Tom Sachs’ Space Mission: Mars is a lot like Space Camp for adults. For me, Space Camp represents a forever unattainable dream of my childhood. I grew-up on the Space Coast in Florida, watching every shuttle launch, dreaming of going to Space Camp, but never being able to afford it. I have a feeling that a young Sachs also dreamed of going to Space Camp.
Sachs has built a career out of making realist sculptures of pop culture icons in his own idiosyncratic way. The icons he chooses to replicate are often as diverse as his approach to process and material is meticulous. Project to project, his career can seem disjointed and inconsistent, but, if you take a step back and look at his oeuvre as a whole somehow it all fits. This same logic should be applied Sachs’s current performance/installation/
If viewed individually, each separate piece in the show is a bit overwhelming thanks to the unparalleled mechanical intricacy and attention to detail within each work. Each object is filled with so much geeky minutiae combined in such a specific, intentionally crude manner that it is almost too complex to take in at once. It is only when you step back from the individual objects and take in the exhibition as an overall experience, do all the quasi-scientific apparatuses, uniformed, skateboarding volunteers, stadium seating, enigmatic videos and thumping Kanye West soundtrack begin to make sense.
The overall effect is one that reminds us of why we went to the moon in 1969. We did it because it intrigued our spirit – we are a naturally curious species and we love to solve problems. Both of these traits are clearly evident in Sach’s work which often stems from long standing interests or obsessions and always involves overly laborious engineering and fabrication.
With Space Mission: Mars Sachs has created a living environment that can appeal to audiences young and old, art savvy and art novice. Much like a dream, it exists in an ephemeral environment that is removed from any specific time or place and seems to float within the dark void of the massive Park Avenue Armory. You can easily spend hours inside the space, there is so much to see and do, and the interactive elements combined with engaging volunteers are surprisingly effective at creating impromptu interactions with other viewers. Although I never made it to Space Camp, I am happy to report that Space Mission: Mars comes pretty close to finally fulfilling that dream.
Space Program: Mars was organized by Creative Time and is on view at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through June 17. General Admission is $12, $10 for seniors, students. Demonstrations vary daily; see the website for more details.