Tom Sachs at Acquavella Gallery in West Palm Beach, Florida
In March 2021, I was on my way from Boca Raton, Florida back to Virginia Beach and stopped in West Palm Beach to check out an exhibit of Tom Sachs' work at Aquavella Gallery. It was worth the detour.
I first caught a glimpse of Tom Sachs' work in the mid to late '00s, though I can't remember exactly where. However, I do remember him being quoted in GQ in 2012 and took note—specifically because the idea that he expressed was so relevant to me:
Sachs' logic resonated with me there, and it still does to this day. Due to the nature of the work that I do, I spend more time on a computer than I sometimes like, and I generally feel it has a negative effect on me; I live more in my head and less in my body and, at the end of the day, I'm less for it if I don't make a conscious effort to do otherwise. The idea that Sachs describes points toward an alternate path: organize your life around doing things that computers can't do and you'll naturally do more of that. It's today's version of the road less traveled.
Regarding the aesthetics of Sachs' work, I liked that it had an iconoclastic, rough, outsider edgyness to it. The pieces played with themes of popular culture in a critical way, and its medium consisted of a lot of plywood and paint, which seemed to speak the language of skateboarding. Later, I learned that he emerged out of the Connecticut and New York hardcore music scene. Before he had a career as an artist, he was seeing bands at clubs like The Anthrax and CBGBs. That's the scene that I grew up in, too, and I think I must have picked up on some of that energy in the art, which attracted me to it.
Sachs' workshop has been a starting point for others that went on to considerable success. Casey Neistat, who achieved a good amount of fame through his YouTube channel in the 2010s, worked for Tom Sachs for some time starting in 2001. Casey's NYC studio, which is a feature in almost all of his videos, is an obvious extension of Sachs' own studio environment.
But what makes Sachs' work compelling? This was a question that I asked myself often as I looked around the exhibit. There's a kind of humor in his work; however, it's funny because it's ridiculous. The idea of making horrible tea cups for NASA—presumably to be used on a space mission—is absurd, but it's also endearing in the way that it's presented. It's oddly intentional. There's charm in it. The work obsesses over brands—from candy to cassette tapes to the US government. As a whole, though, the collection looks like the product of someone with mental illness, but on closer examination, it's infused with irony and hip-hop and skateboarding and 1980s youth subculture and a mild criticism of our national values. All that stuff is fun. And, in the end, it doesn't destroy its references, but just creates delight with them.
I took the photos below with an iPhone 12 Pro Max, which at this point is more of a camera than a phone. (I didn't even have a SIM card in the one that I was using.) And it has Photoshop and social media apps on board. That's a pretty unbeatable general-purpose setup these days.
Interestingly, those were all produced by Van Neistat, brother to Casey Neistat, who I mentioned above.
Hope you enjoy the exhibit as much as I did.