Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to “In Other Words”. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and on this episode we have the artist Tom Sachs. Hi, Tom.
Tom Sachs: Hi Charlotte.
Charlotte Burns: And we have Amy Cappellazzo, who is the cofounder of Art Agency, Partners and a Chair at Sotheby’s.
Amy Cappellazzo: Hello.
Charlotte Burns: Amy, I thought we’d start with you. You’re involved right now in changing a brand in terms of building your brand, merging two brands, and how do you go about doing that. What do you think about strategically in terms of placement, positioning?
Amy Cappellazzo: I think about it everyday, all the time. Everyone said, when Art Agency, Partners was acquired by Sotheby’s, which was like Art Agency, Partners was a relatively young brand with barely two years under its belt being absorbed by what was consistently referred to as the oldest company on the New York Stock Exchange.
Everyone was reminding me that Sotheby’s was the oldest brand, the company that had been founded the earliest that continued to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. So, no pressure here. But I was thinking a lot about our little minnow brand with this big whale of a brand, the great thing about our minnow brand is it could swim around and change really easily and morph. It was becoming. It was, but it was growing and is growing alongside the idea of this big brand that has massive history, massive transactional history and experience, massive capability but a little bit like turning a large, slow boat around.
I had to imagine that the little minnow could help the big brand see itself differently. Hopefully that’s been effective.
Charlotte Burns: Tom, for you, when you think about your brand, is it something you think about consciously when you’re making your art? Are you aware of it? Are you aware of people seeing you as a brand? Do you embrace that?
Tom Sachs: I think there was a time, years ago, where I was concerned with that. I think in the beginning when I spent ten years in my studio without anyone coming over to my studio even once. I did welding repair, I repaired elevators and fire escapes for a living and construction work. And I always made art along the way. So, to me, what I make is a very private thing. I don’t think about other people looking at it, so when people started looking at it, it was confusing because a lot of people were looking at it and talking about it a lot. I met all these interesting people like Amy, who were smarter than me that would come and talk to me about my art and tell me what it meant and sometimes I would agree or disagree, but I would always learn something.
Charlotte Burns: Amy, you wanted to talk to Tom about brands in terms of his art, in terms of everything else, and I know you two have known each other for a long time. Why was Tom the first subject that popped into your mind?
Amy Cappellazzo: As you think about how a brand defines you; owns you; forms or deforms you; you begin to think about its power. Now, that’s important for Tom Sachs the artist, but Tom also riffs off brands in his work. Part of his work is about these sort of exaltation and diminution of a brand. Or the exaggeration of a brand and the deflation of a brand all at the same time.
Not only is he a brand, but brands are one of the principle concepts or subject matters within his work.
Charlotte Burns: Tom, you started working with brands in terms of the public appearance of your work with brands, I think the first thing was the Barneys display window in the early 1990s when you reassembled the nativity scene with Bart Simpsons and Hello Kittys, which caused a lot of press at the time and it was something that people spoke a lot about. What were you thinking when you did that?
Tom Sachs: When I did Hello Kitty Nativity Scene at Barneys windows, it was a piece for a charity auction to benefit the Little Red Schoolhouse. I made a sculpture about the crass commercialization of Christmas, this holy holiday but also Hanukkah’s the same time and Kwanza, it’s all at the same time. So I’m making a work that was an expression of how spirituality’s been replaced with consumerism.
In my upbringing, we didn’t really have religion as a ritual activity. I did bar mitzvah training and all that, but thing that we talked about around the kitchen table was dad’s new used BMW, or mom’s new dress, or if I saved up my allowance I could buy a CB Sports Ski Jacket. So from an early point in my life, my ritual training was in consumerism so I was kind of obsessed with that stuff. It was how I was taught.
When I finally got a job and learned the value of money, I immediately tore the label off my Levi’s and tore the badge off my dad’s BMW because he wasn’t getting a check from BMW every month to drive this car and, of course, I got in big trouble for that.
But these were early activities that later came into the work and, of course, much more meaningfully than Hello Kitty Nativity works, like a Chanel guillotine, which was a full sized guillotine, it’s another collection of the Pompidou Center in Paris, that’s why I’ve always loved France and have learned from French culture is that you can love Chanel for the way it makes her ass look, but you can hate it for how it contributes to her body dysmorphia.
