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Space Program: Mars

Blast off with Tom Sachs' impressively detailed NASA-inspired mission

by Karen Day in Culture on 16 May 2012

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Most artists are obsessed—their fixation serving as a driving force for creative action—but Tom Sachs takes his to new heights with his interest in space exploration. His newly launched NYC exhibition, "Space Program: Mars", is a love letter to NASA in his signature bricolage style, and not one detail of the mission's extensive flight plan has been spared the Tom Sachs treatment. From a golf cart turned into a Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle (MERV) to the "interlocking system of systems" comprising the Landing Excursion Module (LEM), Sachs has created a charmingly kitschy and impressively thorough rendition of a mission to Mars.

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Opening night visitors to Sachs' massive tongue-in-cheek Park Avenue Armory installation sipped on "Vader Piss" and "Astronaut Sunrise" cocktails as they made their way from an upgraded Mission Control (stocked with Stoli vodka and an "expanded musical selection") at the entrance to the Indoctrination Station on the opposite end of the 55,000-square-foot space.

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Berms made from plywood—one of Sachs’ favorite materials—make up the terrain of the Mars Yard, where astronauts secure samples from Mars' surface in a process called "The Dig". Using discarded objects like a boombox, solar cells, an umbrella, a broom and more, Sachs created a set of tools to help with the scientific analysis, which include a Phonkey, an Indoctrination Fridge, a MILF Fridge, a Floor Raper, The Sun, a poppy-producing Biolab, a Hand Tool Carrier (HTC) and the MERV.

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Sachs focuses on a seemingly insane number of details with ingenuity to match, simultaneously proving his prowess as both a leading contemporary artist and NASA expert. The world he has created at the Armory is one that children will relish in exploring, and adults will wish they had had as a learning tool while growing up. While his Mars exhibition presents space travel in an easily digestible and ultra entertaining form, his intention is more serious and far-reaching. The project's official description explains that with the end of the space shuttle program last year, Sachs aims to provoke "reflection on the haves and have-nots, utopian follies and dystopian realities, while asking barbed questions of modern creativity that relate to conception, production, consumption, and circulation".

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Sachs and his 13-person team will be in residency during the month-long exhibition giving artist talks and demonstrations. While the show is undoubtedly one to see in person, those outside of NYC (or who missed the 2007 "Space Program" show at the Gagosian in LA) can still get in on the action—200 Space Program Zines are available in the online gift shop, and fans can pick up his extensive book (to which Buzz Aldrin contributed) or wear one of the items from Sachs' capsule collection that he developed with Nike.

"Space Program: Mars" runs through 17 June 2012 at the Park Avenue Armory.

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