Tom Sachs: Boombox Master

Tom Sachs is a noted contemporary artist. He’s interested, Wikipedia says, in “the phenomena of consumerism, branding, and the cultural fetishization of products.”

Tom Sachs (Photo/Ben Sklar for the NY Times)

Tom Sachs (Photo/Ben Sklar for the NY Times)

He’s featured — fittingly? ironically? — in a 3-page spread in today’s ad-filled New York Times Style Magazine. The hook is Sachs’ current show: “Boombox Retrospective: 1999-2015,” at the Contemporary Austin museum.

It’s a tribute, the Times says, to “the portable music players that occupied center stage in popular culture from the mid-’70s to the late ’80s, from the golden age of disco to hip-hop.”

Sachs was growing up in the middle of that — glorious? horrible? time — right here in our town.

It was in Westport, the Times reports, that the budding artist first “improvised a tape deck by attaching his Sony Walkman to a pair of mini-speakers using scraps of plywood and Velcro.”

Since then, the story continues, “all of his art has been an elaboration on that little contraption. Sachs is a tinkerer, a man for whom tinkering doubles as a virtuoso craft and a spiritual pursuit.”

"Presidential Vampire," one of Tom Sachs' boombox creations. (Photo/

“Presidential Vampire,” one of Tom Sachs’ boombox creations. (Photo/

All of the boomboxes in Sachs’ Austin show actually function. Each has a different –appropriate? thought-provoking? — playlist, created by the artist, his friends and exhibit visitors.

“The boomboxes flaunt their usual Sachsian scars, the rough-hewn edges and glops of silicone and epoxy,” the Times says. “They are witty; some of the pieces make you laugh out loud.”

Author Jody Rosen adds:

The boombox was a symbol of protest, defiance and youth; it symbolized the aggressive swagger of rap, which began its conquest of the cultural mainstream in the early 1980s. It was a flashpoint of racial politics: The derisive term “ghetto blaster” was coined by critics who associated boomboxes with lawlessness and urban decay.

But more than rebellion, the boombox represented community and communication. It was a talisman linking the black and Latino creators of hip-hop, and a beacon calling to outsiders like Sachs, who were seduced by the new music and the vibrant culture surrounding it.

And it all started for Tom Sachs back in the Gerald Ford years, on the mean, boombox-filled streets of Westport.

(To read the entire story — “Grandmaster Sachs” — click here.)

Tom Sachs' "Toyan's" was inspired by Jamaican street parties. (Photo/Ben Sklar for NY Times)

Tom Sachs’ “Toyan’s” was inspired by Jamaican street parties. (Photo/Ben Sklar for NY Times)


One response to “Tom Sachs: Boombox Master

  1. Thanks Dan for the great piece on Tom Sachs Sunday, referencing the NYT’s profile on Sachs and his current show “Boombox Retrospective, 1999-2015” in Austin.

    Here’s another way to celebrate the boundary-busting, exquisitely crafted work of this internationally renowned Westport native- On Saturday, May 2, Sachs will be honored at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum’s spring gala in Ridgefield, CT.

    Some history– Tom Sachs became a part of The Aldrich family in 2001, when he first presented his work as part of the now-legendary group exhibition, Art at the Edge of the Law. In 2009, the Museum mounted a solo exhibition entitled Tom Sachs: Cameras, which featured a range of his wry, subversive comments on commercialization and showcased his extraordinary talent for using an eccentric selection of materials to piece together an astonishing range of funky and functional objects. His ongoing project entitled Space Program, which recreates and honors NASA’s achievements in the 1960s and 70s, made a memorable landing at the Park Avenue Armory in 2012. He has made convincing copies of Mondrians from duct tape and Knoll furniture from phone books, and the 2009 exhibition at The Aldrich included Tom’s earliest existing work: a life-size clay sculpture of a Nikon FM2 camera that he made as a gift for his father in 1974.

    For those interested in learning more about The Aldrich’s Gala honoring Tom Sachs, visit