet wired them himself (N. Rosenthal, Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal, London, 2014, p. 106).
While the idea of placing appliances within a glass case may superficially seem to involve little participation on the artist’s part, the presence of the Flavin-esque light display hints at Koons’s efforts. This is compounded by the sheer logistics involved in creating the sculptures such as New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker. As Koons was particular in his choices of appliance, he was depleting commercially-available stocks: “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” (J. Koons, quoted in A. Haden-Guest, op. cit., p. 17). Koons was soon criss-crossing the States in a van in order to acquire models that had become obsolete during the time that The New was being created.
Because of the domestic appliances, the specially-made cases and the lights, each of the individual works in The New cost thousands of dollars to create, a heavy outlay especially for an artist at the beginning of his career.
Even the mounted posters and ads on light-boxes that formed part of the series such as New 100’s Merit Ultralights and New! New Too! involved serious investment. Rather than rely on commercial art galleries, Koons tried to raise the funds himself, even becoming a commodities broker in order to help finance the series. He pushed himself to the brink, to the extent that in 1982 he even had to move back briefly to his parents’ home in Sarasota. However, as history shows, his faith in himself was justified—the series was a success, and on the back of its initial reception, he was able to create the further works in the series. In this way, New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker and its fellows launched Koons’s career on the incredible trajectory it continues to blaze to this day. This work is a tribute to Koons’s perseverance, as well as his rigorous eye. It also reveals the importance, even at that early point in his oeuvre, of themes such as the immaculate, breath, commerce and self-acceptance, all of which remain cornerstones of his philosophy to this day.
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.
Third party guarantors are required by us to disclose to anyone they are advising their financial interest in any lots they are guaranteeing. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you are advised by or bidding through an agent on a lot identified as being subject to a third party guarantee you should always ask your agent to confirm whether or not he or she has a financial interest in relation to the lot.
VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker
Jeff Koons (B. 1955)
Berkeley, University Art Museum, University of California, July 1986-May 1988 (on loan).
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, October 1990-September 1991, pp. 393 and 395, fig. 31 (illustrated in color).
J. Koons and R. Rosenblum, The Jeff Koons Handbook, London, 1992, p. 153.
Jeff Koons, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992, n.p., no. 9 (erroneously illustrated in color).
A. Muthesius, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
D. Littlejohn, “Who is Jeff Koons and Why Are People Saying Such Terrible Things About Him?” Artnews, vol. 92, no. 4, April 1993, p. 93 (illustrated).
H.W. Holzwarth, ed., Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2008, pp. 132 and 584 (illustrated in color).
"Reflections: Jeff Koons’ Philosophy of Perfection," NOWNESS, 16 June 2014 (video).
Erwin Mieger, San Francisco
Vivian Horan Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1987