Tom Sachs: Rocket Man to Renaissance Man – The New York Times | WHs Answers

SEOUL – By now, artist Tom Sachs is used to people suspecting that the way he runs his studio has some parallels with running cults. “A cult just means – if you look it up – it just means a group of people with idiosyncratic and shared values,” Sachs said in a recent afternoon interview here. “Anyone can leave anytime they want.”

Sachs, 55, took a break to put the finishing touches on his show, Tom Sachs Space Program: Indoctrination at the Art Sonje Center, one of three solo exhibitions he was preparing in the South Korean capital. To get things done, he’d flown in five members of his 25-strong New York team, identifiable by their Sachs-branded apparel and Nikes (he was designing a sold-out model; a reissue is coming in August). .

Visitors to Art Sonje have the opportunity to learn some of the studio’s guiding principles (dubbed “the code”) – being on time, keeping to-do lists, paying fines for various violations (for a party treasury) – and getting tested too will you. After completing a quiz on such rules, passing students become members of the Sachs “Space Program”; Those who fail can watch a 10 point video and other transformation materials (all quite entertaining) and try again. “We’re indoctrinating Korea with the studio’s values,” Sachs said cheerfully.

The close ties Sachs fosters has allowed his cult to embark on wildly ambitious projects for many years, like a series of mock space missions he’s staged in museums and galleries. They flew from Gagosian in Beverly Hills to the moon in 2007 and from the Park Avenue Armory to Mars in 2012, always with great attention to detail. (The Mars landing sculpture was made primarily out of plywood and screws.) Many people have “built their own lunar module,” Sachs said, “but I’m the only one who built it without a central pillar,” which requires precise assembly and cantilevered landing gear .

At Sonje’s there are space suits, models of spacecraft, and intricately constructed dioramas that use cameras, monitors, and the odd smoke machine to simulate rocket launches and segments of the journeys his group has made through the solar system (in earth-based performances). These filigree works impress not least because they were obviously made by hand.

A nostalgic melancholy lurks beneath the charisma of Sachs’ inventions. Adorned with American flags and NASA logos, they refer to a time when the country could aim and dream big. Their robust, do-it-yourself construction is also a tacit answer to the built-in obsolescence of so many of today’s products. “His criticism isn’t really direct,” said Sunjung Kim, artistic director of Art Sonje, which organized the show. “It’s a detour, and there’s also humor behind it.” (When asked about the source of his do-it-yourself sensibilities, Sachs mentioned a grandfather who grew up during the Depression and whose own father was “a ragamuffin” in the hard-nosed Lower East Side. “He came home with four flat tires,” Sachs said; his grandfather helped fix it.)

Billionaires have launched their own space programs in recent years, but “I’m not interested in their little penis contest,” Sachs said. His interests are earthly and forward-looking. “You don’t go to other worlds because you ruined them and are looking for a new home,” he said. “You go to other worlds to better understand your resources here.”

Sachs’ art celebrates what people can achieve when they come together, roll up their sleeves, and refuse to stop. “The reward for good work is more work,” he likes to say. Recently he has enthusiastically embraced NFTs, inviting collectors to create three-piece digital rockets, with each component bearing the insignia of a brand such as Budweiser, Tiffany or Campbell’s Soup. They are accounts of how identities are formed or aspired to, perhaps through consumerism. Sachs and Company assembles and launches the toy projectiles and ships them to buyers. “If you have any doubt that it’s not performance art, building 500 rockets is endurance art,” he said, using an expletive to emphasize the labor involved. (Paintings of his pop rockets are on view at gallery owner Thaddaeus Ropac’s Seoul branch until August 20.)

Mainline art types have criticized the aesthetic value of many NFT creations, and so has Sachs, but he gushed about his experience in the field. “I’ve finally found my people,” he said. “This is the first grassroots art movement that I’m actively participating in.” At Seoul’s Oil Tank Culture Park, his team launched about two dozen rockets to a sizeable crowd.