Charlotte Burns: One thing that you’ve spoken about in the past is the idea of dominion over objects. Your early experiences that you just referred to, I remember reading once that your father had banned you from making things. They were afraid of tools to some extent. So you made him a Nikon camera that he desired, which is a sort of sweet and yet subversive gesture to refashion something. I think you did that when you were five or six, so this idea of taking a brand and object and making it your own made me wonder about whether you make things that you want to own or want to destroy.
Tom Sachs: Yeah, well, just to debunk the myth a little bit. I was forbidden to use tools by my family only because they didn’t understand them. They were afraid. They didn’t want me to hurt myself. And I would sneak tools in the basement.
I made a model of a Nikon FM2 camera for my dad because he really wanted one and he couldn’t afford to get that one at the time, they were very expensive, and he ended up getting an Olympus OM-1, which is I’d say equivalent in quality but not as prestigious, maybe.
So I made this as a gift to him, and it was a way of making something like you said, Charlotte, I couldn’t afford to buy him, and it was a gift, and it turns out later it sort of becomes a premonition for some of the other work that we’re talking about, you could easily describe as sympathetic magic.
Amy Cappellazzo: Prada Happy Meal was something, Tom, I remember very early. I don’t know exactly the year you did your first Happy Meal rendition, but I remember the Prada one being particularly excellent and particularly dissonant with the Happy Meal concept.
Charlotte Burns: What was it that so struck you about that?
Amy Cappellazzo: Well, this was the sort of brand surrealism. So surrealism is combining two distinct corners of reality and seeing what happens when you do that and certainly McDonald’s Happy Meal and Prada were very distinct corners of reality. So these this Happy Meal made out of Prada packaging and so precise and so kind of very manufactured as Happy Meal packaging looks.
So I knew that Tom was looking at this and how it might look in 15 or 20 years, knowing that this meal on a tray would be its own relic. It was fascinating.
Charlotte Burns: That’s true, looking back on it now, I think it’s been more than 20 years since you made that work.
Amy Cappellazzo: Precisely, and he even knew that Prada would go a little bit math. Prada at that point was like this very rarefied brand. You walked into very pale green shop and there were 15 things to buy, and that was it. And if you owned two, you had your share of Prada.
But, of course, Prada went public. It became a far more distributed brand, it went much more global, etc. Maybe the relationship between the Happy Meal and Prada wasn’t so ultimately far off in a funny way.
Tom Sachs: I got my inspiration for making those things out of paper from Picasso’s little sculptures out of sugar packages, and I thought, “Wow, that’s a real piece of shit, and it’s a Picasso, and there’s enough work, support, community behind it to protect this thing that could easily be thrown off as garbage.” And always my favorite works are the works that are confused with garbage.
But these ephemeral materials, these materials that with inherent vice that are self-destructive, possess poetic power and the idea of something that’s designed to last a very short amount of time, like a McDonald’s meal being re-contextualized to represent something that is the most expensive—an heirloom product, a luxury product—is a surrealist gesture. Putting these two strategies against each other, that’s the one plus one equals a million formula. When art is successful, it does that.
Charlotte Burns: I remember when I would be training people, journalists who were beginning, and they’d say after an auction, “Well, these five Picasso’s flopped. So what does that mean? It’s a Picasso!”
And you’d say, “Well, look at it. It’s a terrible Picasso. That’s why it didn’t sell. It’s not a great one.”
But it’s still, Picasso is so prolific that there’s moments of genius and moments of mundanity, and I’m wondering if Picasso is the first artist that we think of, in a way, of being that brand. Is there anybody before Picasso who started that that you can think of in their lifetime?
Amy Cappellazzo: That’s a very excellent question. Velasquez had a very privileged position of being a court painter and was the favorite of the King at that time. Probably he felt he was his own brand already. He was popular and earned a nice living and enjoyed accolade in his own lifetime. So, maybe it actually goes back a bit further.
I think the distinction is that Picasso was massive in production. So he did paintings and drawings and prints and ceramics and other sorts of things, funky things in addition that way. Books, and the idea that you would produce to sate the market at all levels, was a special Picasso brand strategy, you could say. Just like when Prada goes public, it was pretty wise of them to have a lower price point perfume for the larger masses, etc.
Just to make a comparison there. I think Picasso hit upon something, which is, satisfy the market at all levels in the way you work. Without him, the tent pole of the modern marketplace would collapse. He’s by value and volume the most important artist to trade in that earlier part of the 20th century.
Charlotte Burns: Then the other tent pole for the contemporary modern would be Warhol.
Amy Cappellazzo: I have to say Warhol, yeah, sure. There’s others that, in their own way, have volume of trading, for example. Even an artist you might not think of as having volume, David Hockney made many books. He made many prints. He did photo collages. He was reasonably prolific across a variety of media, and even channels of distribution. His Edition book is at Taschen now for 5000 dollars. He’s always interested in that.
Tom Sachs: One of the things that all these artists have in common in their success is their relationship with technology. If you compare Picasso with Velasquez, it’s really Picasso is an artist of the television age. He was on television. You could see him painting. There are movies about him painting. Hockney does iPad things, and Warhol, obviously the silkscreen is a modern technological activity.
The thing is that, it’s not just that every artist is a brand. Every one of us is a brand.
Amy Cappellazzo: What’s the Tom Sachs deal? You have you, your brand, Tom Sachs. You have the brands you focus on, or let’s even call them pick on once in a while, where they become Tom Sachs pet projects I’m sure. I’m sure over time when you’ve done various things with a Nasa logo or with Chanel, you were probably occasionally contacted by these brands asking, “Dear Tom. What is your ultimate motive? Could we ask you to please stop?”
Tom Sachs: Nasa wrote a cease and desist letter for t-shirts that we were selling for 25 dollars. But at the end of the letter they asked if they could buy a piece for the Nasa Smithsonian collection. It’s just that we weren’t allowed to sell the t-shirts. We were allowed to give them away. We were in violation of federal law for doing that.
I’ve had very few people complain. I generally try and make my study of other brands be a way of continuing my job, which is to educate and entertain myself, and understand how these brands inform our lives. How they create tribes among us. We both drive the same car, there’s a connection. We both like the same football team on Sunday. Or music, or art. It means something. Amy could probably speak to the kind of tribal associations that happen through different kinds of collecting and appreciation and scholarship in art.
Amy Cappellazzo: Absolutely. There’s definitely bands of taste or sensibilities, or sensitivities to things. There’s collectors who are wholly insensitive to anything that’s not classical elegant painting, let’s say. There’s collectors wholly insensitive to anything that is too polite or too nice. That’s annoying, because they want something that mixes it up a little bit, that’s a little more rowdy. There’s definitely that.
One of the things that I think, and this brings up, I’m just going to make a very heady academic reference here to Wayne Koestenbaum’s book Humiliation. We’ll invoke our dear friend Wayne that Tom and I know well. Wayne posits in his book Humiliation, which I encourage everyone here to read and everyone in the podcast who is looking for the deepest level of self-reflection, to read this book.
Tom Sachs: What’s up Wayne?
Amy Cappellazzo: The book is about how every single aesthetic decision you can make involves some degree of humiliation in making it, because you have to admit what you like and what you want. Tom, you always hit the brand at the most prescient moment. Prada when it was just this precious rarefied thing, or the Chanel guillotine. The two French exports, as you say. But the Frenchness of the French, and Chanel being a little bit mean and bitchy and tough. It was expensive and mean to be in a skinny Chanel dress.
Tom Sachs: It wasn’t friendly like it is now.
Amy Cappellazzo: It wasn’t friendly. Since the t-shirts and the mass marketing and the perfume and the little slippers, it’s become a more mass brand. If you were to do Channel today, or Prada today, it wouldn’t really have the same net effect. Even Nasa, which is sort of an historical brand, frankly I wish Nasa were a little bit more relevant or we were hearing more about what Nasa was doing in the world, since we’ve all but abandoned the space program. But when you did the Nasa series for the first time, was that about 10 years ago?
Tom Sachs: Exactly.
Amy Cappellazzo: When you did Nasa for the first time, it was exactly a moment; the world was riding high. I remember thinking, “Oh, right. We’ve actually gone backward in technology, and we’re not as great as we thought we were.” Everything you were doing around Nasa, which was this firebrand of American innovation and excellence, was reminding me of our own inadequacies. To see Nasa, I remember thinking, “Yeah, and we probably need a major infrastructure project for roads and bridges, too.” Like it was something we had lost, not something we had gained.
Tom Sachs: I think I was interested in Nasa, in 2007 the space shuttle was still active. I was using and continued to work with that brand as a way of representing not just Camelot or loss of American dominance, but of things made by human beings. The Nasa-made things of the 1960s and ’70s are the best things that we’ve ever made.
In the past 40, 50 years or whatever since that peak time, we haven’t really made better things. We’ve made more advanced things, but they’re incremental. We’ve taken that technology mainly that, I think the only meaningful technology is microcomputers and that we all have one in our pocket now as a result of the navigation computer, and satellite technology, and a bunch of other stuff like that. But it was …
Amy Cappellazzo: But are you saying all other technology we’ve advanced in has been iterative, whereas Nasa was just innovative? Like, straight innovative?
Tom Sachs: We were making this stuff so we could go to another world. There is still that technology developing the work in, and spectroscopy is the field now. Now we have satellites that Jet Propulsion Laboratory makes that take pictures of crops. They can tell what’s an opium crop and what is a Concord grape crop. They can look at the specific shade of green and know if it’s a healthy season. You can predict wine, or where opium is being grown. This is technology that’s used to look at other planets, but it’s used by Darpa to look at our Earth.
That keeps improving, so stuff is developing. But we had a wonderful Cold War to win, and we did a military-scale project that was pure folly, just for winning hearts and mind. Never in the history of man have we built something so big and so experimental and radical that was just about ideas. That’s why I always think it’s the greatest art project ever made, the space program.
Amy Cappellazzo: Ever. The largest and most important conceptual project ever to have occurred.
Tom Sachs: We got to go to the moon. We got to finally kill god. That’s it, and we got cellphones out of it.
Amy Cappellazzo: Genius. Net positive all the way through.
Charlotte Burns: Your work is very much about making something handmade through bricolage technique that you have. That idea of the amazing object and its power that humans made these things—humans sent other humans to space through the technology they create—how do you then reconcile that with the way that that technology has taken over? I feel like your work somehow deals with this in the way that you turn something that’s produced into something that’s structurally beautiful and sculptural.
Tom Sachs: First of all, Amy maybe can help me through this. But bricolage is the art of act of making or repairing something with available limited resources.
Amy Cappellazzo: It implies low tech from its origin. It’s about fixing things in the most elemental way.
Tom Sachs: There was, is, great tradition and a 20th century art in bricolage, from Picasso to Calder.
Amy Cappellazzo: Schwitters.
Tom Sachs: Yeah.
Amy Cappellazzo: Want to keep going?
Tom Sachs: I mean we could. David Smith.
Amy Cappellazzo: Rauschenberg.
Tom Sachs: Gonzales.
Amy Cappellazzo: Can name that tune in three notes.
Tom Sachs: Johns. It comes from poverty.
Amy Cappellazzo: Arte povera, the whole movement, yeah.
Charlotte Burns: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tom Sachs: It’s an important theme. I don’t think it’s particularly trendy right now. I don’t think that the work that I’m doing is particularly in vogue. There is a current fashion for things that are more polished. The pendulum swings. I’m not complaining, but I do make my art as a counterpart to the best-made thing ever, which is the iPhone. The object that has—I’m holding one in my hand—no evidence that a human being touched it or made it, including the software now. In fact, there is an idea called skeuomorphism, which is representing wood grain or torn notebook paper in a piece of software. People are trying to make it feel more like a human being was involved.
My advantage as an artist is to show my own fingerprints. To show the glue drips and the screws and the cum stains and the welds.
Amy Cappellazzo: It’s like saying, “I was here.”
Tom Sachs: Yeah. I think that’s more and more important, as we are not Facebook customers but we are all Facebook products. We are the product. Our data is the product. We are contributing to this. The lines in the sand are changing what that means, and I don’t know. I’m not against technology because I use it all the time. The computer is fantastic for shopping and internet porn. I haven’t figured out how to make art with it, but it’s a great tool.
It’s important that my things show their making. That’s the advantage.
Charlotte Burns: That’s the human advantage.
Tom Sachs: There are many, many ways of making art. I’m not against an artist who makes perfectly polished stainless steel work. There’s great technology and work going into that, and I admire that. But every stroke of the buffing tool erases the last one. It’s just a different strategy. I admire those things. I don’t want a bricolage car. I want a BMW.
Amy Cappellazzo: You want it perfectly made. You want it manufactured to the highest degree.
Tom Sachs: I pay my Apple taxes. I’m totally current.
Charlotte Burns: But you had at one point made a venture in that direction with the Sony project, and you decided against that afterwards and moved more towards bricolage.
Tom Sachs: In 1998 at Thomas Healy Gallery, I made the Sony Outsider, a model of the atomic bomb as if it was made by Sony, but on the inside there was a little Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe kind of sofa and a beautiful Asian woman in a Comme des Garçons dress watching Stanley Kubrick movies. The more I polished and obsessed over this perfectly egg-like atomic bomb shell, the more flaws I would see, the more I would erase my work. I call it my greatest failure, because it was very, very expensive. I still have this thing in storage. I do not believe it represents who I am as an artist. Many other artists could have made that work. I think, even though I had already had a couple shows under my belt, I look back on it, and to me it is a work of juvenilia. I’m not against showing it. It just doesn’t represent who I am and the values that I believe in in my art now.
Charlotte Burns: Perhaps it spurred you further in that direction, as a confirmation that …
Tom Sachs: Absolutely. Because it was so expensive to make, and that money hurt so much that I was much more careful. In fact, if you pull up the mattress, underneath there’s all this plumbing and wiring and it’s beautiful underneath there. It’s not particularly well done, but it tells you how it’s made. I look at that wiring sometimes and I think, “Yeah. That.” Now I make work that looks like that, that wiring and the plumbing and the mess.
Charlotte Burns: To show the insides.
Tom Sachs: Yeah.
Charlotte Burns: Rip up the floorboards.
Tom Sachs: I think that’s the power of what I do. That’s where I can say I am somebody. Because there’s nothing I can do to the iPhone or the computer that says I am somebody. There’s no way I can push the buttons in the right order to make something that says: “Tom Sachs was here.”
Charlotte Burns: America has pioneered the lust for brands. A lot of the great brands of the world started in America. But since brands have become global, what do brands mean in different places? Does your work play differently?
Tom Sachs: You said something really important there, and that’s that America invented brands. I think it’s true. But really, what they invented before brands was planned obsolescence, the idea of making something so that it fails so that it can be made again.
Amy Cappellazzo: Bought again. You’d need to replace it.
Tom Sachs: I think it’s easy to blame industry, or blame corporate greed or throw consumerism at it. A famous example is the tail fins from the 1957 Cadillac became the tail fins on the 1958 Chevrolet. Every year, they had a new tail fin, so you keep buying a new car, and the old one would look passé, and you would look weak for not having the new one. Before you start shouting consumerism all over the place, you have to look at World War II and the veterans coming back, and the women that made the bombs and the submarines and the planes that out produced the Nazis. America beat the Nazis by making planes faster than they could blow them out of the sky.
Then all these guys came back, and then we had all these skilled women workers and we had all these people that needed jobs. They put their lives on the line, and we had to find a way to keep them employed and build the American dream and reward these people who lived and died for the values of this country. It was very easy to keep this incredible war machine going and turn it into this consumer monster. It’s very difficult to unravel a problem like that. I’m not an economist, but I don’t see a way to unravel that. Of course, America being the greatest country on earth, besides Japan and Jamaica and France …
Amy Cappellazzo: That’s what I was going to say.
Tom Sachs: We are a leader. The things that you see here work in different ways than other countries.
Charlotte Burns: One of the things, talking about America leading as brands—and this is a question for both of you—the American dream, as exported through its brands, was really about optimism. I don’t know if that’s the sense that we now talk about brands in.
Amy Cappellazzo: I remember doing a studio visit with another artist. It was Gabriel Orozco many years ago. I remember asking him—this was probably in the middle to late ’90s—and I asked him what his work was about. He said, “Well, you know, my work is really about failure.” He was doing all these funky, definitely bricolage tradition funky little things with cardboard and doing these little setup photographs. I said—it sounded like a very studied answer, “My work is about failure.”—I said, “Failure?” He said, “Well, yeah, because,” this was a very pointed moment, he said, “because where I am from we didn’t live thinking the future would be better. We just hoped it wasn’t worse.”
