Tom Sachs

I had the pleasure of talking with Tom Sachs. He let me interrupt his lunch the day after his show opened with the Basement Crew at Colette.

What inspires you?

This is such a tough question. Ultimately the things that inspire everyone else. Fear and desire; sex and greed and money like everyone else; and love. I don't think artists have a corner on creativity. I think everyone is creative. I know more creative lawyers than creative artists. I think we all do the best we can with what we got.

When did you begin getting recognition? Was it gradual or did you see it from a specific body of work?

It was a gradual thing. I started out in New York 20 years ago as a repairman. If there were extra materials at the end of the day or extra time I would make sculptures. I would hire my friends to help me do my repair work and we'd always steal materials and time wherever we could to make stuff. Gradually I did 99% repair work and 1% art and slowly over the next 10 years I reversed the order. So now I do 99% art and I still do 1% repair work. In fact there is a special day of the year that I pledge that if anyone asks me on that day to do any repair work I'll accept it. And I usually do it for free but it's only on a special day. (I couldn't get him to reveal that date!) I still do repair windows and staircases and welding jobs for my friends when they have an emergency. I believe it keeps me honest.

In The Selby interview you listed Creativity is the Enemy as a rule of your studio. What do you mean by that?

In his unfinished employee-training video, Working To Code, Tom runs through the 10 rules of his studio (the Ten Bullets). His studio is pristine and works like a well-oiled machine (or maybe that was just for the video, HA!). Creativity is the Enemy refers to . . . . . not adhering to code. The code is in place for a smooth place of work - no injuries, not running low on supplies, getting tasks done/keeping production on schedule. If one does not adhere to code, you could get hurt or worse, fired. I'll check back soon to get a copy of the video to post - it is brilliant.

How did you come to adopt the "showing of your work" (showing all the steps that lead up to the end result) in your projects?

I did this one art piece called the Sony Outsider (1999) and it was this really slick model of the atomic bomb made out of fiberglass. I was interested in artists who have their work fabricated by other people. And it was really about their genius and their ability to fabricate things. And when I tried this with Sony Outsider I was really frustrated as my idea of what I wanted it to be was so different from the way it turned out in the end. The finished product was so flawed and so filled with imperfections and the more work I did on it in the end to eliminate the imperfections the less character it had, the less it looked like I made it. The more it looked like it had been made by Sony or something or a car manufacturer. It had no individuality to it. On the inside of the Sony Outsider was a bunch of electronics, wiring, plumbing and stuff; and that stuff had character of it being made. You could really see how the thing worked. It was magic. And then from that moment I thought this is really what it's about, the inside, the guts, the parts - all that. From that moment on I vowed that I would take advantage of what I can bring to the table. I would show the screws, show the pencil marks, and show all the errors because that's what makes it valuable. That kind of transparency has become the foundation of what I do and what makes me special. I think that a lot of artists make the mistake of trying to do something that's beyond their means and in the result they lose a lot of the character of their work and themselves.

Your work is a comment on our culture. In this day of information overload, how do you choose your subject matter?

It kind of dawns on me. It starts with the things I like. I am a consumer like everyone else. I am not specifically against consumerism. I have some ethics that are very strong like I believe things should be built to last. I believe in durability before recycling. I believe in re-use before recycling too. I think that the subject matter is a result of things I love or hate or am challenged by in our culture, in my life.

Visti Tom's site here.


  1. Cindy, this is great! Interesting feedback on his shift towards greater transparency -- as if transparency & imperfections legitimize art, which I both agree and disagree with. I'd like to read up more about Sony Outsider -- curious as to why Sachs got so much heat for outsourced creation, and then you have those like Andy Warhol, who eventually seemed to never even touch a canvas with his own hands.

  2. that baby frenchie is too cute!