‘There is sculpture in everything, even in a chair’: Tom Sachs on his Chicago exhibition

Tom Sachs’ first US gallery exhibition of furniture for over two decades is at Stony Island Arts Bank, a restored 1923 bank on the South Side of Chicago, supported by Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation (until 4 September 2022)

Left, Crate Chair No.13 (2018) by Tom Sachs, made from ConEd barrier and steel hardware. Right, Arm Rest Shop Chair,
Left, Crate Chair No.13 (2018) by Tom Sachs, made from ConEd barrier and steel hardware. Right, Armrest Shop Chair, Tom Sachs Furniture. Courtesy of the artist
(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)

Furniture has long been part of artist Tom Sachs’ oeuvre. For over 30 years he’s been designing and building chairs, tables, cabinets and more, considering his furniture an extension of his sculpture practice. His ‘NASA’ chairs from his 2012 show sold out in five hours when he re-editioned them in 2017, and in the early days of his career, he was assisting Frank Gehry when Gehry designed his bent plywood chair for Knoll. 

This week, Sachs unveils his first furniture show in the US in over 20 years, at Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, a building supported by Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, established by Gates in 2010. The meticulously restored former bank has lent its first floor to Anthony Gallery for a year-long takeover. ‘Tom Sachs: Furniture’ (on view until 4 September 2022) is the fourth show to be presented by Anthony Gallery in the space. 

Shop Chair with cut-outs, by Tom Sachs

The Shop Chair was Sachs’ first manufactured chair and made its debut appearance at Design Miami in 2017 at Salon 94’s gallery booth. Early versions using expensive polycarbonate were considered art pieces, but Sachs sought to create a more democratic version

(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)

The exhibition will showcase a selection of new and past designs, including his ‘Shop Chair’, which appeared on Wallpaper’s April 2019 newsstand cover. Its plentiful holes are inspired by the so-called ‘lightening holes’ from Second World War aviation, when excess material was removed to make structures both lighter and stronger. ‘We drilled out as much as we could while still making sure there is support,’ Sachs told Wallpaper* at the time. 

His armchair titled Crate Chair No 13 (2018) is crafted from found ConEd red and white barriers, a material he previously used in his mixed media artwork The Cabinet (2014)

Table and chairs with cut-out design, by Tom Sachs

Jeanneret Table No. 4 (2022) in plywood, latex paint and steel hardware

(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)

Indeed, Sachs creates his pieces with evidence of their construction, almost delighting in the very practice of building. His fascination with the everyday plays out in his mixed-media sculptures, which often use ordinary-to-the-point-of-mundane materials. These are not cosy, comfortable designs; there’s not an upholstered cushion in sight.

After all, Sachs is the artist who, regarding his long-term collaboration with Nike, told Wallpaper*: ‘I take the sock-liners out of my sneakers so that the ground is harder below so I can think clearer. I like to feel my skeletal structure because it’s within all of us.’

ConEd Altec Lamp (2022) by Tom Sachs

ConEd Altec Lamp (2022) in plywood and mixed media

(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)

Although they are considered an extension of his art and sculpture practice, Sachs has encouraged people to use his chairs and wear his Nike collaboration trainers, preferring his work to be engaged with, rather than tiptoed around. The physical, elemental nature of the works offers an interesting contrast to Sachs' exploration into NFTs, in particular with his Rocket Factory, which won him a Wallpaper* 2022 Design Award. 

To mark the opening of the Chicago exhibition, Tom Sachs’ Rocket Factory will be doing a physical rocket launch on 8 July at Chicago's Kenwood Gardens, another of the city’s South Side locations invested in by Theaster Gates.

Model Eighty Eight (2022) cabinet on wall, by Tom Sachs

Model Eighty Eight (2022), built from plywood and mixed media

(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)

Vase (2021) sculpture by Tom Sachs

Vase (2021) in plywood, epoxy resin, fibreglass, latex paint and steel hardware

(Image credit: Genevieve Hanson)


‘Tom Sachs: Furniture’ runs from 7 July to 4 September 2022


Tilly is a British writer, editor and digital consultant based in New York, covering luxury fashion, jewellery, design, culture, art, travel, wellness and more. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she is Contributing Editor for Wallpaper* and has interviewed a cross section of design legends including Sir David Adjaye, Samuel Ross, Pamela Shamshiri and Piet Oudolf for the magazine.

With contributions from