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Jeff Koons' 'Train' would break a record

March 3, 2009 |  2:06 pm

Train London's Art Newspaper has reported that, if built as planned at the entry plaza of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, sculptor Jeff Koons' life-size replica of a motorized locomotive suspended from a construction crane will be the most expensive artwork ever commissioned by a museum. Prior honors, if that's the right word, go to the Guggenheim Bilbao for its $20-million Richard Serra sculptural group.

The price tag for "Train" is $25 million.

I'd assume that's a ballpark guesstimate, because engineering and fabrication costs have a way of evolving over time. The steel-and-aluminum "Train" is a 70-foot replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900-series steam locomotive, and the aim is to suspend it vertically from an actual 161-foot-tall construction crane. The wheels will rotate, smoke will puff from the smokestack and the whistle will blow, all at as-yet-unspecified intervals.

At LACMA's blog Unframed, John Bowsher, director of special art installations, was quoted in October describing the design-process as "reverse-engineering." An actual 1943 machine is being digitally scanned, piece by piece, so that the new parts then can be fabricated and assembled to create a shiny doppelgänger.

Artemis and the Stag For comparison, what else might that kind of money buy? The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo auctioned off its great Hellenistic/early Roman Imperial bronze "Artemis and the Stag" for $25.5 million ($28.6 million with buyer's premium) in 2007; the unidentified European collector who bought the smaller-than-life-size sculpture placed it on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At the time, it had fetched the highest price known to have been paid for any sculpture.

Imperial Rome having gotten quite good at copying older Greek motifs, the late Hellenistic/early Roman "Artemis" represents a transition from one historical era into another. "Train," as a simulacrum that represents the still-dawning Digital Era memorializing the passing Industrial Age, seems similarly destined.

Installation at LACMA is planned for 2012. Obviously, given the condition of Imperial America right now, fundraising for fabrication of the sculpture ought to be interesting.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo (top): "Train" by Jeff Koons. Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Photo (bottom): "Artemis and the Stag," artist unknown. Credit: Associated Press

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