An exhibition named “Timeline” by the American artist Tom Sachs is currently taking place at the SCHAUWERK Sindelfingen. The museum of contemporary art, only a few kilometers from Stuttgart, features a retrospective of the artist, the first major solo exhibition in Germany for over 15 years. To learn more about the current retrospective as well as the artist’s work, an interview with Tom Sachs was conducted.
Tell me more about the show in Sindelfingen. How was this retrospective decided and organised. Which works does it include?
The title of my solo show at Schauwerk in Sindelfingen is “Timeline”, which is also the title of a piece I started in 2016 that tracks moments in my career and elements that have influenced me. Using Timeline, 2016—2019 as a reference point allowed us to include singular pieces like Chanel Guillotine and pieces from larger experiential works like Nutsy’s. The show features a room with our entire Tea Ceremony that just showed in Japan. And the scale of the Schauwerk space allowed me to debut World Trade Center for the first time.
When did you release you want to be an artist?
The key to ‘becoming’ an artist is to believe you are one. When I first moved to New York I believed I was an artist, but I couldn’t afford to make art all the time. I learned to weld in art school, so I took work as a non-union elevator repair man and that allowed me to do art 10% of my time. But that elevator repairs taught me a lot about work and that the reward for good work is more work. Even now that I am a full-time artist, on one day a year I take welding jobs and if you bring me something to weld on that day, I will do it.
What role does McDonald’s play in your artistic practice? And in
the works shown in Sindelfingen? Tell me more about it.
McDonald’s is a modern icon of culture and consumerism. I explored McDonald’s in the Nutsy’s show as the other side of the idealistic modernism represented by Le Corbusier’s 1952 Unit d’Habitation housing block. It was a massive 12-story structure that symbolises the integrity of modernism as well as its subsequent corruption.
Tell me more about your work Swiss Passport Office shown during Frieze 2018. How did this work evolve? What inspired you to make this work, have you ever been to Switzerland?
Swiss Passport Office, 2018 was about breaking down borders and eliminating the concept of nationality. Our liberal democracies are being threatened and people are being oppressed all over the world. So Swiss Passport Office represented a reprieve from artificial borders created by governments and the corporations who control them.
With Swiss Passport Office, every man and woman can be Swiss. I love Switzerland and I love its contradictions. I love the Swiss respect for nature and how orderly it is. But it’s also the place where bad guys stash their money.
How do you deal with criticism?
Nobody loves criticism. Humor is one of the tools that I use and in my earlier work I was frustrated when people didn’t take the work seriously. I can’t imagine being any more serious than we are. Hundreds of hours of work can go into a sculpture of a woodburning. However, I would remind the haters that no one ever got laid by boring
someone to death.
Has there been a turning point in your artistic practice so far? Is there something which influenced you in doing things a different way: using a different kind of material, in producing your artworks. And in your development as an artist.
Bricolage is my religion. Bricolage through sculpture. What I am inspired by is not newer, fancier materials. I am inspired to make things out of everyday items and show the hand of their making. In the studio we paint plywood white before we cut it so that you can see that it was cut. In my marquetry, which in traditional craft is meant to be seamless and not show the human hand, I leave the chips of wood. When I make porcelain chawans, you can see my fingerprints. There is evidence that says “I was here. This was made by human hands”. These systems have developed for me over time but they all stem from my relationship to Bricolage.
What are you currently working on?
Because of the quarantine in New York I have turned my basement in Queens into a workshop/studio and I have been spending most of my time there. I have been painting a lot and working on things for Space.
Program 4: Rare Earths which will be on view at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg in Summer 2021.
What is the role that artists should play at a time like now?
Artists need to pay attention to the machine. It’s not going away. And everyone – you, me, Exxon Mobile, Donald Trump – we all have a TV channel made up of all of our social media and our website and whatever else. It is clear we’re making our own identities and being able to craft them. We all present ourselves in the way we want people to see us, but now that there is a distance and an artificial intimacy through the machine.
Artists are always at the front of this, and I’m actually kind of surprised there aren’t better artist websites. What would Andy Warhol do? You could bet he’d have a great website, and he’d be involved in everything, and doing it like crazy because it’s cheap and it’s powerful and it’s a great mode of expression.
What is something you have learned, as a growing artist, that would be helpful to aspiring artists?
- Buy a Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker! People think I’m kidding when I say this but when you are an artist you have to think about your art. And a rice cooker does your cooking for you and makes sure that you have cheap, easy sustenance so you
can focus on your art.
- The most important rule of success is: first thing in the morning, output before input. DO NOT look at your phone first thing. Write in your journal, touch clay, dance. Important emails will find you. Donald Trump’s latest atrocity will find you. The phone will ring eventually. Use that eight hours of your irrational, subconscious mind called dreaming to solve the unsolved problems from the day before or inspire you for the next. Those minutes are sacred. That’s true for artists and businessmen. promote it in an exhibition, it dies on the vine. I think that’s true of anything.
Thanks for reading!
TOM SACHS – TIMELINE runs until August 2.
71065 Sindelfingen | Germany