Not-so-obscure objects of desire

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Surrounded by the allure of advertised stuff, we’re all in a state of constant yearning for the Lamborghini or plasma screen tv or some other gold charm for our life bracelets.
sachs, tom
Artist Tom Sachs, who yearns for stuff with an intensity that requires him to make art about the problem, spoke last week as part of PAFA‘s visiting artist series (see post for the rest of the series). In his mid ’30s, he had a curly mop of hair and was neatly dressed in a white shirt and tie, with a zippered hoodie and jeans.

Sachs is one of those guys who makes models. His models, however, have brand names–a Chanel guillotine, a Tiffany Glock, a Hermes-wrapped McDonald’s value meal. And no matter how slick the object of his desire, the model he makes is not slick. It shows the glue, the hand-drawn logo, the crinkles and wrinkles. “My practice is a little anachronistic,” he said. “The cornerstone of my work is repair and reuse.”

You gotta love a guy who right off the bat shows you his biggest mistake as an artist, his “Sony Outsider.” Anyway, the reason it was a mistake? The glue didn’t show. It didn’t look handmade or wrinkled. It looked like it came straight from the Jaguar factory, and it really did cost a ridiculous amount to make–$50,000 (right, “Sony Outsider”).

The full-sized model of the bomb dropped over Nagasaki, has a perfect white Fiberglas body which opens up to a perfect air-conditioned white leather upholstered interior (sort of an all-white seduction chamber/hotel room/listening booth, including a toilet that really flushes), was all wrong. To question the value of the perfect objects of our desire and become one with them is what’s all wrong (left, the interior; this piece made me think of Lee Bul’s pods that showed at the Fabric Workshop, but Sachs’ interior isn’t an isolation chamber but a place to share and luxuriate in).

Sachs is happier leaving his drips and edges.

In contrast to his big Sony mistake, Sachs hit the trifecta–French brand, French tool, French venue–with the Chanel guillotine breakfast table, now showing at the Pompidou Center. Discreetly charming. Who says the French can’t laugh at themselves–with a little help from Sachs (right, “Chanel Guillotine Breakfast Table”)?

Like all of Sachs’ models, the guillotine works. So does his full-scale model of an airplane lavatory (left, rear view), right down to the soap dispenser and the seat covers. The plumbing works and the little light activated by the door works. The main material–foam core.

While everything works, it doesn’t work optimally. “The space shuttle has to work every time,” he said. “Of all the guns I made, we never had a mechanical failure. They’re just super slow to load.” He later talked about his theory that the farther something is from bed when it gets used, the better it needs to be constructed. “There’s a hierarchy of quality and expense” So a blender in the house can be not so great. But if a blender on the space shuttle fails, “everyone dies.”

Things are pieced together in a do-it-yourself anti-assembly line. His sense of humor is sharper than the guillotine–there’s the Tiffany Glock, the Prada death camp (left) and his Uncle Tom’s kitchen set (bottom), featuring racist packaging (Aunt Jemimah, Uncle Ben, etc) coating tools common to domestic violence.

Sometimes he makes models just to have the object of his desire. He couldn’t afford a Mondrian, so he made a model with gaffer’s tape (right). He made his “Hello Kitty Collection” to understand the phenomenon of collecting–something he felt he needed to know as an artist.

His “Hello Kitty Nativity Scene” got removed from a store window after the Catholic League protested his portrayal of the Madonna dressed as Madonna, the singer (left, Madonna detail).
My favorite tidbit from the “How I Grew up to Become This Kind of Artist” school, was that at age 8, his father desperately wanted a Nikon FM2, so Sachs made a him one in school. He showed the slide (right).

Like all cynics, he used to be a true believer, who thought “having all this expensive stuff was going to make my life better.” Now that he has made for himself every gun he ever wanted, he knows better.

Aside: He used to work for Frank Gehry and saw how sloppy the architect’s models were, yet they were beautiful. “That was influential to me,” he said.

Modest to the end, he said, “I’m just someone who works very hard. There are very few geniuses. …I had dinner with Bruce Nauman. Genius is really overrated.”

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