Artist Tom Sachs has built his rep by tinkering with the identities of iconic brands (Hermès, McDonald's). Now he offers his own take on NASA, to which he previously paid tribute in 2007 with "Space Program," an installation that depicted a journey to the moon. The new mission, "Space Program: Mars" (on view May 16 through June 17 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City), gathers spacecraft, rovers, and a Martian landscape, all crafted in Sachs' typically lo-fi style from foam core, plywood, and hot glue. (The artist also collaborated with Nike on a limited-edition line of space gear that includes sneakers, outerwear, and bags, all available at the Armory.) Here, Sachs shares a few of his wide-ranging inspirations—including James Brown, Le Corbusier, the Golden Arches, and the Porsche color palette.
"When I was in architecture school and trying to decide if it was for me, I discovered [mixed-media artist] Jon Kessler. I saw something in his work that triggered the impulse in me to say, 'Yes, I can do this.' Later I was working for Frank Gehry, understanding his process with materials. Although he is known as an architect, he said to me, 'Architecture has been replaced by engineering.' I would say that he's a sculptor whose medium is architecture. And I learned from Frank a very fine hybridization of discipline and instinct—knowing when to trust your gut and knowing when to be very conservative. Finding that balance is very difficult. We say in the studio that creativity is the enemy. It's like a chili: If you use too much, it ruins the sauce."
What I Get From Soul Music
"For every empirical Donald Judd decision that keeps me in line, I need to have a little bit of soul power to give me the inspiration to follow through. That discipline I learned more from James Brown than anyone else, because he had that perfect balance of extreme discipline and heavy, heavy funk."
"I love Malcolm Morley and Ed Ruscha and Walton Ford and Dirk Westphal and Nick Doyle and—oh boy, so many—and Tommaso Rivellini and Gordon Millsaps and Chris Easton. Should I keep going? What I love about all these artists is they're all making handmade things, and if art were illegal and punishable by death, they'd all still manage to find a way to make work."
If You Want to Collect . . . "Make sure you collect things that you love, because they're probably not going to be worth anything. I would never collect speculatively, with the expectation that you're going to make money. And wouldn't that be a shame if you wound up stuck in life with things that you didn't love but you made money? It's one of the rings of hell. And that's true about anything, whether it's working to make money or spending money on art or whatever else."
A Memorable Concert
"I got to see Fela Kuti once in Santa Monica. I'd heard his music, but I didn't know what he looked like. This guy came on stage and was playing a conga by himself, and he was a little older than I thought. These women came on stage and were singing with him. Forty-five minutes later he was still playing, and I was like, 'Yeah, Fela is pretty great.' Then this crazy guy came running across the stage wearing just white BVD underwear. That was Fela. He was a crazy witch doctor, screaming, and he had so much energy it was like he was bigger than the entire band that had been jamming for an hour. He played two or three hours in three or four different languages."
Go-to Sounds in the Studio
"These days, it's Outkast, still."
The Space Program: Mars command center.
Required Reading for Anyone Who Works in the Studio
"These are the books that contained the lessons that helped me to become me--either who I really am or who I'd like to be. I always think of the lessons that I took from A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin. Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing That One Sees by Lawrence Weschler, which is the key book about perception. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which is the book about transformation. I'd say you have to read Satchmo, My Life in New Orleans, because it's about his youth all the way up to the time he moved to Chicago. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. I'd say you have to read [Le Corbusier's] Towards a New Architecture, the greatest manifesto. Right now I'm reading Dune, which is interesting because the Spice Melange is a combination of petroleum and heroin, and since we're so addicted it seems appropriate for our time."
"Raymond Loewy believed that advertising and design packaging should be integrated and done by the same team, and I still believe that's important. This was a time when there was a lot of trust and things weren't as design-by-committee as they are now and you don't have secret societies keeping us in the Dark Ages of color. We shun design-by-committee, and that's why we refer to the superior color palette of Porsche. Despite its douchebag clientele and history, its color palette reigns supreme."
My Most Indispensable Tools
"I like Spyderco Delica. It's a pocketknife. I like a Pentel P209, which is like a 0.9-millimeter pencil. This is what's on my desk. You could even say these are the objects that are on my desk. Fiskars, 8.5-inch scissors, orange handle. And the Krink K-70 Permanent Marker, which is the superior version of Sharpie—it actually makes Sharpie seem like a child's toy."