Objects of Devotion
5 September – 28 October 2017
Sperone Westwater is pleased to present Objects of Devotion, Tom Sachs’s fourth solo show at the gallery, showcasing the artist’s radical expansion of the category of sculpture and his restless curiosity about our “culture of making.” The exhibition extends the tradition of the wunderkammern, cabinets of curiosities which arose in sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for wondrous and exotic objects drawn from natural, manmade, and artificial worlds. In Sachs’s wunderkammern the artist-collector incorporates the objects of his fascination, assigning them a pseudo-scientific and a pseudo-spiritual function. Items caught in the wide net of Sachs’s imagination include the space program, the boombox, and the Japanese tea ceremony or chanoyu. The exhibition at Sperone Westwater coincides with the museum survey Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony, organized last year at the Noguchi Museum and to be on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, from 16 September 2017 to 7 January 2018.
Sachs’s work is vigorously process-oriented. His longstanding commitment to bricolage, an art of making things out of what is ready to hand, is one expression of a studio ethos centered on labor, both as guiding principle and as symbolic currency. In an interview for the Met’s “Artist Project,” Sachs described the utilitarian designs of the Shakers as “a clear expression of their ideology—the austerity and the dedication to work. To work is to pray.” A similar ethic reveals itself in Sachs’s own creations, which expose the traces of their making—drips of epoxy, runaway cuts—and underline the sheer expenditure of time involved. The cabinets in this exhibition suggest altars or shrines bringing modern-day ritual objects together with the artist’s autobiographical memorabilia. Sachs elevates these humble items, which are either ready-made or fabricated from modest materials, into cult artifacts or icons.
The Cabinet (2014), a large wall-mounted sculpture constructed of replica ConEdison barriers, a signature material for the artist, assembles weapons and tools with handles the artist calls “knockers.” Each is inscribed with a name which inspired, influenced, or frightened Sachs—architects, the Ivy Leagues, the Supreme Court, female pop stars, (former) studio assistants, his mother. Collected and used at the studio, the knockers carry personal meaning for the artist and evoke the archaic, found, or left-behind character of relics. The most recent cabinet, Rockeths (2017), completed for the exhibition, clearly signals the interactive nature of Sachs’ sculpture. Its playful tone masks a more sinister notion of labor, the chair chained to the workstation suggesting the slippery boundary between hobbyism and slavish dedication. Each of the work’s components commemorates a cultural leader who has stimulated the artist’s creativity.
Several works in the exhibition draw on Sachs’ immersive installation Space Program 2.0: MARS (2012), staged in the drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory. Sachs’s studio team of “astronauts” harvested “Mars rocks,” which were then painstakingly named, measured, and recorded; these appear in Mars Rocks (2016), as well as Vaguum (2012) and Nevada (2008-2009) where transparent vacuum chambers suggest the atmospheric conditions of Mars. Sachs describes the devotion to these samples as “so profound that fortunes beyond that of any one man are spent in their acquisition. The devotion extends also beyond money and into the realm of sexuality.”
Although at first glance these works may appear to revolve around Sachs’s studio practice, they also reveal a personal dimension. For Sachs, ideal love spills quickly over into lust, and his enthusiasm for subject and craft might be as titillating as it is moral. In this body of work, the artist points to the recurring convergence of phallic, yonic, and egg motifs, signaled outright in the title McMasterbation (2016). Comprised of a lectern bearing a McMaster-Carr, the most comprehensive hardware catalogue in circulation, this work literalizes Sachs’s devotion to process and protocol, which goes beyond mere mental discipline and seemingly enters the realm of arousal. In its everyday use in the studio, this encyclopedic source for equipment and materials functions as an educational tool and crucial point of reference. Here it becomes both sacred text and pure fetish, testament to countless hours spent “drooling over this bible of tooling.”
Tom Sachs was born in 1966 in New York, where he currently lives and works. After studying at the Architectural Association in London in 1987, he received a BA from Bennington College, VT in 1989. His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and internationally, and is held in major institutional collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo. Major solo exhibitions include SITE Santa Fe (1999), the Bohen Foundation, New York (2002), Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2003), Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo, and Fondazione Prada, Milan (2006), Lever House, New York (2008), Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT (2009), Park Avenue Armory, New York (2012), The Noguchi Museum, New York (2016), Brooklyn Museum, New York (2016), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2016). Previous solo exhibitions of his work have taken place at Sperone Westwater in 2004, 2008, and 2011.