We Have Liftoff!

The new WTC taking shape. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Very rainy day, yesterday in New York, washing the streets and the sidewalks and the park benches; with temperatures in the high 60s.

Last night at the Park Avenue Armory, The PPA and Creative Time hosted the opening preview of the new Tom Sachs art installation: “Tom Sachs Space Program Mars.”  Tom is a major contemporary artist in the world today, but the exhibition last night — according to Angela Westwater, who is one of his dealers — is “the ultimate art installation.”

Probably not so coincidentally, the Park Avenue Armory has also now established itself as the penultimate space for this kind of thing. We’ve seen other examples in theatre, performance art and even a “carnival” at the Armory in the past three years.  This is the result of the shared vision and achievement of two New Yorkers — Elihu Rose and the late Wade Thompson. Their mutual interest in urban environment and architecture is what eventually led to the transformation of this beautiful 19th century New York landmark into a munificent hall of culture.

Sarah Hoover and Tom Sachs last night at the Preview at the Park Avenue Armory. The couple will be married on October 20th.
You walk in and this is what you see. There is a strong child-like innocence and fascination to the view. You know if you were a kid you’d want to own it. But it’s not a toy. It’s a piece of art. It’s a commentary running on several levels, and so you’re in the child’s state of wonder and fascination, but “adult’s” Art Business. The Art Business is major in New York today (I know, all over the world.) It’s a scene, a sociological explanation of the culture and where it’s at and maybe where it’s going. It’s geniuses, mavens, connoisseurs, collectors, and hustlers and gloriosity, elusive or otherwise.

THAT’S what Tom Sachs and his merry band (there must be dozens and dozens) of helpers provided for the guests/viewers last night. All of the above — either in the work or in the room. The details in the artist’s constructions, and in his style, require A LOT of bodies doing specific creative/ constructive work. Up close, you see the underpinnings of the artist’s signature expression – the wit, the humor and the funky irony. We’re all fossils now, the artist is saying; or so his art has rendered. And it will make you smile, even laugh.

I’m not well versed in the personalities of the Art World but I was told that last night there were many major collectors and dealers in the vast room, as well as media, friends and family. It was obviously an important night. There were a number of people there with their children who were also fascinated (the toddlers less so). Tom Sachs’ work is full of the child within, and so it is easy for the little ones to see. And of course a lot of the bigger ones are still little ones too. A good time, besides everything else. Even the drinks were given space travel references.
Angela Westwater of Sperone Westwater, with Michael Ward Stout, the New York lawyer very prominent in the art world.
I was in Boston on July 20, 1969 when the first men landed on the moon in the Apollo spacecraft. It’s difficult even in retrospect to conjure up the utter amazement of watching the event, because over time it has become commonplace (albeit uniquely). My then wife and I happened to be staying on that day at her grandmother’s house where we watched the landing on TV. Her grandmother, then in her 80s, had grown up in South Bend, Indiana in the late 19th century. She watched the Moon Landing, spellbound. She was reminded of how as a young girl she grew up in a world where it was “dark at night, and it was silent — except for the wind and the animals.” There were no electric lights, no planes, no telephones, hardly any cars, just mainly horses and wagons. And now she had lived to see this. The man on the moon.

It’s 43 years later and Tom Sachs, who was not quite three years old on that historic day for mankind, has grown up in a world where it was always thus, and is identifying the new context, the evolving into the ordinary, on its way to antiquity.
Besides the exhibition in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall, there are rooms with art pieces that you can buy. Or just look at, the way you’d look at art in a gallery or museum. You can also buy many of the pieces in the installation.

The peanut bagging machine, for example, (with the girl sitting behind the desk shoveling them into the bag and sending them down the conveyor belts) can be yours for $200,000 (or thereabouts – don’t hold me to it; Angela Westwater is the person to ask). I don’t know how much the main space capsule goes for but I do know that it was built in California and moved to New York for this show.
I met artist more than twenty years ago when he came to my house in Los Angeles for dinner. He was just a kid then, fresh out of college. I don’t recall why he was in Los Angeles, but I knew he was interested in art and architecture. Our connection was that his parents and I share two close, mutual friends.

The young Tom had a very unassuming demeanor, easy to get along with, easy to laugh. He was enjoying the “different-ness” of LA compared to the East Coast, and he “got” the culture immediately. It might have been a birthday dinner for me that night because I also learned that he and I share the same birthday. I never saw him again after that dinner, until about ten years later here in New York, by which time he’d become a rising star in the New York art world. Last night he had a triumph.

I’d gone to the Armory at just about opening time, not knowing what to expect and not expecting to stay long because I wanted to get over to the opening of the annual Kips Bay Show House —  across town this year, over at the new Alwyn on Roosevelt Boulevard. Alas, that was not to be. It’s not only an exhibition, it’s an experience and there’s an element — or there was last night — of a party in it. It’s a community affair. I finally pulled myself out of there a couple hours later, knowing I had this Diary to turn out. Go, you’ll see what I mean.
 

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