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What Recession? Jeff Koons' $25M Sculpture Forges Ahead


Although one artist's opening has already been postponed due to a lack of gold, a monumental $25 million work by Jeff Koons is now entering the fabrication stage.

It's a 70-foot replica of a steaming locomotive from the 1940s, suspended 160-feet in the air, whose wheels will move at 100 mph while belching steam three times a day, everyday. It is expected to be on display at the LA County Museum of Art in four years.

Koons, the Neo-Pop artist whose Balloon Flower sold last summer at Christie's for a record $25.7M, is famous for his spare-no-expense production values, which have threatened to bankrupt him and his dealers several times over the last two decades. To actually pull off the complex engineering behind his pieces, he relys on Carlson & Company, a firm that specializes in realizing art works, no matter how crazy.

Already in planning for several years, it will be the most expensive piece ever commissioned by a museum, at a price of $25 million; over $1.75 million has already been spent on engineering studies. The previous record was $20 million, for a work by Richard Serra. As the Art Newspaper reports:

"A real train was not meant to hang vertically and would have all sorts of environmental problems," explains Mr Govan, adding that preliminary design and engineering studies were completed by Los Angeles-based fabricator Carlson & Co. "The next stage is 3D scanning of the parts to get the data necessary to recreate the train," he says...adding that the scanning will be finished in May. "We have to get a crane," he continues. "They were tough to come by in the old economy—you used to have to get on a waiting list—but it’s getting easier," he notes.

Whatever you may think of him, Koons has a solid place in the art history books. Since the 1980s, he's been turning mass-market culture into worshipful monuments to technology and unblemished perfection. The locomotive piece in particular plows ground similar to Serra—whose sculptures feel as if they might crush the viewer—and Charles Ray, who infamously created a firetruck sitting outside of a gallery, as a defanged symbol of danger. The Koons' locomotive, by contrast, should be a gut-wrenching experience. Can you imagine what staring up at a massive, steaming locomotive will feel like?