Music and Art: Tom Sachs’s Boombox Perspective

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Tom Sachs has an obsession with sound. Or rather, where sound comes from— literally. Since his youth, Sachs has been making boomboxes. They started out as cabinets to hold the devices that blasted the soundtrack of hip-hop culture. Describing the origins of his work Boombox Retrospective 1999-2016, Sachs recalls his earliest project: “I hooked up my sony Walkman to a set of mini speakers and velcroed them to a block of scrap plywood.” In a woodshop glass in grade school, he later made a pine box to hold all the wires.

 

In the years since then, his sculpted creations have become more sophisticated and explorational. The boomboxes presented in this exhibition are made from an assortment of found materials that fall into step with his other artistic works. Tiffany Glock (Model 19) (1995) for instance, is a gun made from packaging of Tiffany and Co. In Boombox, he uses arcade cabinets for one system for a truly retro feel. In another, the use of hinged lamps, cassette players, exposed wires, and reflective panels give a boombox the air of a satellite floating through outer space.

 

A notable boombox is called “Bodega”. In New York City, “bodega” is slang for a corner store deli or grocery, and Sachs’s art lives up to the name. It’s a functional boombox in that it plays music, but it’s about the size of a food cart. It’s stocked wall to wall with snacks and condiments and dry goods, from candy bars to jars of mayonnaise. A sign reminds viewers that it’s cash only (don’t worry, a functional ATM is attached to the side of the piece). Ringing a bell summons a cashier from within who can, among other things, serve you coffee. Part of you wants to think that it’s a joke. There’s just no way you can look at it without thinking that it’s trying to sucker money from you. But then a curious soul walks in front of you to order a coffee, and its grocery-esque existence is confirmed.

 

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