Awhile back I did a painting I called Dream of Flight. This weekend I got a chance to intimately explore another’s Dream of Flight: the work of Tom Sachs in the opening of his Mars Mission at the Park Avenue Armory. What, you may ask, is meant by this Mars Mission? Thereby hangs a tale:
In a labyrinthine studio complex that resembles my concept of what a brain probably looks like if you cut it open, Tom and crew have created a faux/surreal/witty/playful/engaging/wildly imaginative interpretation of a flight to Mars. I was particularly pulled to visit this exhibition because of the pivotal role played in its production by my middle son, Gordon. Gordon invested months of thinking, long hours of hard work, pages and pages of brainstorming in tiny daVinci-like notebooks to help bring this project to life. At one point Gordon and Tom visited Jet Propulsion Labs and enjoyed long conversations with the scientists there, culminating in the shooting of small rockets in the desert. Gordon’s own curiosity, imagination and energy were threaded throughout the exhibition, appearing like weft in a tapestry.
Cathy McNeil and I — age 6 or so, used to jump off the top of the concrete stoop maybe 75 times a day in the certain belief that one day we’d experience a nanosecond of flight. This has that kind of earnest connection to childhood, with lots of funny references to manhood as well.
From the distance provided by the armory, the overall forms appear scientific. The fun is in the second look where one finds the thousand visual puns, plays on materials, and unexpected textual jokes. The entire ensemble is couched in the media Tom is most fascinated with– plywood, screws, hardware and old stuff. These materials are manipulated with the skill and nuance of fine paint on the end of a master’s brush. I was especially attracted to the texture of the tyvec space suit which appeared to possibly also involve masking tape as well. It’s always endlessly fascinating to study the wiring of some of Tom’s pieces, which become themselves, powerful statements. Equally amusing to the hardware lover is the arcane hardware found, purchased and put to work on Mars.
Ultimately, there is an elegance, a genius behind each of the many component parts of the Mars Mission. In a week of hard looking I found little in New York of our time that reached as deeply and expansively into the human imagination as the Mars Mission.