Tom Sachs is known for his elaborate installations and constructions of a variety of objects more commonly found within the public domain or commercial marketplace. He has created works of art based on both high-end consumer products and on more popularly based products like toys, either by appropriating their logos and forms or by manipulating and transforming them into new forms. Sachs has used these works to respond to, and often critique, our overpowering consumer culture and its desire for more and more status- giving products. In his sculptures, Sachs blurs the boundaries between the mass produced and the handmade, the public and the private realms, while exploring the embedded history of the object and his materials.
For the Lever House installation, Sachs has created his first monumental works in bronze, presenting the familiar icons Hello Kitty, My Melody (both fictional characters produced by the Japanese company Sanrio in 1974), and the small rabbit, Mlffy (created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna in 1955). Working from the original toys, Sachs and his assistants construct enlarged versions using sheets of lightweight foamcore and glue guns, which are then cast in bronze, and ironically painted white to resemble the white foamcore surface. Hello Kitty and Miffy also function as outdoor fountains.
"For me to do a model of Hello Kitty, which is this merchandising icon that exists only as a merchandising icon.... It was invented purely as a merchandising and licensed character. To then redo that in a "fine" material like bronze, I think is really to the point. It's recontextualizing, shifting it back to a high level and making it really, really clear.... We try to use materials that suggest the item's usage, because we are in a world where everything is so perfect and seamlessly made that there's no evidence of it's construction, there's no history. Most things are engineered to resist history. If my work is anything, it is against that theory. I try to show flaws because flaws are human.
These details on how things are made show the politics behind how we consume our products....lt is sculpture, because it's talked about, sold, and shown as such. But to me its really bricolage, which is the French term for do- it-yourself repair. Bricolage comes from a culture that repairs rather than replaces — American culture just replaces."
The bronze sculptures exhibited in the lobby gallery borrow forms that are more masculine and formal. Sachs casts individual car batteries—with macho names like Trojan, Duralast, and Die Hard—and then stacks them into towers. He also has taken a quarter-pipe skateboard ramp (built in plywood and metal, and purchased on eBay) and had two of them cast in bronze, resulting in two Quarter Pipes. In form and content, these works continue an art historical tradition in sculpture expressed by Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Isamu Noguchi, David Smith, Carl Andre, and Donald Judd. Sachs is fascinated by the dichotomy that exists between the found object and its realization as a work of art: "The most radical transformation are the skate ramps which are menacing objects of liability and noise and transformed into something that needs to be protected.... They are very masculine block-like forms using things like car batteries and skateboard ramps stacked to look a little like art, while still resembling the original materials."
The seven Unite Lamps installed on the northern, outdoor plaza of Lever House are bronze recreations of lamps designed by famed architect Le Corbusier for his modernist residential buildings in. Marseille, France, and Chandigarh, India (both completed in 1952, the same year as the Lever House). These exterior lamps were originally made of concrete and eventually began to deteriorate, and were also stolen and sold to collectors of modernist design. In addition, Le Corbusier's original concept and plans for "Unite d'Habitation" were not followed by subsequent developers and resulted in inferior structures. With the Unite Lamps, Sachs is reclaiming Le Corbusier's design and honoring his legacy. As Sachs comments: "I always gravitate toward things that are either extremely elegant or extremely crude, but in one way or another aren't compromised. I'm not interested in representing objects of mediocrity, only objects of excellence and beauty."