"Working to Code" is a movie series designed for members of the Tom Sachs studio team. Required viewing for all employees and studio visitors.
ALWAYS BE KNOLLING.
Featured at the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo. More information at:http://www.emnomedosartistas.org.br/http://tenbullets.com
Life and early career
Born in New York City on July 26, 1966, Sachs grew up in Westport, Connecticut, and attended Greens Farms Academy for high school. He attended Bennington College in Vermont. Following graduation, he studied architecture at London's Architectural Association before deciding to return to the States, where he spent two years working in Frank Gehry's L.A. furniture shop. It is here that he began using the term knolling.
Sachs moved from L.A. to New York City around 1990 and found a studio in the disappearing machinery district downtown. His studio, Allied Cultural Prosthetics, took its name from the previous tenant—Allied Machine Exchange—implying that contemporary culture had become nothing but a prosthetic for real culture.
For a few years Sachs worked odd jobs, including lighting displays at Barneys New York. In 1994, he was invited to create a scene for their Christmas displays and titled it Hello Kitty Nativity, in which the Virgin Mary was replaced by Hello Kitty with an open Chanel bra, the three Kings were Bart Simpsons, and the stable was marked by a McDonald's logo. This contemporary revision of the nativity scene received great attention (not all of it positive) and demonstrated Sachs' interest in the phenomena of consumerism, branding, and the cultural fetishization of products.
In the mid and late 1990s, Sachs' career began to take off. His first major solo show, "Cultural Prosthetics", opened at New York's Morris-Healy Gallery in 1995. Many works from the show conflated fashion and violence, as with HG (Hermés Hand Grenade) (1995) and Tiffany Glock (Model 19) (1995), both of which were models made with Hermes or Tiffany packaging. Although these sculptures were non-functional, another piece - Hecho in Switzerland (1995) - was an actual working homemade gun. Sachs and his assistants would make similar guns and sell them back to the city as part of New York's gun buyback program (for up to $300 each).
His next major show, "Creativity is the Enemy", opened in 1998 at New York's Thomas Healy Gallery and Paris' Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. It built on the discourse established in "Cultural Prosthetics" with sculptures like Chanel Guillotine (1998) and Prada Deathcamp (1998). Other pieces, like Hermés Value Meal (1998), moved away from explicit references to violence and paired fashion with other successful brands, like McDonald's. Also included in the show were gaffer's tape versions of Piet Mondrian's famous compositions . Like the Hermes sculptures, the Mondrian paintings were things Sachs desired but could not have. So he made them instead. As Sachs puts it, "making it is a way of having it."
Similar shows opened the following year at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg, Austria and Mary Boone Gallery in New York, where Boone was famously arrested after Sachs allowed visitors to take live ammunition from an Alvar Aalto vase. Around the same time, Sachs' SONY Outsider (1998) opened at SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico. The sculpture was outwardly a full-scale model of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, and was a leap from handmade art into expensive outsourced fabrication. Ultimately, it was not well received by critics or even the artist himself - he later published a zine titled "The Failure of SONY Outsider"). For many, including Roberta Smith, the well-known New York Times art critic, the piece "bore no trace of Mr. Sachs's hand" and "could have been the work of several other artists." As Sachs says about the piece: "At the time I didn't fully grasp the value of my handcrafted things... I should leave it to Sony or Motorola to make those perfect things."
Learning from this experience, Sachs fully embraced the practice of "bricolage". For Sachs, a bricoleur is one "who hobbles together functional contraptions out of already given or collected materials, which he re-tools and re-signifies info new objects with novel uses, but more importantly, which he regenerates into a new, oscillating syntax: one of loss, gain, and more than anything, one of play." After the failure of Sony Outsider, Sachs began to focus on leaving visible traces of his work, saying this a few years later:
"We have our system of making things out of certain materials... and of showing the scars of our labor and the history of our efforts... We have the 'your way', 'my way', and 'the right way,' and I must insist everything is done my way, even if it takes longer."
On a related note, Sachs organized an exhibition at Sperone Westwater in 2000 entitled "American Bricolage" that featured the work of 12 artists including Alexander Calder, Greg Colson, and Tom Friedman.
After several solo exhibitions in New York and abroad, "Nutsy's" opened at the Bohen Foundation (New York City) in 2002 and Deutsche Guggenheim (Berlin) in 2003. The large-scale installation covered a whole floor, and invited viewers to interact by driving remote-controlled vehicles on asphalt tracks throughout the installation. Several of Sachs' most famous works debuted at this exhibition, including Unité, Nutsy's McDonald's, and Barcelona Pavilion. Unité, in particular, is one of Sachs' masterpieces—a 1:25 recreation of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation made completely out of foamcore. The Neistat Brothers, who began their careers working for Sachs, were instrumental in the operation of "Nutsy's".
In 2006, the artist had two major survey exhibitions mounted in Europe, first at the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst and next at the Fondazione Prada, Milan. His work can be found in major museum collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
As Germano Celant writes in his monograph on the artist published by the Fondazione Prada, Milan, "The images and objects that make up the militarized space of consumption and fashion are at the very heart of Tom Sachs's visual passion."
The Des Moines Art Center and Rose Art Museum hosted a solo exhibition titled Logjam featuring the artist in 2007.