The visor looked like it had been coated in gold tin foil bought from a suburban supermarket. The helmet itself was oddly shaped and each crack was writ large upon the surface. The hardware was exposed. A red band adorned the bottom, one of the few actual references to a true NASA item.
This was Tom Sachs’ vision of a space helmet, a brilliant bricolage work that prioritized artistry rather than function. The scientists at NASA had their flight paths, but Sachs was on his own, navigating through visions of space that existed more in his own mind than in our physical galaxy. And Sachs was just getting started.
Helmet was part of a larger Tom Sachs exhibition titled “Space Program,” which made its debut at New York’s Gagosian Gallery back in the late summer of 2007. The press release that accompanied this show explained that Sachs, like many children of the sixties, was fascinated by the Apollo Space Program. Throughout his life, this interest blossomed into an obsession and in the late nineties Sachs began creating space inspired artworks using his recognizable bricolage technique.
For a 2001 show at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, Sachs exhibited a series of fantastical pieces that portrayed Hello Kitty as an astronaut alongside larger foam core recreations of Lunar Modules. A few years later he debuted Crawler, an almost ten foot tall foam core depiction of a space shuttle at the launch stage. These pieces were precursors to Sachs’ Space Program, which was a complete recreation, or rather a complete reimagining of a full-size Lunar Module.
For “Space Program,” Sachs and his team constructed a pair of Tyvek spacesuits, a NASA branded champagne fridge, a twenty-nine screen control center and various other intergalactic ephemera. Yet the most arresting part of the exhibition was the Module itself. Dubbed the “Apollo LEM,” the Module is quintessential Tom Sachs. On the surface, it appears to be a faithful reproduction of a NASA craft, but upon closer inspection you can see that it’s been assembled using the most ordinary items. The exterior of “Apollo LEM” is a hodgepodge plywood shell, while inside you’ll find a standard household microwave, kitchen cabinets, and even a McDonald’s trashcan embossed with that familiar “Thank You,” tagline.
It’s through the haphazard construction of “Apollo LEM” that the real genius of Sachs’ “Space Program” works become evident. These pieces are meant to trick us into believing that we can take a trip, but not a trip to Mars, rather a trip into the mind of Tom Sachs. “Space Program” is a journey through the mind of Tom Sachs that begins with him as a child watching the Apollo landings and ends in a gallery space, where he gets to live out his lifelong explorers dream, a dream that so many of his generation shared.
“Space Program” is not an homage to the Apollo Program, or even of space exploration as a whole, it’s a celebration of the boundless nature of human imagination. Which is why Sachs’ 2012 show “Space Program: Mars“ was such a glorious achievement. In the mammoth Park Avenue Armory Sachs presented a four week “mission to Mars” in which he staged daily demonstrations of space exploration. Throughout that month, Sachs and his team exhibited digs, excursions, take-offs, landings, and quarantines to an audience of seated onlookers. Sachs filled the space with bricolage creations like a “Mobile Quarantine Facility” (built in a ’72 Winnebago of course) and a miniature US branded tea set bringing to life an exacting vision of his own spacey imagination.
If this were any other artist, the show would’ve probably been a decent enough culmination on this internal space exploration, but Sachs clearly is not ready to let go of Mars just yet. For the latest issue of Man of the World Sachs not only created a limited edition cover showcasing none other than his now iconic NASA Helmet, but he also introduced some new pieces of the “Space Program” series. So it looks like Sachs might just be heading back to space after all.