In July, I took a group of New Museum members to sculptor Tom Sachs’ studio for a look at his works in progress.
For periods the visit felt like playtime–a vacation from reality and into the artist’s mind. Regardless of how many intriguing objects and mechanisms filled his studio space, it was also clear that Sachs runs a tight ship, to the benefit of staff and visitors alike. The result is a world that is all-encompassing, and greets you with its own procedure from the moment you arrive. First step involved a sign in, photo, and badge printing for each person; we were all categorized depending on our role.
After some tequila and chit chat, I introduced Tom to the group, and he gave us a brief introduction to the studio and his Space Program. Here is a great video of the voyage to the moon he did in 2007:
Tom spoke about his next big project, a launch to Mars planned for 2012. Right now they’re discussing everything from the technical requirements to what type of nuts will be served in the spacecraft. The project will be on view at the Park Avenue Armory, and it’s definitely something you won’t want to miss.
Tom divided us up into groups so we could explore the studio in more intimate clusters.
Downstairs is where the construction begins…I was a little envious of Tom’s personalized tools.
Upstairs we got to see some of Tom’s multiples, such as the Zero Gravity chess set, below.
The Zero Gravity Chess Set relies on magnets the hold the pieces down so they don’t float away while you’re in the stratosphere, and I imagine it’s a great way to pass the space-travel time.
As we all got to talking, one of the things that piqued my interest was Tom’s fascination with James Brown. Tom bought a number of Brown’s possessions at his estate auction in 2008, including the dishes and tray with which Brown enjoyed his final meal. They are now installed in Tom’s studio as “James Brown’s Last Supper”. You can put a quarter into the shell of a television set, and it lights up for about 20 seconds, revealing the “Last Supper” inside the TV.
Also in the studio was a poem about James Brown by Muhammad Ali:
Brown is Sachs’ muse in many ways, and it was a connection I found elucidating. It is natural for artists to look to one another, but oftentimes inspiration comes across mediums and worlds. Tom admitted he liked to focus on what was estimable about Brown, choosing to ignore the darker aspects of his reputation. Brown’s legacy as ‘the hardest working man in show business’ certainly appeals to Tom’s own values, who explained that for his studio hiring process, the only necessary experience is having been a dishwasher–”That’s the hardest job you can have,” according to Tom.
As we talked about JB, Tom took me over to a little box and showed me a prized possession: Brown’s passport.
It was a special object that felt like it had talisman-like qualities, and I was taken in as well.
Thanks to Tom for having us!
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