Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999–2016 "I don't want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, I'll get it myself." —James Brown
The idea of bricolage (to build from an array of available things) echoes the self-empowerment ethos of James Brown's black power anthem, which advocates for a spirited sense of self-reliance. In his functioning handmade sound systems, Tom Sachs uses the bricolage technique to take us on a transformative musical voyage.
Sachs has been making boom boxes and sound systems since childhood; the fifteen sculptures in this exhibition are a survey of the ones he has created since 1999. Each was built in support of a specific activity, event, or ritual—from Jamaican "yard" party to road trip to simple act of using a vide poche (a place to empty your pockets as you enter your home). For Sachs, the power of sound systems can influence the way we see and experience space.
Historically, artists like Robert Rauschenberg have sampled images and employed collage to express ideas. Innovative Jamaican record producers like Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd and Lee "Scratch" Perry similarly sampled and collaged sounds to make music cobbled-together sound systems that spawned reggae, dub, hip-hop, and punk.
Here, music blasts from the boom box sculptures, transforming the gallery space. Programmed with different playlists, the sculptures are sequentially activated throughout the day. DJs will play live sets at scheduled times throughout the run of the exhibition. Rounding out the installation are benches and a fully functioning bodega designed and built by Sachs specially for the exhibition and its Brooklyn setting.
February 1, 2016
The Brooklyn Museum is pleased to announce Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2016 has been added to the spring 2016 exhibition schedule. Paying tribute to a defining symbol of street music culture, Tom Sachs will transform the Brooklyn Museum’s Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion into a living sound system through an installation of eighteen sculptural boom boxes. Hovering somewhere between art and science, functional and mythological, Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2016 will go live on April 21 and run through August 14, 2016. Other spring exhibitions include Agitprop!, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, and This Place.
Tom Sachs’s highly personalized use of materials and processes is rooted in bricolage, the construction of art from a range of available, everyday objects, and Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2016 demonstrates the artist’s unique DIY aesthetic centered on ritual and symbolism. Using a specialized language of construction and working inventively with a wide range of materials such as plywood, foam core, batteries, duct tape, rudimentary wires, hot glue, and solder, the artist and his assistants fabricate and modify hardware, objects, and architectural constructions.
The boom boxes will activate the Museum’s entrance through a scheduled series of eclectic sound experiences curated by the artist and drawing from his own musical community and the rich history of music in Brooklyn. Public programs to be announced will feature live DJ sets. Each stereo has been used in support of an activity, ritual, or event. “From dance party, to road trip, to poche vide (a place to empty your pockets as you enter your home), to laboratory, to bachelor pad, to iPhone dock, sounds systems have always been a part of my work and will be as long as I continue to love music,” said Sachs.
Eighteen works will be on view, including Toyan’s (2002), a group of speakers 8 feet tall by 12 feet across inspired by Jamaican sound systems; Presidential Vampire Booth (2002), complete with a stocked bar and Presidential seal; and Phonkey (2011), which is made of steel, hardware, Gaffers tape, and a JVC Stereo Radio Cassette Recorder RC-M50C and was part of the series Space Program: Mars, a massive installation at the Park Avenue Armory in 2012. The boom box sculptures reveal Sachs’s passion for crafting better versions of things that already exist. “His skill and inventiveness in transforming everyday materials are on display here along with his wit and humor,” said Eugenie Tsai, the Museum’s John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art.
Coinciding with the Brooklyn Museum installation, the Noguchi Museum will present Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony, an irreverent but respectful take on traditional tea ceremony rituals, through July 24.
New York–based sculptor Tom Sachs is best known for work that engages with politics and the history of Modernism. Remixing and recycling elements of culture, Sachs’s work demands that his audience question the pervasive messages disseminated so effectively by modern media. In often elaborate installations that restage icons of modern design and engineering using incongruous materials, from a model of Le Corbusier’s infamous 1952 Unite d’Habitation made from foam core to a plywood McDonald’s, he creates unexpected juxtapositions that are both humorous and politically-minded.
Sachs’s work has been exhibited widely, including in solo shows at the Park Avenue Armory (2012), the Fondazione Prada in Milan (2006), the Astrup Fearnley Museet fur Moderne Kunst in Oslo, and the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2003). The Brooklyn Museum presentation follows Contemporary Austin’s Tom Sachs: Boombox Retrospective 1999-2015, which opened in January 2015.
This exhibition is organized by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum.