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An American Wants to Share our Country with the Whole World

Hommage to Joseph Beuys: Tom Sachs' E-bikes. © Tom Sachs; Photo by Genevieve Hanson; Courtesy Tom Sachs Studio and Vito Schnabel Gallery

The US artist Tom Sachs is obsessed with Switzerland. Now he showcases new works in St. Moritz

Is Tom Sachs obsessed with Switzerland? Already back in the ‘90s the American artist, now 52, provoked with his ‘Nuke the Swiss’ stickers. During Frieze Art Fair last autumn, he was handing out fake Swiss passports. The queue to get to his ‘Swiss Passport Office’ at Galerie Ropac was long and of prominently populated. And most recently he has opened an exhibition dedicated to Switzerland at his friend Vito Schnabel’s gallery in St. Moritz. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a monstrous Heidi with boobs the shape of Star Wars’ Death Stars and a vulva dispensing white coffee.

After the opening in St. Moritz, we spoke with Tom Sachs about the reason for his Switzerland-mania. He loves Switzerland, the artist states. The thing back then with the atomic bomb was art, not propaganda. The slogan was meant to illustrate the absurdness of the call to bomb a country in which many people store their money. “Switzerland is a wonderful country full of contradictions. One of the richest and technologically advanced countries with incredible respect for nature, but also the place where the evil and ugly traditionally stored their money,” says Sachs.

A Chanel guillotine and McDonald’s Happy Meal 

The time for a redistribution of wealth has come, so why wouldn’t Switzerland go ahead as a good example? The passport performance in London clearly showed that, at this point, there’s almost nothing as attractive as being Swiss. That’s why, “everyone should be given this privilege, at least a bit,” the artist believes.

Sachs, not related to the well-known deceased industrial heir Gunther Sachs, is a wild compiler of an artist. He likes to play with the components of consumerist everyday culture. Among his works one can find a black Prada toilet or a McDonald’s Happy Meal made out of Hermes packaging materials. He is the sort of artist “who manages to arouse and steer attention” as Vito Schnabel expresses. Kanye West and Frank Ocean are amongst his friends, but also the German filmmaker Werner Herzog. Movies, music, and exhibitions often develop in collaboration.

Besides, Tom Sachs’ works sell quite well – his guillotine with the Chanel logos, for example. It was auctioned at Christie’s for 134500 USD in 2010. Vito Schnabel considers Sachs one of the few artists who “poses the right questions at the right moment. Tom was never really worried about the concept of the politically correct.” Schnabel tells us, “a gallerist once had to go to jail because Sachs wanted to give away pistol bullets to gallery visitors.” The artist merrily went on scandalizing: the fake Swiss passports made Fedpol anxious. The braided Heidi coffee machine in the current exhibition could hurt feminine sensibilities.

“Oh please, it’s the best work!” Schnabel defends his artist. The figure is a reference to the great Californian artists Paul McCarthy or Mike Kelley and is an original Sachs, after all.

And next time? A big Matterhorn

The eponymous work of the current exhibition The Pack is an homage to the German renovator of art Joseph Beuys. Whereas in Beuys’ famous work Das Rudel (The Pack) from 1969 wooden sleds were deployed out of a van, it’s e-bikes with fat tires in Tom Sachs’ work. They are equipped with Swiss Army blankets, weapons and supplies, and have exotic names: Lagos, Kinshasa and Mogadishu. There it is again, the idea of a Swiss Nation opening up to globally shared goods and cultures.

Has Tom Sachs lived out his obsession with Switzerland after the exhibition in the Engadine? “No, I’ve only just scratched the surface of it,” the artist laughs. There is definitely going to be a third exhibition on the topic of Switzerland. The concept is not set yet but one thing is quite certain: a big Matterhorn will appear in it.

Tom Sachs  The Pack

Vito Schnabel Gallery, St. Moritz, through February 3rd


Image Caption: Hommage to Joseph Beuys: Tom Sachs' E-bikes. © Tom Sachs; Photo by Genevieve Hanson; Courtesy Tom Sachs Studio and Vito Schnabel Gallery