Like most of the fashion flock who descended on the haute couture showings here this week, New York artist Tom Sachs — who made his name with such pieces as a life-size guillotine emblazoned with Chanel logos — is over logomania. Of course Sachs isn’t just following the dictates of fashion. He says he just got tired of gallery-hoppers paying more attention to brands on his pieces than the pieces themselves. The implications of using, say, the Prada name on a McDonald’s French fry box got lost in the hubbub.
Hence his new exhibition, called “White,” which opened Saturday with a rollicking party at Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac on rue Debelleyme. The hundreds of guests included collectors Lucia Hennessey and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, young couture client Ana Lucia de Theresa, Vogue Homme editor Richard Buckley and photographer Francois-Marie Banier. Jeremy Scott worked the party with a camera crew in tow, interviewing guests for a segment on Canal Plus television.
“White” pretty much describes the show’s principal installation, the technological paraphernalia of the Apollo 11 moon launch: a 1:18 scale Saturn V rocket, a 1:4 scale lunar-landing module suspended from the ceiling and “Hello Kitty” wearing Buzz Aldrin’s space suit. All of it is constructed in white foamcore board.
“I thought, I’ll [re]make the greatest art piece of the twentieth century,” said Sachs two days earlier, during a break from installing the show. “Playing golf on the moon is a far greater accomplishment than anything in the 20th century — except hip-hop. Or jazz, maybe.”
Other pieces include a meticulous reproduction of his mother’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner, a life-size Star Wars R2D2 and a model of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye with a McDonald’s sign planted on the front lawn. Again, everything is rendered in foamcore.
“The Villa Savoye was the original spaceship architecture,” Sachs explains. “People thought it was a landed UFO when it was built. I’m somehow making it my own with a McDonald’s sign. The McDonald’s sign is a much more meaningful symbol of American imperialism than the American flag, although both are pretty interchangeable.”
The second half of the installation makes a wild departure from the coolly cerebral white half — or, as the artist says, “Whitey” half. “Voodoo,” as he names the remainder of the exhibition, amounts to a second show-within-a-show. The transitional piece — a tenuous link, perhaps — is a painting of R2D2 on a cardboard box.
Roughly-made of pilfered construction materials, the Voodoo pieces are like frat-house assemblages. They come across as almost pubescent in their obsessions and purposefully heavy-handed “meaning.”
One particularly skanky piece, called “The City of Women,” is based on a hip-hop song cataloguing the rapper’s erotic conquests. Another is called “Stoner Cricket Shrine.” The wall-mounted shrine includes burning candles, a small mirror, a live cricket in a cage, a pipe, a lighter and some fragrant green sinsemilla marijuana. Decorating the shrine are two Japanese symbols purportedly meaning “the bittersweet melancholy of life’s passing.” Sachs says the phrase traditionally describes cherry blossoms in springtime: so sweet but so ephemeral, like life.
To participate in the piece, you smoke the pot and blow it onto the cricket, so that it also gets stoned. Then the two of you contemplate your fleeting existence. (Crickets have an eight-week lifespan.) The attached notebook labeled “Thoughts” is to write down your reflections.
Glancing between the foamcore “Hello Kitty” and the “Stoner Cricket Shrine,” Sachs offers an explanation that clarifies but does not explain away contradictions in the show.
“That is the cold, consumer-critical side of things, the Apollonian,” says Sachs. “This other is the Dionysian, the warm, the sensitive — the voodoo. This is all about keeping things real.”