Space exploration is no simple task, so artist Tom Sachs didn’t pack light while installing his new intergalactic-themed exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco.
“Four semitrucks,” he says, while texting his New York studio—mission control—to confirm a pivotal piece made it on board.
A meticulously plotted fantasy trip, “Space Program: Europa” (through January 15) is a herculean effort for Sachs and his studio. During the opening and closing weekends, Sachs’ “astronauts” will simulate a flight to Europa, the icy moon orbiting Jupiter. Upon “landing,” they’ll enact a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and an “abduction” of a “Europan” from beneath the moon’s icy crust—then kill it, grill it and eat it, a la Izakaya-style barbeque. (Like you do.)
It’s a warp-speed year for the red-hot sculptor: In March, New York’s Noguchi Museum mounted its first solo show devoted to an artist other than its namesake with “Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony.” A month later, the Brooklyn Museum presented a pulsing, street sound installation, “Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2016.” In August, Apple Music debuted Frank Ocean’s album, Blonde, along with Endless, a visual collaboration with Sachs starring the hip-hop artist.
Sachs, 50, received his B.A. from Bennington College, Vermont. After a two-year stint in Los Angeles at Frank Gehry’s furniture shop, he moved in 1990 to New York. Inside his fun-house studio, Sachs builds his signature bricolage creations—conjuring handcrafted art from everyday materials (plywood, tampons, Tyvek fiber) that transform mundane objects into sly emissaries of cultural commentary.
“My space program is driven by irrationality and intuition,” he explains during his initial YBCA setup. “All the pseudo science stuff we do is just about using things from the world to support my sculpture-making.”
His one-of-a-kind approach has invited creative collaborations for NikeCraft space-themed apparel and accessories, as well as cease-and-desist letters from NASA for appropriating their logo. “I have broken a lot of rules,” he admits playfully. “But in one of those letters, NASA asked to buy one of my sculptures…It’s in the agency’s Smithsonian collection.”
Sachs’ historic large-scale trip, “Space Program 2.0: MARS,” launched in 2012 at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. That punctilious journey was documented by director Van Neistat for the absurdist yet existentially complex film A Space Program, released earlier this year.
“Space Program: Europa” is his third space mission and spreads across 12,500 square feet at YBCA. Earlier works, such as Sachs’ industrial take on the Hermès bag, White Kelly, 2012, are included among roughly 200 sculptures and large-scale installations—an Apollo-era landing module and a Winnebago tricked out as a “Mobile Quarantine Facility” for his astronaut suits.
Sachs’ obsession with outer space was sparked as a kid in Westport, Conn., growing up amid the glory days of NASA’s nascent space program. “Even though we were at war in Vietnam, there was an optimism about NASA exploration that inspired us to believe we could travel to other planets,” he says. “We achieve posterity and survival of the species through procreation. But the dream of traveling to other planets is the dream of immortality.”
Tom Sachs’ “Space Program: Europa” runs through Jan. 15. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F., 415-978-2787; ybca.org. • CATHERINE BIGELOW
Edited by Melissa Goldstein and Elizabeth Khuri Chandler.