Destinations Magazine

Tom Sachs: Space Program Mars (on View Until June 17, 2012)

By Cheapchicknyc
Travel through space to Mars via the latest Tom Sachs installation SPACE PROGRAM, which takes visitors on a trip to Mars all in the Park Avenue Armory’s 55,000-square-foot drill hall. Your journey begins with the option of viewing five short films in Cinema 5, which has been installed as part of the exhibition and gives you the chance to be “indoctrinated” into the installation's space program, by completing a series of tasks (including watching all five films) while visiting the exhibit, as well as taking a series of written and oral tests. Fear not, however, getting indoctrinated is purely optional, and you don’t need to do so to enjoy the exhibit. I was crunched for time, so I chose not to be “indoctrinated,” but did view one of the short films, A Love Letter to Plywood, featuring a material used heavily in Sachs’ projects, including SPACE PROGRAM. During the film I learned some interesting factoids about plywood, such as there one correct way to sand plywood and you cannot drill plywood.
Once you leave the cinema, you enter the large main room of the Armory which is set up on one side with white folding chairs arranged bleacher-style inscribed in with the words NASA on them in red lettering-a nice touch I thought. Bright red plywood throughout the room simulates the rocky Mars landscape.
As you make your way into the exhibit, you’ll find whimsical objects including a conveyer belt with nuts and stuffed socks (of nuts perhaps?) and a sign reading “Hot Nuts.” Another unique object that caught my attention was Darth Vader robot made with a black fridge with a note attached to the front saying ‘Don’t drink mini-Buds,’ and a bunch of mini-Buds stored below.
Sachs also constructed items relating to training for space exploration. In the Special Effects part of the exhibit, there are four sections: Rescue, Parachute, Launch, and Ignition. In the Rescue section of the exhibit, a rescue is simulated, in which a helicopter moves from left to right, picking up a capsule from water and putting it on an aircraft carrier. When this is shown on a monitor, you get the illusion of a rescue. In Parachute, a painted blue sky and monitor give the illusion of delivering a space capsule back to Earth. Launch recreates a rocket blasting off in a haze of fog and smoke. Finally in Ignition, fire comes out of a propane tank. At a nearby replica of a NASA control center (tho I don’t think NASA control centers have quirky ‘Applause’ and ‘Quiet Please’ signs adorning their walls…) the special effects were shown on a variety of TV monitors replicating actual rocket launches and rescues.
Another area of the Armory is dominated by a re-creation of a Mars Rover. There is also a greenhouse where the astronauts would grow things, a Japanese-inspired teahouse where astronauts would drink tea and Everclear, a model of a LEM (Lunar Excursion Module), a machine that was built for the lander portion of the Apollo mission to them oon, in which the spacecraft takes crew members to the moon’s surface, and an EDL (Entry, Descent, and Landing) device that lowers down to Mars’ surface to cut into rock and collect samples to bring back to the space shuttle. Additionally there were pieces constructed where astronauts could keep in shape with punching bags, all types of balls, barbells, and even skateboards as well as a Repair Station equipped with all the tools needed on another planet, and a Mobile Quarantine Facility created from a 1970s Winnebago.
The space station atmosphere is completed by Sachs’ studio staff, who have donned NASA shirts (and I’m told that they have ridden skateboards and bikes in order to discuss the exhibit with visitors), but alas, I did not witness these spectacles during my recent visit, though they were very helpful in explaining all aspects of the exhibit.
“Tom Sachs: Space Program: Mars” runs through June 17 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street, (212) 933-5812,

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