Tom Sachs shapes a self-portrait through things, found and fabricated

The Cabinet, 2014, mixed media
(Image credit: Sperone Westwater)

Objects that arouse, titillate and terrify are all locked up in Tom Sachs’ Wunderkammern – cabinets of curiosity the artist has constructed for an exhibition at Sperone Westwater, ‘Objects of Devotion’. Sachs is an artist who, whether critical or not, appreciates stuff as stuff, whether ubiquitous or rare. He’s long been obsessed with remaking things: from Sony cameras to NASA memorabilia and his sister’s Barbie dolls, creating irresistible sculptures in miniature and on a large-scale, fashioned from his favoured materials such as duct tape, plywood, epoxy resin and foamcore.

Inspired by the exoticism and eroticism of cabinets of curiosities that date back to the Renaissance, Sachs’ own ‘theatre of the world’, The Cabinet (2014), is at first glance full of weapons and tools – but each has a name, referring to someone who affected the artist, from his mother to the Supreme Court. Other cabinets collect more autobiographical objects from the artist’s life, a self-portrait through things, found and fabricated: the most recent cabinet work in the exhibition, Rockeths, (2017), could be a compact rendition of the artist’s studio.

Rockeths, 2017, mixed media

Rockeths, 2017, mixed media

(Image credit: Sperone Westwater)

From the cabinets, the exhibition meanders into similar themes on collecting, such as Mars Rocks (2012), individual ‘Mars’ rocks, gathered by Sachs’ studio team for his 2012 installation Space Program 2.0: MARS, and Synthetic Mars Rocks (2016). Neatly organised on their shelves, these will satisfy anyone with OCD tendencies.

From outer space to up-close, in a more recent work, McMasterbation, (2016), Sachs takes what is apparently the least sexiest object, the most comprehensive hardware catalogue in circulation, and highlights its recurrent phallic and vaginal shapes. He relates this analogy to his own use, ‘drooling over this bible of tooling’.

‘Objects of Devotion’ coincides with a touring museum survey on Sachs, opened at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, on 16 September.

MESA (Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly), 2007-2012, mixed media

MESA (Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly), 2007-2012, mixed media. 

(Image credit: Sperone Westwater)

Moon Rock Box: Nevada, 2008-2009, mixed media

Moon Rock Box: Nevada, 2008-2009, mixed media.

(Image credit: Sperone Westwater)

Choad, 2017, mixed media

Choad, 2017, mixed media. 

(Image credit: Sperone Westwater)


‘Objects of Devotion’ is on view until 28 October. For more information, visit the Sperone Westwater website


Sperone Westwater
257 Bowery
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Charlotte Jansen is a journalist and the author of two books on photography, Girl on Girl (2017) and Photography Now (2021). She is commissioning editor at Elephant magazine and has written on contemporary art and culture for The Guardian, the Financial Times, ELLE, the British Journal of Photography, Frieze and Artsy. Jansen is also presenter of Dior Talks podcast series, The Female Gaze.