Out of this world: Tom Sachs takes cosmic tea at the Noguchi Museum
Artist Tom Sachs’ new exhibition at Long Island City’s Noguchi Museum combines his signature madcap bricolage with Isamu Noguchi’s serene monolithic sculptures – an improbable intersection of space travel, tea ceremony, Americana and Noguchi.
‘Noguchi said, "To be hybrid is to be the future,"’ says Sachs. ‘He was American and Japanese; he was of the ancient path as well as the future. My installation is built around his late-basalt sculptures, which in turn become the setting for it.’
‘Tea Ceremony’ is considered the sequel to ‘Space Program Mars’, an immersive show Sachs created at New York’s Park Avenue Armory in 2012, for which he subsequently created a film, A Space Program, on view at Manhattan’s Metrograph theatre. At the end of the film (spoiler alert), a pair of astronauts resolve their differences by engaging in a tea ceremony in a teahouse on the space ship. The teahouse, as well as other ephemera from ‘Space Program Mars’, became the basis for ‘Tea Ceremony’, which evolved over the course of about 18 months between Sachs’ studio and Noguchi Museum curator Dakin Hart. It is the first single outside artist show at the museum.
Sachs made each of the tea ceremony’s chanoyu or accoutrements, including over 300 tea bowls, whisks, a hand-washing station, gates, tea boxes, ’samurai’ helmet, charcoal brazier and koi pond. A bronze bonsai sculpture made from over 3,500 cast q-tips, tampon cases, toothbrushes and enema nozzles is one of Sachs’s most elaborate constructs. ‘Tom is trying to transcend the verisimilitude that is popular in the art world right now,’ says Hart. ‘Tom doesn’t fake anything – he builds real things and everything here is fully-functioning.’ Periodically throughout the show, real tea ceremonies will be performed for visitors; but even those who don’t participate in a ceremony can imbibe a sense of zen and otherworldliness as they move through the human-scale exhibition, which winds across the museum’s first floor and garden.
‘The tea ceremony is about tranquility, harmony and respect,’ says Sachs. ‘I have elevated it or debased it to represent the values of my studio – part of respect is disrespect.’