Tom Sachs: Kitties and Miffies and Melodies, Oh My!

Tom Sachs’ Animals at Sperone Westwater is filled with jarring perceptual flips, and an outright weirdness executed with skill and craft.

poster for Tom Sachs

Tom Sachs "Animals"

at Sperone Westwater
in the Lower East Side area
This event has ended - (2008-05-08 - 2008-06-21)

In Reviews by Rajesh Barua 2008-06-09 print

Tom Sachs, 'Love Birds' (2008). Cast silicon bronze, Krylon white, primer and semi-gloss.

With a giant wobbled lurch forward, Tom Sachs’ “Hello Kitty Wind Up” (2008) is, well, exactly that: a Hello Kitty windup toy caught in mid mechanical step, 21 feet tall, cast in bronze. It’s the centerpiece of a set of similar bronze statues by Sachs on display at the plaza of the Lever House building, including two smaller fountains—all modeled after real toy counterparts of Sanrio Co. creations Hello Kitty and My Melody, as well as Dick Bruna’s Miffy character.

The statues are painted white to look like Foamcore, the same Styrofoam-like material that Sachs worked from to create the molds that he would later put to bronze. It’s a familiar playfulness from Sachs, who never tries to hide a human hand at work. Here especially though, he puts on display the process of making and twists away at its possible meanings: splicing at the much rarefied ideal of the finished work, the finished bronze statue, and in a way un-obscuring the human element of even mass produced product. The statues look like they might have come right off a work-table, a toy ready for paint.

Inside the Lever House lobby gallery is more of Sachs’ “Bronze Collection,” unpainted this time are towers of stacked car batteries and wooden planks and rollers queered into solid bronze. It’s a small taste of Sachs’ penchant for dislodging meanings into awkward suspension: Animals, at the Sperone Westwater, gives a much more substantive and engaging offering.

Tom Sachs, 'Waffle Bike' (2008), mixed media.

Following loosely on the animalistic theme, displayed is Sachs’ movement through different mediums: woodcutting, bronze, and most of all bricolage—mashed “DIY” sculptures of all and any materials or objects available. This kind of collage of randomness hits from the first room of the gallery, a single installation piece entitled “Waffle Bike” (2007) blasts a steady drone of Arabic chanting from three megaphones affixed to a bicycle’s rear chicken coop. This bike does indeed have a waffle attached to the front of its handlebar, along with a mini-fridge, and the rear-mounted wire chicken coop has clearly been used—the handheld-sized portable Sony television inside it shows as much as the soiled newspaper bedding does, looping video of the cage’s former poultry inhabitants.

Tom Sachs, 'La Guardia' (2008), mixed media.

The whole bike is a disconcerting bombardment of symbols: Nietzsche opened and clipped to a clipboard, a Honda motor, PAM cooking spray, woodcuttings of guns and the BMW logo, Norwegian flags…. Before long, it seems as if the entire semiotic wiring of the brain has been put in disarray and overload. Persistent, though, and really the only thing that could be seen as remotely coherent, are numbered padlocks and other markings and remnants of a person putting the thing together and making it work—the bike is self-sustained like others of Sachs instillations. The tape deck that feeds the megaphones automatically clacks itself from side B to A or A to B, and it is wired and extension-corded to the same power transformer the mini-TV, those megaphones, that mini-fridge, and the Honda motor are. The transformer is right behind the seat.

The working order of some pieces in particular begs for interaction. There is a birdhouse of turned-on phones labeled with their phone numbers, a pile of cassettes with a fully working boombox encased in glass, but with rubber glove inlets allowing for its operation, and then there is “La Guardia” (2006–2007)—a cat tower, place of feline residence, complete with directions like: “Keep dry food in bowl, always, for proper cat fattening.” Stenciled and in marker are other directions and labels for keeping the installation in proper working order, from turning on a portable DVD player and looping video of a McDonalds service counter (fittingly played behind a cat-scaled McDonalds counter), to appropriate water levels for running the fog machine located on the top floor of the tower. Power strips are exposed and labeled with each of their particular switches’ functions.

Through construction marks and directions, a peculiar narrative, or voice, gets heard. One confusing Sachs’ own with a voice created for and out of the piece itself. Sachs set about making a working “cat tower” and displaying it; but more astonishingly, he created a persona and invisible fiction of the tower’s creator—one that seems as disjointedly his own as the tower is. Animals is filled with these kind jarring perceptual flips, and an outright weirdness executed with skill and craft.

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Rajesh Barua

Rajesh Barua. For show, Rajesh is part Peruvian, part Bangladeshi, and a 1st generation American. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he should be finishing a BA in Philosophy any time now from Purchase College, SUNY. In the meanwhile, he gets by doing odd jobs, reading Plato, and attempting to be a freelance writer. Oh, and writing his thesis. » See other writings

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