“Eminently Practical” Bourbon-Filled Steel Train Sells for $33.8 Million at Auction

A blog about business and economics.
May 14 2014 2:37 PM

Christie’s Sets New Record With Latest Art Auction

Jim Beam D J.B. Turner Train by Jeff Koons is displayed during a photo call at Christie's in central London.
Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train by Jeff Koons is displayed during a photo call at Christie's in central London.

Photo by Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, fine arts auction house Christie's posted its highest ever total for a single auction (not accounting for inflation). Over the course of a three-hour auction of postwar and contemporary art, Christie's sold nearly $745 million worth of paintings and sculptures. Highlights on the lineup included Andy Warhol's White Marilyn (sold for $41 million), Francis Bacon's Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards ($80.8 million), and Barnett Newman's Black Fire I ($84.2 million).

But best of all may have been Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train: a nine-and-a-half foot bourbon-filled steel train that went for $33.8 million. The sculpture was created in 1986 as part of a Jeff Koons exhibition called "Luxury and Degradation." The notion, as Koons has explained it, was to "suggest how the idea of luxury, through abstraction, is used to induce a psychological state of degradation." (However, New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins argued in a 2007 profile of Koons that "it is possible to argue that no real connection exists between Koons' work and what he says about it.")

Advertisement

Christie's lot notes on Koons' boozy train describe steel as the "perfect material for Koons." Why? "It polishes to a mirror sheen that hints at luxury yet is eminently practical... It keeps the whiskey safe, preserved, at a remove from possible temptation." Koons also used stainless steel to craft his famous Balloon Dog (Orange) sculpture, which sold for $58.4 million at an auction this past November.

But back to what really matters: $33.8 million for an ornamental model train filled with whiskey that you can't see, much less drink?!? If the idea is "to induce a psychological state of degradation," then it sounds eminently practical to me.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.