Magazine article Artforum International

Tom Sachs: PARK AVENUE ARMORY

Magazine article Artforum International

Tom Sachs: PARK AVENUE ARMORY

Article excerpt

Though Tom Sachs's preposterously hypertrophic installation "Space Program: Mars" proposed to viewers a kind of voyage, it turned out to provide a very different sort of trip than the one advertised. Organized by Creative Time, the prolific artist's ersatz expedition to outer space--which colonized a heroically large proportion of the Park Avenue Armory's floor plan--never really got off the ground. But the actual journey on offer, one into the mind and working habits of its author, was a fascinating adventure nonetheless.

The show was, in essence, an extravagant, life-size (and then some) working model recapitulating Sach's modus operandi--a madly macro-cosmic enactment of his legendarily fastidious studio practice. And the array of quasi-participatory, bricolaged sculptural scenarios that composed it beautifully demonstrated not just the artist's carefully honed sense of the ironically maladroit but also the intermittent horror vacui that provokes his most overelaborated artifacts. Informed by what seems to be a naturally occurring case of undeniably generative OCD--as well as a well-documented tendency toward almost logorrheic pedantry--Sachs's physical and conceptual constructions initially propose themselves as spontaneous and appealingly offhand. Here, however, they were almost always less interesting as things-in themselves than as representative cogs in his rigid metasystem of command and control, a system instantiated vividly in the usually handwritten text that percolated in and alongside the works like haywire didactic verbiage, ever-presently murmuring to viewers suggestions on how to look at, use, and/or understand them and their larger context.

If the specific pieces often boiled down to vehicles for low-ambition, knowingly schlocky gags--a biology lab set up to grow poppies for the cultivation of opium on Mars rejiggered, "due to federal law restrictions," to produce " 'soapium,' a Dial soap-based substitute"; a Winnebago RV fashioned into a "mobile quarantine facility" for returning astronauts, stocked with copious amounts of top-shelf booze--the conceptual coup de grace of the larger project was the way it cheerfully strong-armed visitors into playing along with its central conceit. The centerpiece of the sprawling, umpteen-part "Space Program: Mars" was--fittingly, given its roots in the artist's "Space Program," a 2007 Gagosian LA show that mooted a similar lunar voyage--a full-scale model of an Apollo LEM, or lunar excursion module, which had been repurposed for its new Martian destination. …

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