this issue contains
>> Interview with Tom Sachs
>> Tom Sachs' Installation "Nutsy's"
>> Norman Kleeblatt on Tom Sachs
>> Weapons, Status, Shopping

>> archive

Weapons, Status, Shopping
Tom Sachs' Ultra-Democratic Model Worlds

With his studio "Allied Cultural Prosthetics" Tom Sachs has created a home-made cosmos complete with models and building components that work amazingly well – a spitting image of the real world. In his installation Nutsy's in the Deutsche Guggenheim, modernist utopias compete with the reality of global ghettos and contemporary consumer culture. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf on the work of the New York artist Tom Sachs.

All the modern things
Have always existed
They've just been waiting
To come out
And multiply
And take over
It's their turn now…"

Björk: The Modern Things, Post, 1996


Sometimes certain things are in the air. Maybe it's the smell of snow, maybe it's a fashion style, a label, an idea, possibly an intimation of imminent social upheaval that will forever change the way things appear. Sometimes, however, certain things are lying right out in the open, for example in a window display on Madison Avenue, and all of a sudden we feel like we've discovered them at just the right time and in just the right place.

Hello Kitty Nativity Scene, 1994,© Tom Sachs, New York

Tom Sachs is considered to be someone with a reliable sense of irony and timing: the Christmas decoration he designed for a storefront window at Barney's in the winter of 1994 unleashed a veritable scandal. It marked the end of his affiliation with the prestigious department store and simultaneously paved his way with bravado into New York's gallery scene. The Nativity scene he constructed combined the Japanese merchandising wonder "Hello Kitty” as the newborn Christ Child, Bart Simpson in the role of the Three Wise Men, and a pregnant Madonna Ciccone as the Virgin Maria.

Along with reading, travelling, and baking homemade cookies, a relatively harmless creed of the "Hello Kitty” figure is that one of the best things in life for every girlie is to win new friends; when Sachs combined this with his own capitalist version of the biblical Holy Story, it earned him murder threats. In reaction to the installation, right-wing Christian groups leaped onto the barricades, the allegedly "blasphemous” manger made it onto the front page of the New York Daily News, and the controversial ensemble was hastily removed only one day later. Sachs' talent, however, attracted the attention of the art dealers Paul Morris and Thomas Healy. They gave him his first one-person show in their Chelsea gallery in 1995, whose title Cultural Prosthetics referred to his Lower Manhattan workshop Allied Cultural Prosthetics, where he and a team of assistants have been producing art since the early nineties.

Super Dynamite Soul, 1998, © Sperone Westwater, New York

It might come as no accident that the inception of Sachs' career coincided with the dawn of the digital revolution and the New Economy, or that his working techniques and strategies are rooted in the areas of furniture design and the fashion industry. He'd already produced a large number of related commissions prior to the controversial design for Barney's. After completing his studies at Bennington College in Vermont and continuing his education at the Architectural Association in London, Sachs, born in 1966, assisted Frank O. Gehry in the production of a series of chairs for Knoll, worked for the English star designer and later Habitat man Tom Dixon , designed shopping carts for Dries van Noten, and created a clothes rack for Azzedine Alaia, soldered together from 22,000 pennies.

Invention, teamwork, handicraft – these were the elements Sachs would adopt for his later artistic production. Together with Allied Cultural Prosthetics, he went on to counter the design teams, PR departments, and creative think tanks of the "high fashion” industry with an alternative "low fashion” model: a boy gang that implemented found or available means of production, combining functioning with completely useless objects and investing them with a new purpose using hot glue guns, foamcore, and materials from the home improvement store. Collectors and do-it-yourself men who have adopted the concept "Bricolage” (a French term roughly meaning homemade), preferring amateur improvisation to the norms of industrial production.

Hermes Handgrenade, 1995 © Tom Sachs, New York

This tactic developed out of a particular necessity: "When you lose an eye or a leg, you get a glass eye or a peg leg. And when you lose culture, you get some of the things we do here… I'm trying to make a substitute for the things that are missing in my life,” Sachs remarked on his workshop's production. Andy Warhol's prophecy from the sixties that the museums of the future would look like department stores and department stores like museums was to experience a contemporary and radical extension through the homemade supply of wares Allied Cultural Prosthetics had to offer. Soon after the scandal at Barney's, Sachs' work would cease to be a decoration designed to stimulate the purchase of luxury articles and itself become a luxury article – a coveted art prosthesis for all the needs that firms like Hermés, Tiffany , Chanel, or Prada are unable to fulfil.

Chanel Value Meal, 1999, © Sperone Westwater, New York


In an interview with the curator Maria-Christina Villaseñor in 2003, Tom Sachs saw the miniature highway running through the urban landscape of his current installation Nutsy's in the Deutsche Guggenheim as a "way of connecting these themes that I'd been working on for years: sound systems, weaponry, status, shopping, dwellings.” Nutsy's is a world extending over 1,400 square meters in a scale of 1:25 that includes models of Le Corbusier's gigantic residential complex Unité d'Habitation, Mies van der Rohe furniture, a McDonald's restaurant, a 10,000-watt loudspeaker system, a ghetto, a modernist sculpture park, and a deejay headquarters. While Sachs developed a complete infrastructure for Nutsy's, his works still appeared throughout the nineties as single prototypes or as sets of objects referring to a coming world.

Chanel Chainsaw, 1999, © Sperone Westwater, New York

"Imagine a society", Anne Slowey wrote in 1997 in W Magazine ," in which a few huge conglomerates manufacture everything-from fast food to military equipment to haute couture-and cross-merchandising has run amok. MacDonald's fries are served in black-and-white cardboard packets with Chanel's interlocking double Cs, and bright orange stealth bombers boast conspicuous Hermés logos on their sides. This is the world according to Tom Sachs, where corporate emblems are the ultimate status symbols- and Chanel chainsaws, Hermés hand grenades and Prada plungers are the accessories of choice."

Not only the art scene proved impressed by works such as the ten foot-high, fully functioning Chanel Guillotine (Breakfast Nook) from 1998, the 1997 Prada Toilet model constructed from original packages, or the Hermés "Value Meals.” The extraordinary logic and aggressive wit with which Sachs transposed the aura of unaffordable luxury onto handmade weapons, household objects, toys, sanitary appliances, and "cheap” materials actually harmonized with those concerns whose logos he'd appropriated without permission.

Prada Toilette, 1997, © Tom Sachs, New York

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