When exalted art dealer Mary Boone was arrested for displaying live ammunition at her namesake NYC gallery in 1999, it further elevated the notorious reputation of the artist whose sculptures were so armed – one Tom Sachs. Sachs had risen to notoriety in the mid-90s with works that thought-provokingly intersected fashion and instruments of violence, including the HG (Hermès Hand Grenade) (1995) and Tiffany Glock (Model 19) (1995).
Those pesky perils of consumerism clearly remain top of mind for the New York based artist 25 years later – only the zeitgeist is starkly different. Looking back, as the ’90s had turned over to a new millennium, the US economy was in full go-go mode, and it was easy to think that it might never end. But Sachs now seems like a prophet, as a venal stock market has spiraled the country into a dangerously widening income gap – while Americans continue to run up huge, unsustainable credit card bills. And as the coronavirus crisis nears its one year “anniversary,” the nation remains in teetering economic peril.
So it’s an interesting context within which he opens his new show Ritual, an exhibit that is clearly meant as a further meditation on American culture and consumerism – but at a time when mindless, frenetic spending has been shifted online. It is installed at Thaddaeus Ropac in the Marais in Paris, the capital of a country whose own consumer culture has arguably worryingly Americanized over the last couple of decades (is that another Burger King opening in Avignon?).
Sachs describes the impetus for creating this new series of sculptures as “guilty consumerism,” revealing, “As I create, I meditate on it, and the lust of acquiring a product is replaced by the love of making it.”
Luxury is still a target, evidenced by his solemn, almost bedraggled looking Alligator Kelly Bag (Pink) 2020; but Tide Bottle (Orange) 2020 and Cup Noodles 2020 confront the more quotidian ways in which “brands” deviously intrude upon our everyday lives. Works fitted with the logos of McDonald’s and Sony, and a vintage ice machine equipped with surveillance cameras, seem to make little nods to Brancusi in regards to form, but also appear almost as the sardonic descendants of Donald Judd sculpts.
A particular highlight, Porte-Bouteilles (Bottle Rack), 2016 is somewhat unassuming at first glance. But it actually harkens back to Duchamp’s infamous Readymades, as well as a bottle rack apparently once owned by Rauschenberg. So he’s still cultivating all the right reference points.
With Ritual, Sachs again proves he is a master of form; but his sociopolitical bark and bite also remain undiminished. True, it may be a little hard to focus on the insidious nature of fast food and $1500 handbags during a near apocalyptic pandemic – but when we come out the other side (when, not if) these will be precisely the problems that will once again be staring us oppressively in the face, making our inevitable relief typically short lived.
Tom Sachs Ritual will be on exhibit at the Galerie Ropac Paris Marais until February 20.