Salon 94 is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Tom Sachs. Chawan represents the artist’s quest to create the perfect chawan, the ritual bowl used for preparing and serving tea in traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies. Sachs’ long fascination with the Tea Ceremony was first showcased in the artist’s Space Program: Mars installation at the Park Avenue Armory in 2012. Sachs created a tea room and various implements used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but he did not create the chawan for that show, an omission that nagged at him long afterward. Eventually Sachs’ chawan guilt led him to learn how to realize his vision of the perfect bowl, embarking on what became a two-year course of intensive ceramics study with master JJ PEET. Sachs quickly immersed himself in the practice and study of ceramics. He learned to use various ceramic types, including porcelain and stoneware, and multiple firing techniques. At one point, he even flew to Japan solely to examine “Kanokomadara”—a 17th century black Raku-ware chawan in the Tokyo National Museum that is considered a national treasure. This obsession, as Sachs terms it, led to this body of work displayed at Salon 94.
Sachs has not simply imitated Asian techniques but he has applied his own signature bricolage methods to the art of porcelain, while utilizing the traditional format of hand-shaping objects, rather than wheel throwing. Sachs says, “When you look at iPhones, there's no evidence of them being constructed by a human being. There are no seams. They appear to be completely robot made. As an artist, I find it difficult to produce something of this quality by hand with the same intent and appeal. Yet the advantage the artist has over industry is his ability to proudly leave his fingerprints for eternity."
Rejecting the potter’s wheel, which he views as “the digitization of the creative process,” Sachs rapidly hand works the clay for each bowl while the material is pliable, doing his best to make them round. However, as Sachs’ technique is humanly imperfect, the results are never precisely circular.
“I do my best to make these works round, but every fingerprint, crack or dent says that I was here.” Showing the workmanship has always been a defining characteristic of Sachs work and he sees the imperfections that are part of a human process as important. Some imperfections are addressed with the studio standard West Systems marine epoxy resin, and others are repaired with traditional kintsugi (or gold lacquer joinery). Sachs studied with a kintsugi master, which led to the development of his own, more modern, european gold luster method of repairing ceramics. Sachs' chawan are dishwasher safe.
After experimenting with various ceramic media Sachs eventually settled on working exclusively with porcelain, as it is the most durable and refined material, yet also practical, being the most utilized ceramic in industrial applications. Ever the perfectionist, Sachs fired each bowl between 2 and 10 times, depending on the number of kintsugi repairs involved. In order to yield the traditional blue-white tone in his porcelain, Sachs exclusively fires his chawans in the 92nd Street Y’s reduction gas kiln.
As branding is an important theme in Sachs’ work, the artist again labeled the work with what he considers the ultimate brand – NASA. The gallery will feature four cabinets custom made by the artist each containing between 25 and 140 bowls approximately six inches in diameter. The artist’s most successful efforts to make a great chawan (dubbed “heroes” by Sachs) are individually packaged in their own handcrafted plywood boxes. In the ancient tradition, the “heroes” receive appropriately descriptive names like: Conejo, The Mighty Sparrow and Shelley Duval. "In 5000 years, when all of the wood, bronze, steel and plastic that surround us have decomposed, these humble bowls will still be around since they are already as inert as stone."
Tom Sachs is a sculptor, best known for elaborate recreations of various modern icon that are invariably masterpieces of improvisational engineering and design. His practice is rooted in absurdist functionality, real world engineering, elaborately researched product design and intensive labor. He often builds complex environments where the individual art objects are experienced as parts of a whole integral system, and where all materials, processes and labor are left exposed.