I think honestly an American sense of optimism comes from the vantage point of being raised to believe the future will always be brighter. I’m not sure there’s that collective optimism about the American experience or the American dream or the coalesced experience of an America. I think definitely people have fragmented views of what America is at this moment, clearly. I suppose I’m old enough to think the future will always be better, and it would be very hard to shake that. My cousins in Italy certainly didn’t think that way. “Life would be a long road. You’re a grain of sand in history. You may as well enjoy it along the way.” That would be the Italian mindset of such a thing. You certainly don’t think you could have any impact on the future. That’s also very American, to think that I can take myself; my hard work; my brand; my agency and optimism; and impact the future. That’s a wholly American concept.
Tom Sachs: Although the facts might be against that, I think that your attitude is the only attitude to have. That’s why we …
Amy Cappellazzo: We rule? Is that what you were going to say?
Tom Sachs: Not to sound cocky, but that’s the only approach to take. Of course, the Italians and Carl Sagan are right. We are nothing. But within that there are things we can do. Things might change because things aren’t getting better. We don’t have the Concord, which is super annoying.
Amy Cappellazzo: I think about that all the time, of how we went backward with technology and the Concord. Actually, Tom and I have had long discussions about that and our mournful devastation about the Concord, about it not existing anymore, about how we went backward with technology so hard, about how we became a lesser society. I think you could say that that was the pinnacle, and then we were falling.
Tom Sachs: The American optimism is still alive in Silicon Valley. The ride sharing technology is unbelievable. Our commerce, the way we’ve changed the world, and the device, and that I actually do use this for, it’s the best camera I’ve ever had.
Amy Cappellazzo: Ever.
Tom Sachs: Now that I can finally afford a Leica, I can’t have one anymore. I still can’t afford a Leica because I can’t manage the chemistry.
Amy Cappellazzo: Got it.
Tom Sachs: It’s important for us to acknowledge that things are totally fucked. But at the same time it’s just as important to acknowledge our bounty and how beautiful life is.
Amy Cappellazzo: What’s the best piece of art you’ve seen recently?
Tom Sachs: I just say David Hammons’ elephant shit ball.
Amy Cappellazzo: Oh yeah?
Tom Sachs: Yeah. The best piece of art probably was on YouTube. There’s this guy called AvE, Analog Versus Evil. He’s a guy who takes apart things and talks about them. He’s half PhD, half coal miner. He’s just incredibly profane and incredibly articulate and a true experimenter. He melts the plastic with a thermally-sensitive tip so he can understand what melting point it happens at, then he looks it up, and he can tell you what kind of plastic it is and tells you how to fix your broken tools. I consider his YouTube channel one of the greatest works of art of all time.
Amy Cappellazzo: What’s it called again, for the record?
Tom Sachs: AvE. Just type in “A-V-E.”
Amy Cappellazzo: I’ll tell you the best piece of art I saw. I don’t know if you saw the film that Arthur Jafa did at Gavin Brown?
Tom Sachs: No.
Amy Cappellazo: That was brilliant. That was brilliant. That was about, I don’t know, not more than 10 minutes. Maybe a eight- or 10-minute film. It was called “Love is the Message, the Message is Death” by Arthur Jafa. It was absolutely utterly brilliant. It was about a kind of storing of memory that social media can’t give you. What was remarkable to me was there was this sort of flash of images and music and sound, which is completely the experience of turning on your iPhone and almost every YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, e-mail, popup ads that come to you. It’s all the same. But it was so incredibly brilliant and different. I’ll just leave you with that.
Do you think about your brand and manage your brand as you go every day? Do you think about your own Tom Sachs brand?
Tom Sachs: Again, to go back to what you were saying about Gabriel Orozco, is when he says, “My work’s about failure,” I really respect that. That’s the best answer to that question, because if you’re just doing things that you know are going to succeed, you’re just repeating yourself. If you’re going out there and failing, like a scientist, you’re doing experiments and you’re learning, and you might make gold out of lead. 99 percent of the time you’re not going to. If I had more resources, meaning time and money and space, I would make so much more work and show so much less of it.
