On a warm afternoon in May, the Brooklyn Museum is filled with field trip groups ambling around, waiting on wristbands. Instead of the usual solemn quiet that one finds in art museums, however, the children are greeted by a playlist of today’s radio hits and when Drake comes in on Rihanna’s “Work,” a schoolyard choir rises to harmonize with him.
This playlist is part and parcel of Tom Sachs’ “Boombox Retrospective” exhibit: a collection of multimedia works the artist has amassed over the past 17 years that has captivated fans, listeners and collectors with its eccentricity and interactivity. These are speaker systems inspired by Jamaican sound-clash culture, New York corner stores and Defender, the classic 1980 arcade game.
The Brooklyn retrospective covers 17 years of the artist’s career, but he has been making boomboxes for much longer; the New York creative warmly recalls trading his sister’s boyfriend a copy of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti for a stolen car stereo. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can purchase a DIY zine from an ATM attached to Sach’s Bodega that dates the beginning of his obsession to 1981: “I hooked my Sony Walkman up to a set of mini speakers and Velcroed them to a block of plywood. It was a clusterfuck of wires.” The Bodega is a boombox too, of course.
The collection showcases Sachs’s balance of obsessive attention to detail and an irreverent sense of humor: one speaker has a perfect recreation of the Chanel monogram alongside the word “Pussy” written in Sachs’ signature scrawl; a Courvoisier bottle in Presidential Vampire Booth‘s bar has been Wited-Out to read Corbusier.
HYPEBEAST caught up with the artist to discuss how he got into boomboxes, how music informs his creative process, and how he and Frank Gehry feel about imitators. Check the video out above.