The rocket launchers pride themselves on their strange work. Sachs studio manager Erum Shah noted that they recovered everyone they blew up. “There’s a rocket that’s missing a part,” she said. “It was Chanel’s nose cone, and it’s in the Seine. I think that’s kind of poetic.” At a launch a few weeks ago in Chicago, one got stuck in a treetop; The four-hour rescue mission included drones and tree-climbing attempts.

“We ended up going to Home Depot, getting a ladder and a saw, and sawing off the branch,” Sachs said last week.

After about 16 launch events over the past year, Sachs is closing this one “so we can focus on the next chapter, world-building,” he said. “We build planets in Mona.” This Metaverse platform allows collectors to convert Sachs-made NFT Martian rocks into digital worlds, a process he called “transubstantiation.” (The deadline for building a physical rocket is midnight July 24; digital ones can still be assembled after that.)

The stark commercialism of the crypto universe is a trait, not a flaw, for Sachs. “I think the smart contract — or Web3 — is really about money, and it’s about, if everyone is an artist, and that includes bankers, then it’s the art of believing,” he said. Recently, that belief has been put to the test. NFT sales are down and Bitcoin and Ethereum prices have plummeted. The downturn, Sachs said, “is going to sort out all the junk. Only the artists who are willing to do it for it will prevail.”

Meanwhile, reports of crypto scams and thefts have continued to multiply. “The negativity is so simple and delicious and fun,” Sachs said. But that’s not his worldview; he comes across as a true believer. “I don’t care,” he said. “I am interested in making the world the way I want it to be. This is the only way we can survive.”

Sachs clearly relishes the opportunity to work beyond the confines of the contemporary art industry, where “there is an elitism that to me is really offensive and mean, and I even think it exists to cloak unformed, ill-formed ideas “, he said. A Connecticut teenager in the 1980s who frequented hardcore punk shows now has a penchant for populist crossovers that create productive friction. He designed an unauthorized Chanel guillotine and the very real Nikes; The sports company described its stripped-down new shoe as “a multi-sneaker. A selfless sneaker.” Sachs described it as “a sculpture that’s on your foot,” and he wants his spatial sculptures to be similarly accessible. “You don’t need wall text to explain them,” he said.

What will be perhaps Sachs’ highest-profile production in Seoul up to 9/11, is an overview of 13 homemade boomboxes (among many others he’s made) at Hybe Insight, a museum space at the headquarters of Hybe, the self-proclaimed “entertainment lifestyle platform” behind BTS. They are eye-catching devices built out of wood and paint and adorned with Hello Kitty characters and other accessories. In some cases, markings for their dials are hand-drawn, and their wiring is visible, proudly showing how they were made. “I called them Sculptures for the Ear,” said the exhibition’s curator, Yeowoon Lee.

Most ghetto blasters play a 24-hour mix put together by multimedia artist and DJ Nemo Librizzi. It boils down to “a story about how freedom was found in American music, largely through the marginalized classes,” Librizzi said over the phone from New York. There’s blues, gospel, jazz, rap. The day after the show opened, Little Junior Parker’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” filled the room as young people poured in, posed for photos and might become Sachs fans.

Sachs began building loudspeaker systems in his youth, which also led to his taking up rocket launching. He traded a copy of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album for a stolen car stereo, which he plugged into his family’s old Plymouth Volare station wagon. “I just figured it out on my own, just out of desire,” he said. This ingenuity has evolved into an art of intoxicating bricolage, of working objects that are greater than the sum of their assembled parts.

At one point, Sachs got around to talking about “bricolage being in everything if you’re just a little more open about what that might mean,” and mentioning the concept of Kluge — using discordant elements to create an unlikely solution develop. It’s the scientific community’s term for bricolage “when something doesn’t go as planned,” he said. “But there’s a fine line between being smart and just making the best of what you have, and I think that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

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