I have a tremendous amount of work that I throw out or recycle or chop up or put into my Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark giant cavern with the Ark of the Covenant in the back, like rows and rows and rows. I have one of those in Connecticut. There are probably some great things in there. Some things that I thought were bad then and I didn’t want to show them, and now maybe would be good. What’s bad on a Tuesday is great on a Wednesday. In terms of managing, I only let out stuff that’s perfect. When I do a show, it’s vetted. But in the studio there’s a tremendous amount of failure. That’s the most luxurious, glorious. It’s like practice a new move. No one’s ever done it before.
Amy Cappellazzo: In terms of brand management, your artistic brand, if there was a little emoji over your shoulder telling you how to manage your brand or do things, do you step outside yourself and see yourself and say, “How do I manage my brand today?”
Tom Sachs: I don’t really think about it, but I’m very careful about what I let out. I always make sure that the works that we do express the values of the studio. In that sense, yeah. I’m the, what is it called? Mother animal that protects the babies. I’m very protective, and I’m very careful to make sure. I think the movies that Van and I make, Van Neistat and I make all these great movies—actually that is something that we do all on the computer then edit it on that machine—are propaganda works, or I should say they’re industrial films. They’re there to promote the values of the studio. Those are carefully made. Every art show we do, there’s always a zine or a catalog, depending on the budget of the show. Every single exhibition that we’ve done in a gallery or museum for the past decade has had a periodical that goes with it, a publication.
Amy Cappellazzo: Where’s your archive going to go?
Tom Sachs: The Museum of Modern Art has already one of everything. We have a deal with them, so we send them stuff. The backup collection, Phil Aarons has one of everything. Phil Aarons is the reason, in some way, that I’ve made some zines, because I thought, “Okay. No one’s going to care about this, but Phil will.”
Charlotte Burns: You think of your audience.
Amy Cappellazzo: Audience of one.
Tom Sachs: That’s all it takes. It’s love.
Charlotte Burns: How you’re preserving your archive and your legacy will be the evidence your material gestures that you leave behind you. That, in a way, is you shaping your brand and the memory of your brand, too.
Tom Sachs: I’m kind of a little bit just too busy trying to make the work. Of course, you can’t ignore it when you get feedback constantly. It’s a full-time job. David Burns said that in the future, we’ll have one life that we’ll be living and another life where we’ll be watching it all back on videotape. It’s hard not look in the black mirror, but I try not to and just stay focused on the work, because there’s a tremendous amount of work that we have to do. It’s a gigantic effort. There are 12 of us in the studio, and it’s a teaching hospital. I’m very involved with everyone. We achieve way more than any one of us could achieve on our own. There are some holes in the packaging, but it’s just because I’ve been spending time trying to make the thing be.
Charlotte Burns: You’re too busy doing it to think about what you did already.
Tom Sachs: It’s a whole other job. I do it, but maybe I’m not that good at it.
Amy Cappellazzo: Do you think about your legacy at all? What happens to your work when you’re no longer there to represent it?
Tom Sachs: Things come back. That Prada value meal came back to the studio because someone had stolen the straw from the drink, and we had to remake it. It was a nightmare, because the thing was faded, and we only have the new packaging that I’ve kept in the dark for such occasion. I didn’t think to keep it in the sun.
Amy Cappellazzo: Of course, in the light.
Tom Sachs: I think about things that I’ve made, in a sense, 20 years ago and how terribly-made they are. I liked the idea of inherent vice then, but I was way more punk rock.
Amy Cappellazzo: You’re definitely individualistic.
Tom Sachs: I think you have to be. My hero in this is one person only, and that’s Steve Jobs, who said, “I don’t do market research. I tell the consumer what they need.” If he was alive today, he would still have a headphone jack in the iPhone 7S.
Charlotte Burns: That’s been this week’s episode of In Other Words. Thank you very much, Tom Sachs.
Tom Sachs: Thank you, Charlotte.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you, Amy Cappellazzo.
Amy Cappellazzo: Thank you, Tom and Charlotte.
Tom Sachs: Thank you, Amy.
Charlotte Burns: Thank you.